I’ve decided to work spiral Or Nué, as I did for Christus Natus Est, rather than the straight version I used for the Hittite Amulet. It creates more of a sense of movement, and that is very much in keeping with Amarna period art.
That, however, meant that I had to work out where to start the spiral, and as I mentioned on the first video, I had several options. The first was simply to start in the middle of the piece, but I felt that would either look very static, or, almost worse, create a rather 70s psychedelic vibe, not at all appropriate! The next three options could all be taken as emphasizing interpretations of the story of Akhenaten and Amarna. One of these was to centre the spiral in the centre of the Aten – but to be honest, for all Atenism is seen as one of the very earliest adventures in monotheism, that didn’t seem to me to reflect the stories that filter through Mary Chubb’s book.
So then I had a choice between centring the spiral on Akhenaten’s head, to reflect the idea that he espoused Atenism as a political ploy to break the power of the priests of Amun at Thebes, or centring it on his heart, to suggest that he believed he’d received a genuine religious revelation. You can see which I chose!
The second video is at https://vimeo.com/404608150, and will show you some of the progress to this point, as well as my musings as I stitch. I have a few more quandaries to sort out, but you’ll hear about those in the next episode, as I tackle them. As before, if you have any questions about what I’ve said in the video, or what I’ve done, please ask, and I will do my best to give you a sensible and useful response!
We left the design in a sort of semi-developed stage, and the next stage was to work out which border I was going to use…
So, the one on the right – no, the borders are too wide, and given the size I’m going to do it, they’ll take away too much of the design area from the family group. I do like that arrowhead design, though. I wonder where else I could put it?
I started playing around with the widths of the borders a bit more (computers are very useful for scaling fiddly things like this – more new tricks learned!), and ended up with something I think will work. You can see that there are some details I’ve not quite settled yet, and indeed, I think I’ve decided to reverse the colours in the vertical borders. The blocky colours come from having used the computer to produce a line drawing, and then coloured it in by computer as well.
The design is now transferred onto the calico, and coloured in with inktense blocks. Rather sloppily, I know, but none of this will be visible, and I will be tweaking the design as I go, in any case. This is just to give me a a better chance to keep track of which colour I’m intending to use where – that small section with Nefertiti and the two little girls on her lap was dismally confusing before I painted it!
I have begun to stitch, and just as I promised (threatened?), I’ve been recording my progress, and uploaded the first video to Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/402311907. It’s about twenty minutes long, spliced together from several files, because my camera kept switching off. I did say it would be a learning experience!
I hope it will be interesting, and maybe entertaining, for you all!
The eagle-eyed will have noticed that I now have a Ko-fi account. I’ve been meaning to do that for a while, but the current situation has given me plenty of time in which to do so. At the moment, the hope is that any “coffees” will help with the costs of running this blog, but in the next couple of years, I hope they could also help with venue costs to hold an exhibition of “Dreams of Amarna” embroidery.
I’m going to try to learn a few new tricks while we all need to keep safe at home, trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and one of them relates to this project. It occurred to me that people may need something gentle to watch, so I’m going to try to work out how to do little videos of the stitching. So, health permitting, watch this space…!
I had thought that once I’d done the Faience Necklace, and finished the Hunting Cat Fresco, that would be all for Dreams of Amarna, but then it occurred to me that the informality and intimacy of the depictions of the Royal Family in Amarna-period art was one of the reasons it has caught and held our attention. Mary Chubb describes the scene depicted on this stele in her book (there are several broadly similar scenes), and it came to my mind in conjunction with the bejewelled golden chair in Tutankhamun’s tomb which shows him with his wife in a similarly informal pose.
So I’m going to work it in or nué. I’ve been playing with my paints and some prints of the stele, trying to find a satisfying arrangement of colours, and work out what I’m not going to include – for instance, the hieroglyphs, at least half the rays of the Aten sun disc, and the gold torques in Akhenaten’s lap. I’m struggling a little with colourings, because the grey background of the print rewards the use of yellow (/gold) whereas on the background of gold used for or nué that colour becomes insignificant.
Then I need to plan a border for it….
Now, if your memory reaches back to the beginning of Akhenaten (no surprise if it doesn’t – that was in 2017!), you may recall that at the very beginning there were four layers – the calico, polyester wadding, light cotton padding, and then the silk. The first stage was then to outline Akhenaten and cut away all of the light polyester padding that wasn’t behind him.
So once the calico was laced into place, the next layer to be dealt with was the cotton padding. The eagle eyed may have noted that there’s a new piece of card here. That’s because this card has slots in to carry cotton tape. I’m intending to lace the finished panel to the middle of a larger fabric covered panel, and these tapes will help to support the weight. I hope. This is not a method of mounting I’ve ever seen before, and I’m making it up as I go along!
Then I pinned the silk into place, carefully, and not too tightly. Once I’d finished that, I turned over the whole thing and breathed a sigh of relief – the uraeus is still undamaged!
Then I wrapped him in acid-free tissue paper and put him away in a box. There are two reasons for this – firstly, because fibres and fabrics, particularly delicate ones, don’t like prolonged manipulation (yes, honestly, fibre in spinning mills is often left to “relax” between processes!), and secondly, because I’m still thinking about the details of the next stage.
The next stage is to fix the silk in place, and I’m still trying to work out how to do that without tangling with the cotton tape. I may decide to use double-sided sticky tape, but that is more likely to degrade and give way than lacing, and I really don’t want to do this job twice!
Akhenaten has been glaring at me autocratically (well, that’s in character, at least!) from the far side of the living room ever since I finished him, and I decided he needed to be off the frame and hidden away for a while. At the moment, I’m rather out of love with him, not even sure he’s come close to my original conception. I need to hide him away so that I can move on Other Things.
I took this photo just before I cut the thread holding the fabric in place, and you can see from the shadows just how strongly raised some elements are.
I think he’s looking pretty anxious about what lies ahead, as well!
I don’t think Akhenaten can possibly be as anxious as I am. We have a phrase in our house – “exporting stress”. There was a lot of that going on. In fact, I banished The Australian from the room lest I prove contagious!
However, I read, a little while ago, of using layers of bubble wrap to protect a raised piece while mounting, with holes or popped bubbles to alter the amount of padding so that the most highly-raised elements don’t also suffer the highest pressure. Considering the fragility of the uraeus, that’s important.
So I decided to give that a try. I’ll report when the whole process is finished!
And it’s going to be quite a process, because there are three layers of fabric to wrangle, and I’m not going to frame him under glass, so the mounting is going to be on display, at least to a degree.
I’ve started by lacing the long sides of the calico supporting layer, quite closely, to spread out the tension, and then the short sides. These were spread out a bit more, and I also stitched the edges of the folded-up short sections to the calico sides.
The Colossus of Akhenaten, in a combination of trapunto quilting and goldwork, is now finished.
I added a few extra details, to sculpt the face a bit more – tiny stitches in silk, broadening and deepening the eye sockets, altering the shape around the nose, adding more stitches attaching the face.
In fact, to make sure the silk was fine enough, I twisted it myself from a spool of Japanese silk bought for the purpose. I think I ended up with three twisted threads from one length.
The gold kid of the headdress now has an upper edge trim as well. That would have been much easier to do if I could have done it before attaching the kid to the head!
As I was looking over the whole thing, it occurred to me that Akhenaten’s hands weren’t convincingly grasping his crook and flail. Fixing that wasn’t hard in theory – new hands cut from the edge of the silk, padded with padding from the edge of the piece, and attached with more hand-twisted silk thread.
In practice, it took several attempts before I was at all happy with the result, and I could be seen contemplating my own closed fist thoughtfully at various points in the process. Which doesn’t always help as much as you might think, when the aim is something slightly different to a realistic representation….!
However, I now think he’s probably as finished as I can make him. As I wrote to a friend: I may have doubts about detail, but I think Akhenaten is now as good as my current level of skill will allow. I hope someone will take him off my hands before I get good enough to shudder every time I look at him!
I feel as though I’ve spent as much time on Akhenaten’s accessories as I did on the silver purl loincloth, and tied myself in as many knots as I did when I was doing his wig!
I do hope he starts to approve of my efforts again soon…
When last seen, I was content with the crook, done in alternating blue and gold wire rope, strung on a former made of fuse wire, but I was expressing doubt about the flail.
The gold purl and silk wrapped purl was too frail, and this version, using gold wire rope, was visually too heavy, and much too springy. So I knew that something else would have to be devised, and racked my brains repeatedly for ideas.
The ideas finally came late one night, and – too drowsy to wake up properly and write notes – I fell asleep hoping I wouldn’t have forgotten in the morning.
Fortunately, I hadn’t!
I’m assured that the word for the parts of a flail that flail is “swipple”, which sounds too outrageously appropriate not to make use of.
The various turquoise beads came from a friend on Instagram, who saw my wrestlings with the armlets and offered some treasures from her stash to assist. After several trials, I settled on a combination of gold and coloured beads, and a particular length of loop.
The finished flail has a handle of gold wire rope, a head of gold pearl purl, and four strung bead swipples. In fact, the inner two swipples have different coloured beads to the outer two. This is part of the layering of detail I’m trying to develop with Akhenaten, to help with the impression of rich gorgeousness I want to convey. It might be barely noticeable (although more so in real life), but it will break up what might otherwise look a bit monolithic.
I’ve taken the same approach with the wristlet, which uses silver rough purl (leftover from the loincloth) in combination with a pale pinkish rough purl. Anything single-coloured was too obvious and argumentative, especially as it’s placed right in the centre of his chest, but when I left it out entirely, that looked worse!
You may recall that I had some trouble with the armlets the first time I was working on them. Now, as I’ve come back to Akhenaten again, I’ve decided that the gold kid I’d settled on isn’t at all right. Off it came, and after some puzzling, I attached the brass mesh instead.
Only to decide that no, that looks dull, doesn’t capture the effect I’m after, and even edged with a flattened gold spiral, doesn’t stand out enough against the silk.
My next thought was to do some patterned chipwork. I chose a rather gorgeous, very ancient-Egyptian-looking blue, and a sort of diagonal basketweave pattern which is not a million miles removed from some of the patterns I have seen on ancient pieces.
The blue did at least help the silk to show something like true colour, but when I looked at the whole piece, I found the blue too bright, and the pattern altogether too much of a good thing.
I thought that was strange. The alternating directions should have echoed the beard and helped the two sit nicely together, and there is so much personality in the silver purl loincloth that you would have thought nothing could have been too much!
Then I had a thought – the kit for the Stuart Silk Purl Flower contained some bonus silk-wrapped wires and purls, and fortuitously, when slightly overstretched, there was just enough of one of the turquoise ones to do top and bottom on each armlet.
At this point I decided, somewhat tentatively, that maybe I’d got this bit right, or at least right enough to move on.
The small leaf was rather “meta”, in a way, because long “stitches” of silk purl were couched down with shorter ones. I’ve likened it to Burden Stitch, or even the couching form used in some opus anglicanum, and it includes colour changes as well.
All of these techniques have been simple enough in concept, but the execution isn’t simple at all. Spacing, angles, and cutting the lengths are all, as The Australian would say, non-trivial (mathematician-speak for “quite tricky”) and practice may make perfect in the end, but it hasn’t done so yet!
The final leaf was worked by alternating the hummocks and simple couched techniques of earlier months. In a way this shows that it is possible to create new textures by “layering” or “overlaying” techniques, so the only limits are in the stitcher’s imagination.
It creates an interesting ribbed effect, although with all my care, the raised hummocks aren’t all raised to the same degree. That said, I defy anyone looking casually at the real thing to notice the fact – at only about three inches by five, that would be a lot of detail to be able to distinguish!
And there are other dazzlements in store…
The final detail is to add spangles, which are reliably confusing and dazzling to the eye.
Just imagine all that flickering in the candlelight and shadows of the silk purl textures casting mysteries over each other!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this Online University course. Now I only need the time to sit down and read the extra information and watch the videos!