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!
It’s going to be some while before I can start stitching on the other Medieval Movers and Shakers (I’m going to have to find a better title for that quartet, they’re going to drive me demented if I don’t!), but given I have much research to do, that’s no great difficulty.
I have been accumulating books – which is also rather a delight in any case.
The history of the church Rahere founded duly arrived a week or so after our visit, and proved very interesting indeed. It included among the illustrations this engraving of the tomb effigy on Rahere’s tomb. The tomb was not made for Rahere when he died, but about four hundred years later, so one should take the likeness of the face with a pinch of salt, but I’m sure it will have got his Dominican robes right, so it may be useful in planning how I depict him. (I’ve just double checked – white cassock and black cloak, so for the purposes of the embroidery I can go for the look of undyed wool for the cassock, and dark greys and browns for the cloak).
I also found a reference to an epic poem called The Romance of Rahere, thinking it might at least be atmospheric.
Well, no. It’s set in the Civil War, about the orphan daughter of the vicar of St Bartholomew the Great who is named after the founder (poor lass) and who dies in the church during a thunderstorm, leaving the boy who wants to marry her absolutely distraught, and becoming a soldier to seek death, but surviving and returning home to right the wrongs caused by his greedy and abusive father.
So not even remotely helpful!
In the Kipling tale in which he appears, “The Tree of Justice”, Rahere, the Kings’ Jester, is described as: “more of a priest than a fool and more of a wizard than either“, and his jester’s outfit as parti-coloured in black and red. There is so little information about the person that I’m going to be using that as the basis for my characterisation. My current idea for the embroidery design is to have Rahere in his Dominican Robes, with a model of St Bartholomew the Great in his hands, and his jester’s cap at his feet. The border – well, maybe the flower London Pride, maybe bells (for the jester) and scallop shells (for pilgrimage). We’ll just have to wait and see!
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.
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!