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?
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.
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.
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!
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”.
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).
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…
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?
You may remember that I was a bit concerned about ensuring that the View of the Excavation properly balances the Map. When I got the Map out again it was much more emphatic than I had remembered.
Then came a suggestion that if I gave it a title – at the bottom, rather than the top – it would add visual weight, and the presence of lettering on both would enhance the sense of a conversation between the pieces. I liked that idea, so I started making plans.
I started with a single large title, but the Map has title and subtitle, so I thought, maybe what I need is title and surtitle. Furthermore, I thought, the surtitle should be in Mary’s words. I’m sure she would approve of my foregrounding of the artifacts and the Egyptians, both ancient and modern, but had she not written so enchanting a book, I would have missed out on years of delightful adventures in embroidery. So, that gave me a perfect excuse to curl up with the book, notebook by my side, which enabled me to feel I was making progress while I was fading in and out of focus with Covid.
Since I’m not at ease with lettering, once I had chosen – or at least half-chosen – my text, it required a whole lot of squared paper and letter counting, and a depressingly uncolourful desk for a while, as I tried to bring it all together. This is the Very Unglamorous side of planning and creating. I’m getting better at it as I learn and invent more techniques to help myself pull my ideas together, but it is still very much the part of inspiration that isn’t inspiring!
Finally, I chose my extract: “Down over the North Suburb I could see a yellow cloud of dust”, in the smaller capitals of the subtitle, and “Excavations at Akhetaten” in the larger capitals, and transferred it by prick-and-pounce. Progress!
There will be a lot to do, I think, to bring the Excavation up to balance the Map properly. In my usual fashion, I will sneak up on this, doing what seems obvious and then waiting to see what seems necessary.
The first thing that was obvious was that something should be done to point up the idea of the trenches being dug. Row upon row of vertical running stitches seemed to me to suggest the walls of a trench – maybe not accurately, since the book suggests more of an open area excavation. The photographs I used as my source for this, however, suggested that there were at least a few individual trenches.
The next obvious element was a dust cloud to suggest activity stretching into the distance. Tiny random seed stitches in two or three shades of stranded silk were, again, the obvious choice, although I do wonder, now, whether those will be sufficiently emphatic when I set the panels side by side again.
As I believe I’ve already mentioned – random stitching is really quite difficult to achieve!
At this point I decided it needed much more “weight” at the bottom of the image, and chose to use tête de boeuf stitch (upside down to resemble a plant) as I did originally on the Map to suggest the cultivation on the far side of the river. These tête de boeuf stitches are much bigger than the ones on the map, using two strands of the variegated silk thread, and I’m going to spread them right across the breadth of the panel towards the bottom.