Category: Dreams of Amarna
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.
Having completed one green panel, I decided that I wanted the other green panel to be not quite the same, and I couldn’t work out how to approach keeping the family resemblance and maintaining some sense of balance.
So I asked The Australian, who you may remember is also a mathematician. He looked at me in some perplexity for a while. In fact, as I explained the layers of patterns I’d created, he eyed me more than a little askance, and then went very quiet for a while (you’d think he’d be used to it by now…).
Finally, he suggested I think about duality. Now, this isn’t a philosphical thing – it’s quite tightly defined, in the geometrical sense, at least – see this Wikipedia page – so after some discussion over lunch, we decided that if I were to regard the elements of the two green panels as duals of one another, it would give me a systematic way to approach the second one, rather than flailing around randomly.
Now I had to decide what was what’s dual….
For example, in the first panel, I chose between floss silk or stranded silk, and in the case of stranded, between solid colour and variegated; then in terms of stitch orientation (going clockwise), between vertical, diagonal, horizontal and the other diagonal. In this context, I’m not sticking to the idea of a binary choice, so for example with stitch orientation I will go to the next 45degree angle around the clock face, while with the thread, I’m going to pick some ordering of variegated stranded, plain stranded and variegated floss and then move along to the next in that sequence.
In terms of the stitch choice, essentially there are four: Jacobean trellis, darning stitch (rows of irregular running stitch, in effect), Bokhara couching, and Woven Stitch.
I can choose to make Bokhara Couching and darning stitch each other’s duals – that will move the heaviest stitching to different places in the panel.
The other two will be each other’s duals, with the added complication that they have each involved two different threads.
Have I simplified my life or complicated it?
There are two green panels in the design of the Shawl, which is based on the polychrome panel around Nefertiti’s famous (and unique-to-her) headdress, and they’ve been giving me no end of trouble.
If I’m completely honest, in fact, this whole piece has been giving me no end of trouble. The fabric is particularly mobile (although not quite as bad as that other pashmina I did!), and it’s been hard to find stitches that work comfortably. Originally I was working it in the hand, and that made it even harder.
In the end I outlined the design sections with chain stitch, and then picked a few stitches and threads. I tried to get some sense of variation in stitch density as well as colour. So there are complete coverage sections (using Bokhara Couching) and almost-no-coverage sections (using darning stitches) and almost everything in between (everything else)!
I’ve also changed and counterchanged between variegated and solid colours, and between floss silk and stranded silk. This is one of the reasons I ended up needing The Australian’s mathematical eye to help me keep track of the pattern I was building up in my haphazard way!
There are partial red panels at the edges of the Shawl, and as I want the colours to run the whole way across, clearly I have to stitch them. While I was mulling over the blue panels and the green ones, I carried on with those partial panels.
The central circles in all cases are in chain stitch and stem stitch, but I wanted a variety of effects in the main circles. That wasn’t as easy to achieve as you might think, for all my extensive repertoire of stitches! I found “German Knotted Blanket Stitch” in Barbara Snook’s “Embroidery Stitches”, and Palestrina and Loop Stitch are old friends, but by this point I’d managed to rack my brain into remembering most of those..
I was beginning to be at my wits end for stitches, and spent some time rummaging in Edith John’s “Creative Stitches” and “New Stitches for Embroidery”. Many of them would be easier in a slightly stiffer thread at a slightly larger scale, so I find myself wondering what Miss John devised her stitches for.
The full circles here are in stitches which are old friends, but the partial circles are some of hers. Floral Feather is a feather stitch with an upside down blanket stitch beside it, and I quite fell in love with it. I’ll be looking for another opportunity to use that one!.
Centre Chain stitch alternates single chain with fly stitch, starting each chain stitch within the previous one. That might be a way to vary textures with Wheatear Stitch, while still keeping the overall pattern. And Double Chain Stitch places a chain stitch and an open chain stitch side by side, alternating the ordering to create a checked effect.
I ran the embellisher over the whole thing, to knock back the colours and the stitches a little, and tugged at the fabric to even it out. Then it was on to the calf, cut out separately and given darker patches on his back and legs. I’ve attached him using single-needle needlefelting, by hand. His ear is sharpened with a twisted chain stitch, his eye is a tiny chain stitch and his hooves are straight stitches.
I intend to cut an irregular shape and attach it to a padded wool felt background stretched over a frame, as I did with the Two Princesses. I mustn’t forget to sign it at that point!
In the case of these plants, instead of stem stitch on either side of the stems, I narrowed and neatened them with a single felting needle, and then added feather stitch over the top, using another of those lovely Gumnut Yarns. The flowers have a flourish of Cretan Stitch, with two colours at the base.
Then I started to think about the leaves. At first, I was going to add fragments of felt for all of them – the original fresco looks as though they are in a single colour – but then I reminded myself that I’m an embroiderer, and after all, texture is one of the reasons why.
The back couple of stems have felt leaves, but then I used loose, large split stitches in Persian Yarn. This maybe looks a little more dense and “jungle-y” than the original fresco, but the Nile valley is famously fertile, after all…
The sharp, curved leaves on the other side were a little harder to deal with.
In the end I decided to make life easier for myself by putting in running stitch curves to help me place them. I’ve spaced them out a little more than in the fresco itself, because the variegated wool thread has created a lot more activity in the embroidered leaves than the frescoed ones.
I think that’s clear in this photo of this section. The sharp, curving shapes, the variegated thread and the varying stitch direction all create a rather busy effect, and I’m even thinking of removing the lighter pink stitches in the flowers. That decision can wait until everything is in place.
So I have a little more thinking to do.
You may recall that I wasn’t entirely happy with the the first two blue panels. I’m still not entirely sure why, but I decided that I would work the second pair rather differently.
The outline of the pillar like shape, this time, was in Vandyke stitch using a Stef Francis variegated silk. Tricky, on such a mobile fabric, but I liked it enough to keep going, and moved on to a background using Sorbello Stitch. I rather like Sorbello Stitch – I used it for the villages on the Map of Amarna – and because I was working it at a tiny scale, the mobility of the fabric wasn’t a huge problem.
On to the internals of the pillar like shape, and I started with a Ceylon stitch wheel. This is a needlelace stitch, and even with the fabric in a hoop, tension was an interesting challenge…
I’ve also made the background a chequerboard of Sorbello Stitches in two shades of blue. I must have really enjoyed myself!
Finally, I filled the rest of the body of the pillar with Ceylon Stitch. Tension was even more of a problem here, and I may have to come back to this and tweak it, restitch it, or even change my mind again. We’ll see!
In the meantime, however, I have to do another one on the other side of the panel.
After her discovery of the piece of tile that started it all, the first find that Mary Chubb describes is a faience necklace, discovered by the team then in Egypt, and written up in the Director’s Report which she has to disentangle and re-type legibly (remember, in the 1920s, typing wasn’t a skill that everyone had had to develop). It sounds completely enchanting, and yet I’m struggling to bring it to life.
In fact I last wrote about it in 2015, and I’m still wrestling with ways to represent it! I’ve already abandoned any idea of working a portrait of it (as it were). As you can see from the black and white photo, it’s crammed with faience beads, and it’s hard to imagine making a good stitchable design of it. So I’ve cut out some watercoloured beads, and pushed them around, taking photos as I go. Back to primary school!
Then another suggestion came in (thank you @IndiaGraceDsgns ), to think about mandalas…
And now I’m thinking about “samplers” of beads which still recall the way these broad collars and necklaces are sometimes displayed in museums.
I’m planning on using flat silks, when I finally pick one (comments, anyone?), and of course, the next question will be: what colour fabric I will be stitching it on?
The Colossus of Akhenaten, in a combination of trapunto quilting and goldwork, is now finished.
I wanted to do something slightly different with the pink flowers, but still modify the colour with stitching. The braid stitch made the shape too angular, and emphasized the edges too much; up-and-down buttonhole stitch, a favourite from the Jacobean Coat, might do a better job. Certainly, it provides a delicate edge that doesn’t impose itself too much.
You will see that the left-hand side looks sharper than the right hand side. There is stitching and there has been extra needlefelting on the stems and flowers, while the right-hand side still looks rough, like a quick, splodgy sketch. I found I rather enjoyed narrowing the stems and rounding them off – by hand, with a single needle, not the embellisher, of course. There’s a gap in one of the stems because the calf will go over the top!
I may not have managed quite enough curve and flow in the lighter stems, but we will see how I manage to develop them later. They will have leaves added, and that will change the effect and the emphasis…