Category: Dreams of Amarna
A further episode in the Difficulties of Assembly…
I spent hours – literally – making some kumihimo braid to trim the main Amarna panels, and finally finished the second three metre length during the MathsJam weekend in November. Rejoicing at this success, I pinned the braid in place over the interections in a panel, sat back, and was rather pleased. I thought it looked crisp and added a lovely finishing touch. WooHoo!
Then I put an overlay over the top and I was Most Disappointed. Rather than adding a neat little finishing touch, the braid seemed to shout over the embroidery, breaking up the panel into the constituent parts, rather than stitching it together.
That’s very odd. I’m not sure that the photograph really conveys the impression, but it was very striking in real life, and when I checked my perception by showing the piece to my mother, she agreed. She’s not been living with the project as I have, so I can trust her not to be jaded and seeing difficulties where none exist!
So that braid may need to find another home.
As you can see, the Trickiness of The Overlays continued into the photoshoot. It’s as well that the braid was not included in the end – there’s a length of fishing line in the horizontal gap, tieing the panel to a very solid weight to keep it upright. And the framework from which the gauze is hanging was macgyvered on the spot. See what I mean about the photoshoot turning into a creative collaboration?
On the left, my photo. Granted, with my mobile phone, but it’s the best I have available to me. It’s in the same place, and against the same background, and with nearly the same lighting, as the one on the right, taken by Bernard.
In Bernard’s version, the colours are brighter, warmer, the crevices and shadows are reduced or enhanced in different places to bring out the details in the various elements, and the placement of the highlights on the glass was carefully tweaked and managed to ensure that the shape of the dome was brought out without any odd little bright spots in the wrong place. The highlights even bracket the embroidery, framing and presenting it.
And now you see what it took. Lighting and diffusers, and then a whole slew of little improvised mirrors and reflectors, including one held in Bernard’s hand while he operates the camera with the other one.
We all say that embroidery is hard to photograph, but in truth, until you’ve seen the effort that an experienced professional photographer will put in to get a good shot, you have no idea just how hard!
And all this tells me something else – part of the trick is that, with a lifetime of doing this behind him, Bernard can look through a view finder and think, no, we can do better. I would be impressed from the start, and give up too early, not because I don’t want to achieve a good result, but because I’ve no idea just how good a Good Result can be, and still less of an idea of how to attain it.
But incidentally – I’m so glad I tinted the base of the dome. That dark, vaguely walnut shade works much better than the plain pine!
Before Christmas, but still, thanks to an arm injury earlier in the year, very much later than I had hoped (remember the original report, on the first photography session, was in April!), I took the remaining Amarna pieces to the wonderful Bernard Rose for their portraits to be taken.
In fact, we had a great time, because although it’s fair to say I was delegating everything about the photography to Bernard, he took a very collaborative attitude. He was interested in the stories I was trying to tell, and the impressions I was trying to convey, and that meant that, rather than just going “point and shoot” (albeit with better equipment and lighting!), he put great effort into bringing the best out of the various pieces.
Although, halfway through the morning, as he tried to develop a structure from which we could hang one of the overlays, he did comment on the level of puzzle-solving being demanded of him, which is apparently not entirely usual with other clients!
It’s a good thing that my arm injury is reduced to a mere occasional twinge, though – there was quite a lot of heaving things around, and the two main panels, now consisting in each case of four wooden frames screwed to a half centimetre or more of MDF, are really quite heavy and awkward.
The mannequin belonged to him, too. The battered paintwork helped to bring out the idea of something inspired by archaeological discoveries. And the fabric drapes beautifully, in spite of the heavy embroidery, and the additional layer of the lining.
So I think all the photography is now done – although I will be writing a bit more about what I observed and learned during the two sessions.
That’s a relief!
Once the backing boards had been drilled and painted, the pieces could be properly assembled.
And oh, what a world of pain those words conceal!
Never mind, moving on…
I like the look of this – it is the first time I got to look at the panels upright, and it’s astonishing what a difference it makes. I’ve been through the entire process a prey to Doubts, and they are beginning to dissipate at last.
So the next thing was to make it possible to hang the overlays in front. I don’t want to have the gauze touching the embroidery, permanently in place, in fact ideally I would like to be able to remove them more or less at will when the pieces are exhibited, so I’m still working out how to achieve that. In the meantime, I decided to put channels top and bottom of the gauzes, so I have an interim solution. That will mean that, for example, I can start to think about booking the second photography session.
Deciding on that interim solution, however, meant fishing out my old friend Jones. Jones was given to me when I was eight, and I did a fair bit of dressmaking with him, until I was deemed old enough not to do myself a mischief using my mother’s Bernina. He weighs rather a lot so with years of a bad back, I’ve not used him for years and years, so I was rather pleased that, first, he worked, second, that when it came to it, I also remembered how to wind the bobbin, and third, getting him out didn’t make my back go “spoing!”…! As you see, the bobbin is not quite the same as modern ones, not least in that it is long and thin, and the bobbin carrier (not on display) looks more like an asymmetric torpedo, with a very sharp point.
Now I’ve draped the gauze over the top of the panel it is clear that I need to be absolutely on top of the ironing, since crumples in the fabric interfere with the face showing. It has also shown, however, that the effect that I was reaching for can be achieved.
Next steps – decide whether I need to cover the places where the panels butt together, and (definitely!) iron the gauzes.
But for now, I’m pleased with progress!
There’s always more involved than you think, isn’t there…
I had all sorts of thoughts about keeping the four panels together, but in the end the simplest solution seemed to be a large panel on the back, with screws through to the wooden frames. So my first visit was to our wonderful local framer, because I thought the sort of hardboard she uses to back her frames would be enough.
No, she said, it’s not strong enough, you need something a bit beefier. So I went to a local(ish) building supplies store that is willing to cut material to size, and they duly did so. But not quite right (fortunately, too big) so I had to go back and get them to do it again.
Once the boards were the right size, I set out to map the frames onto the board, so as to work out where to put the holes for the screws. I got thoroughly confused and lines and more lines and planned holes and replanned holes and very nearly howled with despair on more than one occasion, but in the end, I had a Plan of where to place my screws.
Then we taped the two boards together so that one set of drilling would do (that was a very good thought of The Australian’s), and spent ages drilling those holes.
In the interests of having a nice looking back, not covered with a zillion lines in fibretip pen, I’ve sponged the back with two shades of gold acrylic paint.
We’ll get to the end of this eventually – I hope!
I had originally intended to screenprint the gauze overlays for the main Amarna panels, but it was proving difficult to find a way of doing it large enough, without excessive cost. Besides, since I have been sketching, painting, and drawing very much more often over the last few years, I’m much more willing to risk my arm (as it were) by doing it in a more immediate manner.
So I found a local printer who was willing to print out my manipulated images of Akhenaten and Nefertiti so I could use them as guides. They had a torrid time with a brand-new printer that kept on not doing as they expected, but they got there in the end, and I stretched my gauze over the printouts, attached to a padded board, fished out some brown inktense blocks, and got started.
Of course it’s difficult to see where you’ve been on a gauze when the template (for want of a better term) is as strongly marked as these, so when I felt I’d been all over the image once, I drew out the template and went back in by eye.
I still don’t consider I have all that accurate an eye for angle and form, so that was truly terrifying.
When I hung them from the laundry rack in the kitchen, however, they were “there and not there” in a very promising manner.
Whether or not these are the final versions I use (I’ve enough gauze to go again if they turn out to be the wrong colour or if I need to tweak the tones), will have to wait until I’ve been able to set them up in front of the panels, but until then, I think I can say that I’m very pleased!
There were some quandaries about mounting “Loading The Felucca”. Burgundy? Navy? Copper? Brown? I posted these pictures on various social media sites – each of which picked a different preference, which wasn’t helpful at all, but at least left me free to apply my own judgement.
So I chose the same navy blue velvet I used for the Amarna Royal Family. All the other fabrics had something going for them, but the navy blue brought out the colours and shapes more emphatically and truly – although I fear you will have to take my word for it, as my photograph doesn’t really bring out the blueness of the velvet!
However, in the course of the final mounting process, I discovered that the embroidery was no longer visibly signed. Curses!
Then I checked, and neither was Ankhsenspaaten. Curses again!
They are now…
I clipped the edges of the cushion for the coiled pot, and laced the tabs together. That was a bit less bulky than before, but still clunky and rather unstable.
<thinks hard> I wonder whether this will work…?
I stitched (that curved needle again!) close to the edge of the card mount, using a strong, doubled, cotton thread. Fortunately I’d backed the card with some heavy pelmet vilene, which meant that some stitches went into that as well as the velvet.
Then, with great trepidation, I cut off the first tab. And then the one it had been attached to.
Ooh, the whole thing didn’t disintegrate!
So I carried on , and it still didn’t disintegrate (although velvet is a very messy fabric to cut!). I tried it in place – much better, stable, lower, neater. But yes, still shedding fragments of velvet. That’s easy to fix – a couple of layers of pva glue on the underneath (me, reaching for glue? who am I, all of a sudden?!), and there’s no more shedding.
However, I do think it looks a little unfinished.
So, trimmed with a bit of furniture braid, which makes a neat little edge, slightly camouflaging what I’ve done and how.
If the daisy beads escape, it might help to keep them safe, as well.
After some thought, I decided to take the inspiration of mounting for the Head of Ankhsenspaaten from Victorian mounts for minaiture portraits, so I went to my local framer, who goes by the not-at-all-exaggerated business name of “Framing Genius” (seriously, quite apart from any headaches I may give her, I’ve seen some of the other things she’s been asked to do!), and we worked out what size of oval would work for this idea. Then her clever computer controlled cutter cut out an oval that was exactly the size and proportions I wanted.
Further thought, and some playing with cards and fabrics, helped me to decide to use for her background the same burgundy chenille upholstery fabric that I eventually used to mount the Colossus of Akhenaten. None of the Amarna pieces are going behind glass – if eventual owners wish to do so, that’s their prerogative, but I like the immediacy of feeling you get, looking at a fabric or thread without any glass in the way – so the next job was to stretch the burgundy over a wooden frame and use that wretched curved needle to ladder stitch the two together.
I may be being unfair. I still don’t find a curved needle at all natural to use, but I am at least beginning not to whimper every time I look at it. It’s very useful for the purpose I’m using it for!
Once I had her neatly mounted, I sat back for some of my usual Thoughtful Staring.
The original inspiration sometimes had a cord or ribbon trim around the oval of the miniature – maybe as it stands the transition is a little abrupt?
I’ve a small collection of odd metallic cords bought at an Embroiderer’s Guild Sale, so I rummaged in that, and found something that might work.
Then I looked a little harder and realised that the thread I had used to attach the oval to the velvet would show. For the first time, I found a use for the Peri-Lusta Invisible Thread I found in my Grandmama’s workbox!
I’ve not got the gold thread quite correctly placed yet (I ran out of patience with myself at this point), so I need to spend a bit of time tweaking that, but I think where it is in the right place it is definitely improving the look.
When I looked again at the back of the Clump, or Mat, of violets, it became clear to me why it hadn’t followed the contours of the little pot I’d made. The padding is much too broad, and much too inflexible. It was a sensible choice to do this when I was planning to include the Violets among the spots on the main panels, but when I began to look at assembling them, the Violets and the Daisy Beads drew closer together and started to look somewhat askance at the rest of what I planned.
I began to undo the padding, and found the whole mat disintegrating on me (not really a surprise), so I went back to the beginning. I made another piece of painted calico, redesigned the pattern of my Mat, pierced holes in the new calico and began to reassemble the whole thing, with only one small piece of felt to pad it, and some extra stitching to entangle the “legs” of my petals and leaves.
I had forgotten how many extra fingers and hands that process had required the first time around.
I got there in the end, I think we can say!