Category: Large Embroidery Projects

Framing the Family

The Amarna Family Group, with a roughly attached ribbon frame.

We left the Amarna Family lurking at the far side of the living room, surrounded by coloured ribbon. I was very certain it was better than the gold, but I wanted to be sure I was happy that there was nothing better somewhere at the back of my mind.

After rather longer than is evident in the gap between the posts on the subject (doing and writing often get thoroughly out of sync, for me), I decided that it was probably the best presentation I was going to invent, and needed to be done properly. The ribbons were already attached, so the next stage would be to make sure the corners were made neat and square, and the attachment was secure.

Secure, and not too noticeable.

The ribbon is being attached to the gold using red silk over a navy thread.

I was a little afraid that the join might leave the fabric showing, or otherwise draw attention to itself, so after a little thought, I decided to overstitch a navy thread (stele-coloured, as it were) with red silk. I’m hoping that because it’s not a single colour, the join will be slightly camouflaged. I did consider gold, but decided in the end that camouflage-by-lighting was not my aim!

The whole process took a couple of days, because holding the navy thread at the right angle and tension was something that required frequent breaks to avoid cramping fingers.

A forest of pins holding the ribbons in place on a large foam board.

Each corner then required some manipulation to make it work, so once I felt I had the corners mostly settled, I pressed them (not the goldwork!) very, very cautiously.

And then pinned them down very thoroughly, and turned my back for a few days!

A (not very) Blank Slate

Signature in Morse Code before the A of Akhetaten
Signature in Morse Code at the end of the scale for the Map

Finally, it occurred to me that I hadn’t signed the panels – either of them! Soon rectified, but as I didn’t notice until after the panels were mounted on their frames, the stitching itself was a bit harder than it would have been had I been more alert.

Never mind, the Map is now signed at the end of the scale , and the View of the Excavation is signed just before the A of “Akhetaten”.

The two sandy coloured panels with a pile of colour photocopies of the spot designs piled on top.

Now I have to plan the spots.

I’ve taken photocopies of the various “spots” that will be attached to the side panels, so that I can use them to play with layouts and avoid too much handling of the real things!

Among other things, I’ve not decided whether to trim close but square, or to trim to shape (the Glass Tilapia, for example).

The two main panels laid out with their side panels and the corner crests in place.

I think the two panels stand up to each other much better now, and better again in real life than in photographs. The next stage will be a whole series of shuffling of the photocopies around the faience coloured pieces, to see what sort of balance I can create. I’m not even sure that all the pieces will be used – some may end up being mounted in some other way.

When I’ve had a bit more of a play, I will show you how I’ve been thinking…

In which I find an expert to delegate to..

Several embroideries stacked on top of each other.

Embroidery, as many of us have cause to know, can be extremely difficult to photograph successfully. I’m much better at it than I was when I started this blog, but mostly because the technology has improved enough to make up for my deficiencies! So I decided that it might be a good idea to get a Real Photographer to take photos of the Amarna embroideries for me.

It’s going to happen in two stages, the first covering as much as possible, and the second the finished assembly of the colour block panels, and anything else that needed final details. So the first thing for me to do was to get all the “spots” for the main panels stretched over card so that they could be photographed before I assemble the colour block panels. Then I bundled them up with the Amarna Felts and the two main sandy panels, and went to visit Bernard Rose in his studio.

An easel of sorts is set up at the focus of photographic equipment. The Violets in Stumpwork are on a small pad on that easel.

We’d already met to talk about what I was doing, and so that I could show him what, precisely, the challenge involved (to say that The Colosuss of Akhenaten offered scope for experiment doesn’t really cover it!), so when I arrived, he had already set up lighting and a table with an easel of sorts on it, so that the embroideries on their temporary mounts could be easily set up, and easily interchanged. There were also a whole range of different reflectors to add in as each piece demanded, some of them wielded by me, some by him, some propped or clipped to the table.

Here you can see that the Clump of Violets is in place. I made a separate, sandy-coloured card for the Violets and the String of Beads, because I think these will end up together, but I’ve not got How quite sorted in my head.

View over the photographer's shoulder at Ankhsenspaaten on the easel.

Since Bernard seemed to enjoy himself more every time an embroidery proved particularly difficult, we had a tiring but successful and rather entertaining morning. Here the Head of Ankhsenspaaten is the focus. I’d forgotten how tiny she is, and wasn’t at all surprised when he abandoned his tripod and took the camera in hand!

I’d also rather forgotten how much I’ve done that’s Amarna inspired.

Quite a shock, that was!

Presentation for the Amarna Family Group

Photograph of the or nué of the Amarna Family Group presented over a gold cushion against the navy stela

You may recall that when I had finished the or nué I started to apply it to the stela and was very upset because it did not look at all right.

Oddly, it seemed to need backup, as it were. So I thought – Ancient Egypt, gold, let’s give it a gold cushion, as it were.

Only to be less than thrilled with the result. I will grant you that merely pinned in place and without smoothing out the “cushion”, it wasn’t going to look its best, but still..

It has been leering at me across the living room for some months now, and every time I’ve caught sight of it, my head has dropped.

But then I had a thought – maybe what I need to do is pull out the colours in the border.

So I bought a couple of metres of satin ribbon in decreasing sizes, and spent quite some time attaching them to one another down one edge.

This is the result, attached in a very off-hand fashion, to be stared at for a while..

I think it’s better.

The question is, is it Best?

Difficulties With The Staff

Close up of two embroidered excavators, one in a pale thread with a very square stitch, the other more golden thread, in shel chain stitch.

I’ve been a bit bothered about this pair of workmen ever since I finished them. The pale stone coloured thead is a bit too close to the background colour, and the squarish stitch looks too spiky, too contorted, and very uncomfortable.

What’s more, no matter what highlight and shadow I have added, I’ve not liked it more. So while I’ve been working on sunlight and shadows, I’ve been thinking about it.

The same two workmen, but the pale stitching has been taken out.
Close up of the same two workmen. The pale yellow braid stitch of the Difficult one is being unpicked. Sigh.

Out it has come, and good riddance!


With what should it be replaced? Clearly not Braid Stitch/Cable Plait Stitch (depending on which dictionary you have beside you!) in pale yellow. Only about half of the workman was reinstated before being swiftly removed.

Well, the decision was swift – the action, rather less so!

The two workmen are now both in shades of tawny gold, and the one at the back has a cap of Cable Plait Stitch and garments of Hungarian Braided Chain Stitch

Fortunately all that playing and wrestling with it brought something else to my mind.

Hungarian Braided Chain is an old favourite, and I had been dismissing it because I’d already used it, but in one of the finer threads. Here in undivided stranded cotton, it has enough authority to back up the Shell Chain of the workman in front, and the slightly darker shade of gold helps too.

I think I’m happier now…

Continuing to think about display ordering..

You may recall that I wondered whether I should reverse the order I had planned for these two main panels of the Dreams of Amarna.

The View of the Excavation is on the left, and the Mam on the right

When I finally add the border panels and the “spots”, my intention as far as possible to have the spots that were already known set with the Map, and the spots which are more closely linked with Mary’s experiences at the dig set alongside the View of the Excavation. I’m still not sure which way around to put them, but perhaps if I can arrange the border panels to be moveable, we can change that depending on what else is in the exhibition? There was a suggestion, pre-Covid, that particularly northern British museums associated with the EES might be interesting in combining my embroideries with their finds. Now that’s an enticing thought…

Shadows stitched, I have the Map and the View side by side again. I think it's an improvement, but does it show?

I don’t think I’ve quite finished adding details, and I still need to think out my reasoning and placement for these two, but although the extra shadows are barely visible, even in person, they have, I think, brought a better sense of focus. I do, however, have a few highlights and details to add!

One thing I really like is the clear, un-seed-stitched section at the bottom. When the fabric is washed and ironed, I think that area of plain cloth above the title and surtitle will help to make everything settle together.

Adding more detail..

Detail of the central section of the View of the Excavation, showing fine outlines on the right hand side of the figures

I started by tacking a shadow line along the edge of the Gufti with the staff, decided that it did indeed help, took out the tacking stitches, and started adding very fine stem stitch shadows in single strands of cotton or silk along the right hand sides of the figures.

I used different shades , and different levels of detail – I want the archaeologist in his pith helmet to remain only semi visible. He’s clearly consulting with the Gufti, but he’s not the focus of the flurry, he’s part of the pattern.

Middle distance figures, slightly crisper with the addition of the shadow

The middle distance figures gave me a little trouble, as the colours seemed a more emphatic, close to, than I remembered.

I’m looking across the room at them now, however, and they have settled back into place, just the slight thickening and darkening at the edge helping to make sense of the pattern that’s developing. Even the slightly darker basket, which I had doubts about when I’d stitched it, doesn’t unbalance the whole view.

Foreground of the View of the Excavation, crisper with shadow lines

In this bit of foreground, you can see that I have been varying the amount of detail I shadow. Some of these figures may get a little more detail, to bring them forward even more.

I’m even wondering about putting a shadow on the edge of the creamy white veil the foremost figure is wearing.

More to do, more to think about..

Having finished the title text and got to a point with the seeding where I think it is more or less complete, I pinned up the View of the Excavation over the lovely frame prepared for it, and then set it beside the Map, sat back, and stared thoughtfully.

The Map and the View of the Excavation, side by side

I think the conversation is beginning to happen, now. There are still a few infelicities – the area at the far right where the tete de boeuf stitch falls away from the trench, and the area above it where there’s a sort of funnel shape between the areas of seed stitches. I think, too, that in the far distance, the seed stitching maybe tracks the shapes of the people a little too closely, and I need to make the edges a bit wispier.

When summoned to act as Cardboard Programmer, or Rubber Duck(!), The Australian said that he was having a hard time making out some of the people, and could I put a very narrow shadow that would balance pulling them out of the scene with not emphasising them to the point of obliterating the dust?

And then I had another thought. I have always put them in this order: Map on the left, whatever else I was going to do on the right. Should I keep to that, or should I change my mind?

The View of the Excavation is on the left, and the Mam on the right

Developments on the View of the Excavation

A line of raggedly Knotted Cross Stitches, not quite in the right colour.

I love my worklight. It gives a wonderfully crisp and bright light to work from, and it can even be useful in bright daylight because it washes out deep shadows that confuse the eye. By and large, it also gives a better idea of true colour than the earlier one I had, which didn’t have the “throw” to reach from my side table to my hands, and tended towards the blue.

However, just every now and again, it doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head, as it were, and this is a case in point. That row of Knotted Cross stitch is plainly in too cold a colour for the surrounding stitches, and yet when I was picking the colour, using my worklight, the thread looked good, a warm darkish olive-brown. When I looked at the stitches having completed them, it looked much colder, just plain Wrong. Out it comes!

Stitched text, in split stitch: "Down over the North Suburb I could see a yellow cloud of dust", and below that, in heavier stitching, "Excavations at Akhetaten"

I tend only to unpick first thing in the morning, so rather than continue with the seeding, I went back at that point to the title stitching. And it’s finished!

It’s not entirely even, but neither was the stitching on the Map, and I like the unevenness. It recalls the unevenness of the ground, particularly as the dig advances across the area, and it is just the right weight to anchor the picture.

Working on this section has reminded me of just how much I enjoy working on embroidery in the hand. As I work on William, or on goldwork pieces, or even canvaswork, all of them in a frame with fabric held taut, there is something that I miss about holding the fabric in my hand, taking my stitches and wrapping my threads. I think I need to make sure, for the future, that I have a suitable “in the hand” piece on hand, as it were, to keep me connected to my first love of stitching – the stitches themselves.

Continuing to bring the View forward

Close up of part of the View of the Excavation. A workman is bending to pull spoil in to a basket, and the area around him is densely stitched.

I decided to continue to use Danish Knot Stitch across this area. It makes for a lot of raggedy and flyaway texture, which I think works quite successfully. Furthermore, even if my original idea for these panels was that they would be viewed from a distance, I have learned over the past twenty years that embroideries pull people in. There needs to be something interesting for everyone therefore – the big story, what you see from a distance; the small stories told by the patches; and the details and flourishes added in the working, which may not be appreciated by everyone (although in my experience, anyone who’s willing to pay attention can be enticed into our world!), but which will certainly add something for those deeply interested.

Another close up of the View of the Excavations. Two workers take spoil away from the dig. The stitches around them are in different sizes and colours to create texture and atmosphere.

As I continue to work forward, however, I’m not using exclusively heavier and more textured stitches. My starting point is still pale seed stitches. These help to pull the whole thing together (I hope!) and give me a first layer of texture. That’s the dust underfoot and in the air, the “yellow cloud of dust” referred to in the text. The heavier and darker stitching is what pulls the figures forward, responding to the heavier and stronger stitches used to outline them. Then tiny, pale stitches will sparkle through and change the texture again.

Foreground figures on the View of the Excavation, surrounded by tete de boeuf stitches in a variagated thread.

Even as I come right into the foreground, I’m starting with seed stitches. I think they won’t go across the whole of the area with the tête de boeuf stitches, as I want to make sure that those stitches keep their authority. I will, however, have to do something about the edge you can see on the right of the topmost trench in that picture, maybe more tête de boeuf stitches, maybe more trench. Wait and see!

Next page →
← Previous page