It occurred to me recently that if I were to find somewhere to exhibit the Dreams of Amarna, I might find myself with a lot of assembly to do, rather more rapidly than is entirely comfortable. Pieces mounted for display take up a lot more space than most of us can easily spare, so I’ve been extremely reluctant to start the mounting process – until terrorised by the idea of morning, noon, and night, squinting over some hard-to-light and extremely delicate fragment!
I’m starting with the felt pieces, which aren’t going to be huge, and for which I have a scheme already in my head, and at least some of the materials to hand. Unfortunately my tools have been a bit fractious…
After a day of wrestling with my equipment, and sourcing more staples, which turned out to be what The Australian would term “non-trivial” (would you believe, one of the shops I went to sells staple guns, but not the staples?!), I have finally reached the pleasing situation of having three supports ready to have their finished pieces mounted on them. My ears rang from the ker-KLUNK of the staple gun, and my hand ached, but it is a very satisfying sight, all the same!
After a few days of recovery, I went on to get started on the attachment of one of the pieces, and given the times in which we still live, I’m going to record my witterings as I go. So, herewith the return of Slow TV Stitchery, continuing the sequence from last year with Episode 74.
In which we discuss the assembly of the “fresco” pieces, tackle the first of them, and consider the distant possibility of my embarking on mixed media textile projects, one of these days.
The next episode of SlowTV Stitchery is now live – Episode 30 – in which the cornering plans are discussed, and the future of SlowTV Stitchery is considered, while the second corner is completed.
Since it looks very much as though we’re all going to be spending a lot of time at home this winter, I think I’ll continue with SlowTV Stitchery, even when the Amarna Family Group is finished. So my first thought is to work on finishing this canvaswork angel, which I started some years ago, galloped through the actual angel, and then ground to a shuddering halt on the background when I got sidetracked by an inspiration for one of the Dreams of Amarna projects.
If that doesn’t keep me quiet for long enough, I’ve been working on a sky for the first version of the North Shields headland that I worked for Leaving The Tyne. This is another piece that simply needs me to sit down and work at it, but although it’s small, it’s fiddly to hold the frame and stitch at the same time. Putting it on my stand and using my magnifying light will help me to settle down to it.
But first, the Angel. At least, until I run out of metallic threads!
As I kept on with the little girls, of course, I kept on with Nefertiti, and eventually tackled the famous profile, which worked better than I feared, although I will admit that the lighting here doesn’t let the skin colour show as much against the gold as it does in real life. Next was the gold uraeus on the headdress, which, as I commented when I worked Akhenaten’s uraeus, does feel rather “peak Ancient Egypt” in the use of gold to hold down gold! Still, the royal blue against the golds is enough to make the heart sing.
You can see here that the blue in Nefertiti’s skirt has been replaced – all but one stitch, which I will have to deal with in the “details” phase of this one – the list for which is getting increasingly full of anxieties!
Nefertiti’s feet were among the anxieties, but as you can see from this photo, just leaving them right to the end was increasingly untenable, in spite of the stool leg and the foot cushion to anchor the gold threads.
However, the difficulty of working them starting away from the rest of the body was also considerable, and I do think I made the right decision in waiting until I could start from the legs!
I’m still not sure whether I will fill in some of the sections of the stool Nefertiti is sitting on. At the moment, it looks strong, but it doesn’t separate itself from the background as much as perhaps it should, especially as the figures are looking so striking. I don’t want Nefertiti to look as though she’s sitting on air!
Episode 28 of Slow TV Stitchery is now live, and it considers the post mortem reputations of kings, the perils of scarifying a lawn, and the expertise of the laundries of Amarna.
So, edges. Obviously, with the straight version of this technique, the edges are simple – either every single one is plunged, or maybe every other one, if the threads are used doubled. I have a strong aversion to plunging threads, I hate waste, and I just couldn’t face the tangles I experienced when I was working on Christus Natus Est.
So the edges of this piece are being done simply by turning the thread back on itself. I will, of course, have to cut the thread to fill in the corners, but that’s much less fuss, and I am intending to oversew each end very firmly, and not plunge the threads at all.
I began on Nefertiti’s dress intending to do something like I’d done with the pleats on Akhenaten’s kilt, but making the lines more definite.
Having started, though, I decided it wasn’t at all satisfactory. Whether it was the wrong colour, the wrong resolution (not that I can make the lines any narrower!), or simply not simple and crisp enough, I’m not sure. I was sure that it needed to come out.
So that’s what I did.
Unpicking is really not fun, and some of the white silk fell victim to my unpicker, so the raggy bits had to be eased to the back and tidied up before I could even think about reinstating the white.
Notice, however, that the little girls are making pretty good sense just as they are!
The next episode of Slow TV Stitchery is up – Episode 24 – which covers Looking ahead to The Next Epic Project, lessons from the Impressionists, and the trick of making a design’s evolution look “meant”. Do go and have a look!
In the end, I sighed, consigned the Cretan memories to perdition, and decided to do the little girls in the same colour as their parents. However, while I was looking at the tangle of limbs and bodies of the two smaller girls on Nefertiti’s lap, I thought that something definite would need to be done to keep them from turning into an amorphous tangle of limbs, something like one of my early memories of my two big cousins. I’ve since got my cousins separated in my head, but I thought it would be nice to keep Nefertiti’s daughters individual from the start!
So I started putting in an outline on the eldest daughter, using a fine, very dark brown thread from Devere Yarns.
Only to stare at it with hostility, because it somehow managed to look a bit too clunky!
Considering that Devere silks are really very fine, this is quite an achievement, although I’ll admit it wasn’t one I particularly cherish.
So I decided to just keep working on the “block colours” of the design and trust to later inspiration to find out how to keep the girls from blurring into an undifferentiated shape. I’ve left a few deliberate gaps where limbs cross, to help the design “read” properly.
And I’m not sure, now, that they really need anything else…
The video is well in advance of these posts, because I lost the photos I was going to use. Heigh-ho. Anyway, enjoy Episode Twenty Two, in which, among other matters, the mathematical concept of “triviality” is discussed…!
While I was stitching round and round in circles, I was also thinking about the rest of the design, and about what else it might be showing.
I had a thought that it might be nice to make a reference to the Cretan art that was so influential for the art of the Amarna period. One of the conventions of the art of ancient Crete was that women were depicted as light-skinned, while the men were shown as tanned, so I thought I would give that a little twist, and work the three daughters as light-skinned, and Akhenaten and Nefertiti as tanned, thus “bookending” the scene.
So I blended a lighter colour and got started on Daughter Number 1.
Only to decide I really didn’t like it, order some more flat silk, and try again. This is the lighter shade of Akhenaten’s skin colour, and as you can see, it is too light. It barely shows against the gold, and at that, the photo shows it better than it showed in real life – I had real trouble seeing it to stitch.
So that wouldn’t do, would it?
The next thing I tried was a blend of the light and dark skintones, and as you can see, there isn’t even a photo of that!
The videos are of course somewhat beyond this point – Episode 16 – “On the satisfaction of pattern building and the avoidance of confusion” is now available. Do have a look!
I recall from both the Hittite Amulet and Christus Natus Est that Or Nué projects are rather difficult to write about. They’re a little like those novels in which Nothing Happens, because one edges slowly forward, with the piece growing imperceptibly – until all of a sudden, it gallops to a conclusion. I am nowhere near that point as yet, but for the benefit of those who prefer reading to watching, I will attempt to provide occasional updates…
Here is one of the progress shots.
There are a few details I will have to come back to, as you will see if you click through to the larger image. I may have to adjust Akhenaten’s arm, for a start, and the pale blue I used to mark the creases on his kilt isn’t dark enough to do the job, so I will have to do find another thread and add some stitches.
However, the metal thread on the front of Akhenaten’s headdress shows up rather better than I feared it might. Although, as I said on one of the videos, gold thread couched with gold thread is pretty much Peak Ancient Egypt. Even Louis XIV, never an advocate of moderation in design, would take a step back, crying, “Here, I say, steady on!”
To which I reply, I am steadying on – it’s staying in!
This is a close up from slightly more recently. You can see that I’ve reached the designated edge of the design, and that rather than cutting and plunging my threads, I’m doubling back on myself, so all the gold remains on the surface. My intention is that this will be edged with some sort of braid when it is complete, and attaching a braid through the gold as it stands will be quite hard enough, without attaching it through plunged ends as well!
I’m also leaving the royal blue blocks in a sort of half-tone, with some of the gold showing through. I may decide, when the whole thing is finished, that the border designs need to be full strength if they are to frame the scene properly, but I felt that this might work, and would be an interesting experiment.
But, occasional reservations aside, I think this is going to be a very successful piece!
There is another episode of SlowTV Stitchery up – Episode Three. I’ve also done two shorts, one introducing the Dreams of Amarna project as a whole, and one, for the Amarna Family Group in particular. Please ask me any questions you like, either here in the comments, or by email, and I will try to answer them in one of the later episodes. It might take a while, though, because people have been stacking up questions like cordwood!
Now, back to the Faience Necklace, which I’ve neglected… The first elements I decided to do were among the simplest – the three palm leaves.
First layer, as I said, is plain satin stitch in flat silk. Satin stitch makes me nervous, but flat silk spreads and blends together, which makes it about as easy as it can be for me.
The next stage was to hand-twist a two ply perlé -type thread to stitch the veins, using straight stitches. In this case, I used two of the strands of filaments for each ply, and I tried not to over-twist the final assembly.
That made for a lovely thread, with a bit of body and “lift”. A pleasure to use!
If I have correctly interpreted the description that Mary Chubb typed out on that first afternoon, when she came back from her epiphany in the cellar, this shape was described as a cornflower, so I went with my brightest blue, and the middle greyish-green shade for the calyx.
You will notice that the stitching on the two sections is at right angles one to the other. I realise that the stitching on the “petals” is not going in the obvious correct direction, but wait – there’s more…!
Quite a lot more, in fact.
First, trellis couching on the calyx, using a fine 2-ply thread twisted using a half-strand of flat silk for each ply, and twisted as tightly as I could manage without snarls or tangles.
Then, using the bright blue, I twisted another 2-ply thread, this time using three strands for each ply, and again, trying not to over-twist. Then I could use it to work some long bullion knots, creating the slightly fluffy effect of an opening flower.
I think this is going well so far!
I’ve decided to work spiral Or Nué, as I did for Christus Natus Est, rather than the straight version I used for the Hittite Amulet. It creates more of a sense of movement, and that is very much in keeping with Amarna period art.
That, however, meant that I had to work out where to start the spiral, and as I mentioned on the first video, I had several options. The first was simply to start in the middle of the piece, but I felt that would either look very static, or, almost worse, create a rather 70s psychedelic vibe, not at all appropriate! The next three options could all be taken as emphasizing interpretations of the story of Akhenaten and Amarna. One of these was to centre the spiral in the centre of the Aten – but to be honest, for all Atenism is seen as one of the very earliest adventures in monotheism, that didn’t seem to me to reflect the stories that filter through Mary Chubb’s book.
So then I had a choice between centring the spiral on Akhenaten’s head, to reflect the idea that he espoused Atenism as a political ploy to break the power of the priests of Amun at Thebes, or centring it on his heart, to suggest that he believed he’d received a genuine religious revelation. You can see which I chose!
The second video is here, and will show you some of the progress to this point, as well as my musings as I stitch. I have a few more quandaries to sort out, but you’ll hear about those in the next episode, as I tackle them. As before, if you have any questions about what I’ve said in the video, or what I’ve done, please ask, and I will do my best to give you a sensible and useful response!
We left the design in a sort of semi-developed stage, and the next stage was to work out which border I was going to use…
So, the one on the right – no, the borders are too wide, and given the size I’m going to do it, they’ll take away too much of the design area from the family group. I do like that arrowhead design, though. I wonder where else I could put it?
I started playing around with the widths of the borders a bit more (computers are very useful for scaling fiddly things like this – more new tricks learned!), and ended up with something I think will work. You can see that there are some details I’ve not quite settled yet, and indeed, I think I’ve decided to reverse the colours in the vertical borders. The blocky colours come from having used the computer to produce a line drawing, and then coloured it in by computer as well.
The design is now transferred onto the calico, and coloured in with inktense blocks. Rather sloppily, I know, but none of this will be visible, and I will be tweaking the design as I go, in any case. This is just to give me a a better chance to keep track of which colour I’m intending to use where – that small section with Nefertiti and the two little girls on her lap was dismally confusing before I painted it!
I have begun to stitch, and just as I promised (threatened?), I’ve been recording my progress, and uploaded the first video to: https://vimeo.com/402311907. It’s about twenty minutes long, spliced together from several files, because my camera kept switching off. I did say it would be a learning experience!
I hope it will be interesting, and maybe entertaining, for you all!