I did say, when I first began working on the “Dreams of Amarna” panels, that I did not intend to become an Egyptologist. I still don’t, but at the same time, my interest in the Egyptology of the thirties, and in what Mary Chubb might have known or had access to, has extended somewhat as I have discovered more.
Recently BBC4 showed a documentary called The Man Who Discovered Egypt, so of course I pricked up my ears. When I realised that the presenter was the current director of the Egypt Exploration Society, Dr Chris Naunton (@chrisnaunton for the Twitterers among you), and his subject was Flinders Petrie, I made absolutely sure to record the programme so I could watch at my leisure. It was fascinating, and I may very well get further ideas for scenes on my edge panels from looking at it again.
For those in the UK that missed it and are interested, the programme is being rebroadcast on Tues 15 May at 10pm, on BBC4.
As it happens, Chris Naunton was the first person I spoke to at the EES when I started my research, so I emailed to say how much I’d enjoyed the programme. He replied, and added that the digitisation of the archive (which gave me the original picture for the Felucca, above) has been continuing apace. The EES now has its own YouTube channel:
Furthermore, some of the film shows JDS Pendlebury, the Director of Excavations in Mary Chubb’s time, not just working, but playing – organising a sports day for the worker’s children, having a spoof argument with colleagues – and, very importantly for me, there is film of an incident which is described in the book, of bringing back a heavily carved and coloured door-lintel from the site to the Expedition House. Whether I will be able to create a feasible embroidery design from that welter of imagery remains to be seen – but it will be really worth a try, won’t it!
I have finished the first trial of the Felucca design. As I always say of these design fragments, I do not yet know whether they will make it to the final piece.
You can barely see the stitching on the coastline – I used a fine thread and spaced the stitches far apart. For the cargo, I crammed the stitches as close to one another as I could. The sails are worked in Satin Stitches rather than darning, and the spars in Stem Stitches. I’ve decided I am happy with the pinkish tinge on the sails, and the greenish Nile is just as I imagined it would be.
I think it has worked. The reflections of the sails bring the whole piece to life, and I added some small stitches to provide an impression of a reflection of the spars.
I’m afraid that this photo isn’t as good as I hoped it would be, but it does show the progress I am making on the Felucca.
I realised that not only did I need to have the sails completed before I put all of the sky in, but I needed to put the Nile in before I put in the reflections.
So I’ve done the Nile – nearly. If you look carefully you will see that there is a small section of Nile behind the Felucca which hasn’t been finished yet. I’ve used the same irregular darning stitch as I used for the sky, and run in the reflections using long straight stitches in the spaces between the rows of green. I need to put a few more stitches in yet, but I’ve run up against rather a headache which I need to resolve.
I need to do the land behind the Felucca. I was intending to use a paler version of the reddish-brown thread I’m using for the hull and the spars. However, when I put it in, it really didn’t work. No, I mean it. Not At All. I’ve since tried a couple of other threads with no marked success, so I need to spend some time finding a suitable thread.
If you look at the photo on the original post, the tones of the sky, the Nile and the elements of the felucca are not quite correctly reproduced in my embroidered piece. Part of this is because the base fabric isn’t white so everything is turning out a little darker than I expected. I think it will work in spite of the changed tones, but I am anticipating working the design again in a different form or scale, maybe using different threads, so if in the end I don’t like it I will still feel I have learnt something useful!
I’ve begun to work on the Felucca design I have already described. As I am not at all sure about the colours or the stitching that I will want on the final panels (remember this is to be a design element for the edging panels I described a little while ago), or even the scale, I am thinking of working this design several times on different fabrics, with different threads and at different scales, to see which one I like best. I’m sure I will find something to do with any leftover pieces of embroidery!
This version is about two and a half inches by one and a half inches, and it is worked on turban cotton, just like the fabric I used for my earlier experiment with the Dig House. I’m using similar stiff overdyed linen threads as well, but this time I have learnt from the trouble I had with the Dig House. The fabric has been hooped up over a piece of calico, and although it is slightly irritating to have two layers to stitch through, it has a lot more body and is much easier to stitch.
I’ve put the design onto the fabric using a transfer pencil and began with the sky, using a sort of irregular darning stitch. Then I realised that if I were to work the sails first it might be easier to fill in the sky afterwards. I’m not entirely sure about the thread I am using for the sails – it may be a little too pink – but I think it will be hard to be sure before I have finished. I have a dark blue-green thread that will do the Nile perfectly (I hope), and I will be able to run lines of stitching in the hull and sail colours into the water section to make reflections.
This might become my evening stitching until I have finished it. Although it is small, the colours are distinct from one another, and the stitches don’t have to be as precise as they would if it were a counted piece.
EDIT: spelling improved!
The photograph here is a close up from one of those that the Egypt Exploration Society made available to me, and shows a Nile felucca in passage with a cargo.
Mary Chubb describes in her book the expedition’s arrival at the site on a felucca, one of the traditional sail-driven freighters of the Nile and Eastern Mediteranean. As she also mentions in the book (when they go on a tour of the Pyramids on first arriving in Egypt) that she is somewhat claustrophobic, it seemed to me that an open sailing vessel and the broad sky over the Nile were probably very important to her. As the felucca also took their finds back to Cairo for inspection by the Museum Director, it was very important to the Expedition as well.
So clearly the felucca should figure at least once in my Dreams of Amarna panels! Equally, however, I need to develop the styles of embroidery I will use for the panels and their assorted images. So I am never sure, when working on these small elements, whether they will end up as part of the final piece or not.
I’ve not even started stitching the Felucca yet, but I have decided that it will be another experiment. I am going to try to stitch the whole thing using straight horizontal stitches. This should emphasize the breadth of the space, which would have been so important to Mary. I am not going to attempt to fill the space, either, so the picture will look slightly sketchy, rather like a photocopy of a memory, perhaps.