Category: Large Embroidery Projects
After gazing long and hard at my layout, I decided that I wasn’t likely to improve it and that the thing to do was to just get started.
I’m determined to get to grips with Grandmama’s curved needles, and this is a perfect occasion to do so, because it’s so very hard to manipulate a straight needle to do what you want that even a curved needle feels like it is helping!
Grandmama’s set included three sizes, and I’m using the smallest, which is marked “lampshade”. I’ve always wrestled with a straight needle for lampshades, so who knows, this skill may prove transferable!
I’m using ladder stitch, or at least, something very like ladder stitch, and I’m beginning to feel that the curved needle genuinely does help me to make progress.
This is also the point at which I am made most aware that developing these panels into individual pieces that I work on separately has made it possible to achieve what I want. The panels aren’t huge (Placidus, when I get to him, will be much bigger), but if they were already attached to the Map or the Excavation, it would be nearly impossible to reach some of the angles I want to.
I’ve found it easiest to work on stitch lines facing away from me, and while this hasn’t been entirely straightforward in all cases, it would be altogether impossible if the turquoise panels were already attached to the sandy ones.
Especially the short ones, where I would find myself leaning over the entire height of the Map or Excavation!
I do have some concerns that the linen will sag under the weight of the Spots, so I’ve set these aside for a couple of weeks, upright, to see whether I need to gather in any Unfortunate Happenings.
If you compare these two pictures, you will see what I meant by saying the embroideries had personality that the photocopies lack!
Some of it may be down to better lighting, but I think even the Map and the Excavation are looking brighter and happier.
So now they are back in their box, ready to come out one at a time to be attached to the border panels.
The details of that attachment may require some wrangling, and as for the details of attaching the panels to one another – I’m still very unsure about how that will happen. At the moment my best guess is mirror plates, but if anyone has a better idea I would love to hear it!
Originally the Cartouche was going to be rectangular, but as I started to cut the pelmet vilene I’m mounting the spots on, it began speaking to me very firmly.
Long term readers know that this sometimes happens to me, and I have learnt over the years that the sensible thing to do is listen. My projects almost always know better than I what they need to thrive.
In this case, I was informed that I should make the cartouche mounting echo the curves at the top while keeping the square edges at the bottom. It wasn’t easy to do – that silk noil fabric has a way of misbehaving that would make Robin Goodfellow whistle admiringly! – but now it is done, I’m inclined to agree.
The next spot I tackled was if anything an even greater challenge – a fiddly shape (really fiddly!), in quite a light fabric, which didn’t always respond as I expected.
You can see here just how be-pinned and be-poked the poor Tilapia became! There was much clipping and snipping, muttering and tugging, before I produced something that looked at all pleasing. Maybe that’s just to remind me of the reason I did him – hearing a modern glass artist saying that he’d tried to recreate the ancient glass vessel and found it really difficult – to such an extent that even with much practice, he couldn’t expect every fish to go swimmingly (as it were…!).
So, after much cutting and stitching, tugging and thinking, I’ve mounted all the Spots around shaped pieces of pelmet vilene, ready to be attached (somehow!) to the main colour block panels of the two main Amarna pieces.
Gratifyingly, they all have much more vivid personalities than the photocopies I’ve been using to plan their placement, so I think that will genuinely work. Thank goodness!
In the meantime, I’ve got them piled up in a box, all shouting at once that they consider themselves Absolutely Splendid, and will I please Get On With It…!
Once I had some sense that I knew which blocks went where, and what shape I wanted them to be, I could begin to mount them. Some of them will be distinctly tricky, such as the Lotus Tile Fragments, the Nile Tilapia, and (especially), the Faience Hippopotamus.
Since I also picked up a shoulder injury, all this was slowed down by the necessity to do little bits at a time, rather than a whole orgy of concentration.
I worked on the Lotus Tile Fragment while I was stewarding an exhibition that some of my paintings were in. It’s a good idea to have something to do that’s small and easy to put down for that sort of occasion. It’s not a great look to loom at people who’ve come to stroll around, but equally, sitting, hands folded, demure and silent, might also put them off. Looking up with a friendly grin and then returning to something that’s plainly small and interruptible is a useful position between those extremes. ( I sold a painting, too!)
I had a very useful, and suitably faience coloured little box to hand in which all the pieces, so far, have fit rather neatly, keeping them dust-free and untangled.
It’s remarkably satisfying to see them all stacking up, and I have had an idea about details of display in the eventual, hoped-for, exhibition: I could do “record cards” for each piece in the style of something recorded from an excavation, thus providing information, but maintaining the theme.
So now, the question is – what information should I include?
Once I had put together my coiled pot of cord, and, at the very least, I could feel I had something to play with, I had a look at how to assemble the parlour dome display.
I intended to set the pot upon a little velvet cushion; that will give the sense of something “presented” rather than simply stashed away from the dust. Furthermore, I had some cotton velvet in a sort of inderminate brown, taken off a piano stool, which I thought would combine being unobtrusive with being sufficiently present. However, my first attempt to stretch the velvet over the padded card has left me with something that sticks a bit, and raises the card (and thus anything on it) rather further than I anticipated. More thought needed here, I feel.
While that thinking continued, I thought I might as well play with the whole display, to find any other difficulties so that I could think about those as well.
The tea-dyeing has worked, I think: the daisy beads stand out nicely, but it’s not the sort of high contrast that would overwhelm them.
And I think the beads flowing out of the pot and down onto the velvet work as well. The textures and scales seem to be properly in tune with one another.
But I think the pot is too tall, and the violets stick out a bit too much. Violets are “mat forming”, apparently, so I would expect them to follow the contours of the lid a little more closely, shading the beads.. And somehow, with the pot so tall, I feel that the violets can’t breathe.
And indeed, although this photo is rather hurried (you can even see the pin holding the violets in place), I think it shows what I mean. The shorter pot gives the violets more air, and somethow that makes for a pleasanter display.
However, I do still need to find a solution for the Problem Of The Cushion!
You may recall that I had an idea to combine the Daisy Beads and the Stumpwork Violets into a little display under a parlour dome. The colours and scale don’t work with the main panels, and besides, both items are tied specifically to Mary in a way that nothing else is.
My first thought was a gold trinket pot, but so far I have entirely failed to find a pot of the right sort of dimensions. For some reason, everything I could find was too wide or too high, or not the right surface for gilding.
So after some frustration, I decided to tie the display back to the excavations by using a coiled pot made using braid or cord. It should be slightly reminiscent of the baskets used to carry away spoil from the excavations.
After some experimentation, I settled on piping cord, sewn together with ordinary sewing cotton as I wrapped the cord around a former (a spice jar, since you ask). Even that involved some unpicking and restitching.
When I’d done it, however, it was too white and stark, not a kindly background for the Daisy Beads. Hmmm…
So that is how I found myself tea dyeing a coiled pot made of piping cord!
Telling stories without words can be a little tricky..
I’ve managed to get the Amulet and the Crock together here, and “Typed on Camelback” is on the horizontal panel, which works. But I put the Lotus Fragment at the top because it is the first thing mentioned in the book, only to find that it makes the whole thing fizzle out rather.
So for the next one, I’ve swapped the Faience Necklace with the Lotus Fragment. Better, I think. I like the way the Amulet echoes the Cartouche in shape, but not in placement. I also rather like the new, closer placement of the Fishie with the Felucca. Typed on Camelback and the Lotus Fragment look fairly happy together, too.
So, final tweak. The square tops of the Cartouche and the Crock of Gold balance each other nicely, and the grouping of Fishie and Felucca take only a little more space than the Faience Necklace. I think I will put the Hippo lower and the Antelope higher, mirroring the Lotus Fragment and Typed on Camelback. And incidentally, making more sense of them – antelope are dry land animals and hippos like water, after all!
So, have I finally made sense of this?
You know, I think I may have done!
The first place to start with planning layouts was to simply trim my photocopies neat, square, and not too close, and see what result I could achieve.
I’m not at all pleased with this. It looks much too congested – or alternatively, not congested enough! If I had twice as many spots, maybe slightly smaller, and had them all jammed together, it might work, but this is betwixt and between, which is no place to be!
So I tried again, trimming some of the pieces closer or in a more shaped fashion, but still all of them being used. This is better. Actually, much better – but I think it still feels congested, and rather unbalanced. So, I need to think about what I can pick up from this, and take forward.
But before I do that, I do have a guideline in mind already: I want to use the “spots” which refer to finds or incidents that Mary referred to in the book with the View, and the ones which depict things already known about with the Map. So it’s arguable that I should either have “Loading The Felucca” with the View, or mount it separately. As it is bordering on too large in any case, I think I may choose to mount it separately.
The other one which is a bit tricky to wrangle is “Typed on Camelback”. It clearly has to be with the View, but it’s a little too wide to fit comfortably on the uprights, where I had it in the earlier two pictures.
So how about this? I’ve taken off “Loading the Felucca”, and the “Head of Ankhsenspaaten”, and everything is now rather more spaced out. I think this works quite nicely, but at the same time, I thought the “Hittite Amulet” and the “Crock of Gold Hoard” had looked very happy side by side, so I wonder what further adjustment I can come up with?
The next challenge was to work out how to attach the Family to the navy blue velvet stele I had prepared for them. It was a bit too awkwardly sized for the various tables I have tried to work on – or they were at entirely the wrong height – so I ended up perched on a stool beside the ironing board.
What’s the phrase? Adapt, improvise, and overcome!
I keep trying to make use of my Grandmama’s curved needles. For some reason it has become one of those skills I am determined to master. Goodness, I wish I’d asked Grandmama how she managed!
In this case, I began to feel that maybe I was getting the hang of the idea. Gradually. Work speeded up a little after I managed to remove a burr from the point, restoring the proper sharpness.
I was a bit baffled to begin with as to how to remove that burr, but a question on Mastodon elicited several replies in varying detail. I used a nail file, since you ask (lowest tech solution), although one of my friends suggested a dart sharpener – which I never even knew was a thing that existed!
I have a lot of mounting embroidery in my future, so I suppose I am going to get the hang of it – or go stark crazy, of course, always an option!
Anyway, several stitching sessions later – the Family had to stand on their heads for their closeups, to bring themselves into reasonable range of the camera!
As regular readers are well aware, when in doubt I have a policy of benign neglect which allows ideas to ebb and flow until something filters to the surface as The Right Idea. Sometimes this takes longer than others, although I have noticed that recently I’m getting ideas a bit more quickly.
Or maybe it’s just everything coming to a head, all at once!
Nefertiti came off her frame after I’d finished her (in 2017, dear heavens above!), and then went into a box while I tackled such hair raising adventures as the Colossus of Akhenaten and the Amarna Family Group. This was partly because that seemed safest, and partly because I hadn’t the vaguest idea how I was going to display her. She certainly couldn’t be mounted on anything that would move, or suffer abrasion, not with the sort of gold thread I had used, but I have a deep aversion to mounting embroidery behind glass, except in particular circumstances.
So what I needed to find was some way to mount, frame, and display the Head of Nefertiti in a way that would be satisfying and sufficient, that that would allow her to stand alone, with no glass, no frame, but nevertheless complete. I’m not sure when the idea finally swam to the surface, but I had a thought that maybe what she needed was cloth-of-gold.
Then I found some!
Not the real thing, unfortunately, but at least I found something rather spectacular, that clearly had the idea of cloth-of-gold somewhere in its family tree. Then the difficulty became how to make the assembly work. The wretched stuff frays, pulls, and crumples. Then it didn’t iron nicely – but it responded well to being steamed under tension and ironed on the back, so that was well in the end! Next, the frame my friendly carpenter made had a front of foamcore attached, with slots corresponding to the slots in a separate piece of card attached behind Nefertiti, through which I had threaded cotton tape. The foamcore was covered with padding and then the “cloth-of-gold”, and then, with some trepidation, I cut through the padding and the gold from the back. I’ve reinforced the cuts with fabric glue, to inhibit fraying.
Then I resurrected a hairpin-as-hook trick I used to use to fasten my character shoes in ballet class (buttonhooks being no longer available, in these degenerate days!) to pull the ends of the tape through to the back, pulled the tapes tight, and tied two bows.
This of course skates over a lot of fussing and measuring, stretching and stapling, anxiety and tension, but I’m sure most of you have had similar experiences and don’t need every detail!
However, the final result is what you see here – Nefertiti, The King’s Great Royal Wife, At Whose Coming One Rejoices – on set at Bernard Rose’s studio, ready for her close up and commanding the stage.
Worth waiting for, I think!