For the modern villages, I used a variegated silk thread, which I used for the text relating to those villages as well, and chose Sorbello stitch, stitched very small, and very regularly spaced. It’s unlikely in the extreme that any rural village, anywhere in the world, would be laid out in a grid pattern, but again the intention is to create a marked textural contrast between the cultivation and the settlement.
Working the scale for the map gave me some trouble. For the text, again I used split stitch, as I had on the second level title, and eventually I chose to use an interlaced stitch for the dark sections of the scale.
This stitch echoes the reverse herringbone stitch I used for the contour lines. I know that most of the people who see this when I eventually finish it won’t appreciate that sort of detail, but there will be some who will!
This was the point at which I laid out my finished map on the floor with the other fabrics which I intend to use for the borders, and gave myself a serious fright.
Remember these diagrams in my post in August 2010? These borders are where the “patches”, like the Felucca and the Faience Hippopotamus, will go. Of course this is very approximate – I don’t intend to cut into these fabrics until I’m much more sure of how I’m going to put the pieces together than I am at present – but these borders are about the right proportions, and as it stands they aren’t going to leave much space for the patches.
I may have to edit my patches and fragments very much more ruthlessly than I had intended.
This has been a very long road. I started work on this panel – itself intended only as the background of a larger piece – before I started this blog. About four years ago, in fact. I am going to write two posts about this, because while I am looking back over my choices, I am also planning the use to which the panel will be put….
When I first started on it, it was easy to choose reverse herringbone stitch, or shadowwork for the contour lines. When the piece is pressed and mounted the reverse herringbone will create a slight contour effect. Click on the image and enlarge it and you wll see what I mean.
This is one of the primary concerns of my stitch choice – to create an effect that is reminiscent of the item or object being depicted without attempting to show it in a direct fashion.
The choice of back stitch for the main text was easy too. I wanted a simple line to create the text wiithout drawing undue attention to itself, and back stitch is about as unobtrusive as a stitch can be!
When it came to the Main title at the top of the panel, I chose split stitch for the second title, because again, I was looking for a plain stitch, with a little more weight than the back stitch, but not too eye-catching. For the main title I picked up one of the stitches from the Tudor and Stuart Masterclass – it’s lovely to find myself using a stitch I’ve learnt recently in a project I first started thinking about over fifteen years ago, when I first read the book that inspired it, “Nefertiti Lived Here“, by Mary Chubb.
The cultivation on the Map of Amarna will take quite a while to do, but since I’m really quite happy with the progress it is making, I thought I would post a quick update on it.
The scatter of tête de boeuf stitches is as much as I have managed to do since I finally decided that that was the solution I was going to use. Granted, I’ve been working on a lot of other pieces at the same time, and sometimes I am simply not in the mood for single-stitch work, but it’s also more time consuming than you might expect. I’m trying very hard not to use a regular pattern of stitches – the scatter is as random as I can make it, given the human proclivity for pattern-making.
Since what remains to be done is about four times as much as I have done, I expect it will be quite some time before you see it again, but rest assured, I haven’t forgotten…
You may recall that having worked most of the Map of Amarna, I then ran into a brick wall, and could not decide which thread to use for the last, rather extensive element – the depiction of the cultivation.
I decided, in the end, that I would use the more golden of the plain silk threads, but rather than spacing the stitches widely I would stitch quite densely, creating a sort of background pattern of tête de boeuf stitches. Then I began to worry that this would be visually too weighty and might even create the impression of a sort unlikely to be accurate given that in Mary Chubb’s time the villages were probably groups of smallholdings..
So instead, although some of the cultivation (on the eastern side of the river, running in a narrow band the length of the site) is worked in a single colour (or will be, when I finish it), the western side of the river will have some patches where the stitches are worked in one or other of the variegated silks.
The close up shot shows one of those patches already in place, with the single colour on the other side of the river and the modern village in a different variegated thread.
Or at least I think it will. It would not be the first time I’ve had a bright idea that really didn’t work when I tried it. I am prepared for the possibility that I will have to unpick all the variegated threads and restitch in a single colour!
After finishing the text and the villages on the Map, I need to decide what to use for the cultivation… You may recall from my earlier post that I have decided on the stitch I’m going to use – tête de boeuf stitch – but that I’ve not quite worked out what thread to use.
I’ve stitched a variety of trial patches, using stranded cotton, flower thread, pearl cotton, and several different silks, and now all (all!) I have to do is make a decision. I’ve propped up the fabric in the living room and stand staring at it every chance I get!
So far, I feel sure I won’t be using the pearl cotton (too chunky) or the flower thread (also too chunky), but that leaves me two variegated silks (one pale green shading to pinkish purple and one brighter green shading to terracotta) and two plain silks (one slightly darker than the colour of the fabric, and one the same colour as the stranded cottons I used for the contour lines. I’ve tried very hard to get a photo that does reasonable justice to the various threads and colours, but I don’t think that the one I’ve got here helps very much…
I chose Sorbello stitches to represent the modern villages. These are worked at a very small scale, as you can see from the thread count. Again, had I followed the cartographer’s symbols, I would have used something like Jacobean Couching, but I felt that this stitch in fact reflects the idea of buildings rather better. I’ve used the same gold-shading-to-purple thread for all the modern villages, both the names and the associated areas. It doesn’t draw the eye, in real life, quite as much as you might expect.
You may recall that the first large element of the panels for Dreams of Amarna that I am stitching is a map of the site shown in Mary Chubb’s book.
It was easy to decide that I wanted to use reverse herringbone stitch for the contours of the high ground around the site, and unbroken lines of chain stitch for the Nile.
The compass rose and the titles were more difficult, although I made a decision eventually.
Now, however, I am near to finishing the text, and I can’t really put off my final decision any longer.
Areas of cultivation are shown on the original map using stars drawn roughly using four strokes. The obvious choice is to use Star Stitch, which exactly replicates the symbol used by the cartographer, but I don’t want to do that.
The aim of my stitching is not to reproduce a painting or a drawing, or even to reproduce those effects. I want to use embroidery techniques to produce impressions and effects that couldn’t be produced any other way, but that are inspired by the subject.
I finally settled on a stitch, after considerable thought and several hours leafing through my (never-ending shelf of) embroidery books – tête de boeuf stitch. But I’m still trying to work out what thread to use, and at what scale. So I’ve worked several test patches, and when I’ve finished the other stitching (the text and the villages), I’m going to wash and iron the whole thing and then sit back and look at them for a while…
This photograph shows a completed section of the Amarna Map, which demonstrates most of the design choices I have made as I went along.
The long lines to the left in the picture are worked simply in Chain stitch and represent the Nile that runs beside the site. Small tête de boeuf stitches represent the cultivation, represented by hatched stars on the original map.
The text is worked in Back Stitch. It isn’t perfectly regular, but it isn’t really intended to be, either. I knew that all my favourite line stitches would be too heavy and detailed for the scale and the intention I have, so it is deliberately chosen to be as simple as I can make it.
Remember there will be areas competing for attention here and that what I want is a general impression that the viewer can then look at more closely if they want details.
There is at least as much again to do before the Map is finished – that’s why I have tagged this post “Perseverance”!
Fortunately for me, I’d already had plenty of ideas for working the Map of Amarna for the first of the background panels, and in fact, as soon as I decided to include it there was one section about which I was absolutely certain – the contour lines. I’ve worked them in Reverse Herringbone Stitch. The fabric between the lines is thus slightly raised – padded by the threads behind it. I got this far on the map quite some time ago and was very pleased with myself when it turned out Just As I Hoped.
Then I moved on to another section and found myself struggling. In the drawn map, the compass rose is indicated by three lines. When I tried that, it looked clunky and rather sad. So I returned to my stitch dictionaries, and looked for line stitches. Cable Chain Stitch was an obvious choice, as it has been a favourite of mine for years, and the outer ring is worked in Closed Feather Stitch. I used two Caron Collection threads in the same colourway here – a single strand of the heavy pearl cotton type which has three strands (Watercolours, I think it is called), and the much finer one, which I think is Wildflowers. It is interesting to watch the colour changes as they appear very different and have different emphases in the different threads.
I may yet decide to run a “shadow” to one side or the other of the arrow, using a simple stitch such as stem stitch, to throw the satin stitch into stronger relief, but for the moment I am happy that the flatter outer ring creates the illusion of a raised compass rose, while still being clearly something stitched.
I described the first of the background panels I am planning for the Dreams of Amarna a few months ago. I will describe some of the other stitching I have done on it in another post, but I have been racking my brains since I began stitching, trying to work out how to embroider the title.
The challenge I am facing with the whole map is that I want it to be clear that it is embroidered, not screen-printed, but at the same time, I don’t want to show off every stitch I know or produce something that is so heavily stitched that it pulls the final pair of panels out of balance. So far, every time I have tried something it has been too prominent or too fiddly or Just Plain Wrong. While this is disheartening, one of the advantages of the butterfly mind is that I could stow the piece away and work on something else while waiting for inspiration.
Then suddenly, a few days ago, the Gordian Knot was loosed. I’m using ordinary stranded cotton (two strands) in the darkest shade I am allowing myself. It’s not overdyed or textured, and I am using the same thread for both rows of text.
The large text uses the Chain Stitch with Buttonhole Edging that I learnt in Month Five of the Tudor and Stuart Goldwork Masterclass. I knew it would be useful as soon as I saw it! It is slightly fiddly to work at this scale, especially using stranded thread, but importantly, it doesn’t look fiddly when it is in place.
The smaller row of text below it is in split stitch. This provides a narrow, unbroken line, again clear enough to be readable, but equally not drawing attention to itself. If I decide later that this row is a little too unassuming I can always whip the split stitches!
This now means that I know what I am doing with this panel for a while yet, and can just get stitching on it. Unfortunately the transfer that I made has worn off the centre of the fabric so a large section of map will have to be retraced and reapplied, but that can wait until I have finished the titles.
I’m greatly relieved. I’ve now got plenty to work on while I think of the next idea…
I prepared a transfer based on the map used in the book. It was easy enough to scan it, flip it, and then print it out ready to be traced over using transfer pencil. Very dull, and oh, I ached after I had finished making the transfer. It doesn’t matter where I set myself up to do this sort of thing (living room floor, dining room table…), I always end up uncomfortably placed and aching somewhere or other.
Does anyone have a solution to that?
Still, once the transfer is transferred, the fun can begin!
I’m using a sandy coloured dress-weight linen, and a variety of closely matched threads. The design needs to stand out enough to cope with being surrounded by bright images on a faience-blue background, but I don’t want it too strong. There may be a lot of unpicking and re-stitching involved here.
The panel is quite large – more than eighteen inches across – so the picture I used to create the transfer looks much more grainy at this size than it does in real life. I’m hoping for greater clarity when I start stitching it!