Dreams of Amarna – The Dig House Experiment

I’ve been thinking so hard about Amarna over the past two years that I have begun to  get itchy fingers. So I thought I would try something…  I don’t know whether this will find  a place in the final pair of hangings, but it was time I started stitching!

Photo of the Dig House (courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society)

Photo of the Dig House (courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society)

Mary Chubb comments in the book that the Expedition House is one of the houses of Akhenaten’s time, built back to roof level and then roofed, so of course I want to include it.  The photograph I am using came from the Egypt Exploration Society, and I simply sketched a freehand outline of the Expedition House on the cotton with a quilter’s pencil and started stitching.

Dig House - Detail 1

Dig House - Detail 1

In a sense what I am doing here is treating the original photograph as a pattern of dark, medium and light tones, and trying to recreate that tonal pattern. I hope that if the pattern in accurate enough, the whole piece will make visual sense as a representation in fabric and thread of the house that the members of the Expedition lived in.

The fabric and threads are by Stef Francis, the fabric a fine turban cotton, overdyed in sandy and stony colours, and the threads, stiff linens and cottons, a greyish blue and blues shading into dark reddish browns.

Dig House - Detail 2

Dig House - Detail 2

The threads are really much too stiff to work as well as I’d hoped. They are difficult to control and need a more substantial fabric than I am using as a basis. They are also not quite the colours they seemed on the hank, so the overall colour impression is unanticipated.

The stitches include herringbone, stem stitch, chain stitch, couched filling, even a sort of brick stitch – all simple stitches, but this is an exploration of the image and not really of technique.

Experiment in stitching the dig house

Experiment in stitching the dig house

This is very much an experiment as I’ve never worked with so sketchy (sorry!) a plan or so little on the fabric before when I’ve been working on something so relatively complex. It’s quite scary, but as I mentioned in a previous post, over the past couple of years I have also been learning to paint in watercolours, and I’ve discovered that in that medium I do much better when I don’t put too much on the paper before I start painting. Of course I get many fewer “successes” than if I were to draw in detail from a photograph, but it makes me observe more closely and take more pains.

At the moment I am not entirely happy with the way this is turning out. I was hoping to use the fabric as a mid tone, but the threads are not close enough in colour family for that to work, and so I am having to stitch more of the design than I would have liked. I should maybe try again using a different fabric, but in the meantime, persevere with this to see what else I can learn.


  1. Elmsley Rose says:

    I think all but that lightest colour are working well – colourwise, anyway.

  2. karen says:

    oh boy!! Love this. Reminds me of work by an artist called Lizzy Funk. Have you heard of her?

  3. karen says:

    sorry Rachel, it’s Lissy, not Lizzy!

  4. Lady Fi says:

    A tonal pattern – how clever. I can definitely see how the shape is coming together now. What a bold experiment!

  5. Janice says:

    Well it looks good to me but obviously you know what you were hoping for and if this isn’t quite hitting it then, as you say, it’s all experience that will be put to good use when you embark on the real thing. The stitches you’re using look great, and I really like how you’ve dyed the cloth. Did you paint the dye on?

  6. Jan says:

    I like how this looks, but I think the dark gray on the left is a little too dark. Love the overdye thread used on the right side. Maybe using a little of that with the gray will tone it down a little. The building looks good and you are on the right tract.

  7. […] inches by one and a half inches, and it is worked on turban cotton, just like the fabric I used for my earlier experiment with the Dig House. I’m using similar stiff overdyed linen threads as well, but this time I have learnt from the […]

  8. […] from Stef Francis and from Oliver Twist, and some silk threads to make another attempt at the Dig House. I’ve been looking for threads that resemble some of the other colours I will need for the […]