Over the next couple of weeks I managed to complete all of the lettering on the Lord’s Prayer panel that I made over the summer. This is what it looked like after about twenty hours of stitching:
It was already starting to look a lot more ‘solid’, but I wanted to get the lettering filled in. This took HOURS! The smallest font has letters barely a quarter of an inch high, so each stitch had to be very precisely placed, or the letters became indistinct. As this isn’t ‘English’ (it’s a transliteration of Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke), then unless the letters were clearly depicted, the phonetic spelling wasn’t going to be readable, so I had to be very careful. So, all the small lettering was worked in one strand of Anchor stranded cotton, in split backstitch – doing the outline first, and then filling in with more rows of split back stitch. Most of my free time during August this year, then, was spent working on the filling in of the lettering of the panel:
The word ‘Abwoon’ (usually translated ‘Our Father’) and the word ‘Ameyn’ were going to be given much more prominence on the panel than the rest of the lettering. I did this by outlining the letters first in the same way that I did for the smaller fonts:
Then, using four strands of Anchor stranded cotton, I worked several rows of loose stem stitch in the shapes. I didn’t work right up to the edges of each shape,though, so that when I satin stitched across the letters, the profile of each letter would be gently rounded.
This shows the word Abwoon, partially done:
Next up, is the good bit – starting to add the decoration.
This is the Lord’s Prayer design that I have been working on during the summer, as a gift for my Sufi teacher. It has been made to fit a frame 16 x 20 inches. Here is the paper version of the design that I was working from:
Before starting work on the actual thing, I decided to stitch a small sample of the lettering on a scrap of the yellow silk, as I wasn’t quite sure that I could get the detail of the letters accurately enough in the stitches I wanted to use. I reckoned that if I was going to spend hours on this piece, then it warranted a sample. I don’t usually bother to do this, as I have little patience (regular readers of this blog will have heard this before!). So, I stitched the word ‘patsan’ as a sample first in split back stitch with one strand of Anchor stranded cotton (each stitch being about 2mm long), by outlining each letter first and then filling in with more rows of split back stitch. The capital letter W was stitched in padded satin stitch. The padding was done by stitching long, loose stem stitch rows perpendicular to the direction that the top layer of satin stitches would lie. When I was sure that these two stitches would work on the different sizes of lettering on the panel, I felt a lot more confident about proceding.
I didn’t buy any threads specially for this project – I just raided my huge stash. Here is the selection I chose (not all of them made it onto the final piece – the red ribbons were lovely, but never seemed to ‘fit in’):
The threads I actually used were these:
Anchor stranded cotton:
148 Deep blue
892 Pale peach
307 Deep gold
683 Deep pine green
352 Chestnut brown
2 Dark red
Cascade House stranded cotton:
Thread Gatherer Silk ‘n’ Colors:
House of Embroidery Perle 12:
Coats Ophir Gold thread no. 300
Kreinik Medium braid #16 002HL Gold
Golden Hinde Milliary wire
Rajmahal pearl purl (stretched)
Plus various seed beads, bugle beads, jewellery findings, sequins, etc.
So, I was then able to actually get started on the stitching. I decided to work the lettering from the bottom up, as I thought that the pencilled design might rub off if I were to constantly be brushing my arm across it by doing the lettering from the top down. I began with the line ‘Wela tahlan l’nesyuna, Ela patsan min bisha’. This is usually translated as ‘Lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil’, but that’s not a good translation. ‘Bisha’ does not mean ‘evil’. It means something more like ‘forgetfulness of the sacred in everyday life’. So, I wanted to indicate this ‘forgetfulness’ somehow in the stitching, and I decided to do that by fading out the shades of the lettering from the top to the centre, and then darken it down again as it reached the bottom. But even as I was stitching the outlines, I wasn’t happy with how it was turning out. The lighter shades just looked wrong, somehow.
Rather than continue with it if I wasn’t sure, I left that part and moved to the right of that area and outlined the other lettering at the bottom of the panel. All of it was done in split back stitch – the small lettering using one strand, and the ‘Ameyn’ using two strands of Anchor 152 Navy.
But the more I looked at the left side of the panel, the more I was convinced that the lighter blue section wasn’t working…..so the dreaded stitch ripper had to make an appearance 😦
I hate frogging. It’s so depressing. At least now I have a good stitch ripper to use, to get the job done quicker. This one is made by Clover, and has an ergonomic handle, with a grippy section about half way along, so that the tool doesn’t twist round in my hand as I’m using it, like the cheap one does that came with my sewing machine. Even so, it took me an hour to unpick the light blue stitching, as the stitches were so tiny.
It took as long to unpick as it had to stitch it in the first place, and I had this to show for it at the end. A heap of fluff.
But at least the pencilled design was still clearly visible, so I could then re-stitch it in 152 Navy to match the rest, and I could see straight away that it was right, even before I filled in the body of the letters.
This is better, isn’t it?
I still had to find a way to suggest the ‘forgetfulness’ idea that the meaning of the line had for me, but I thought I’d work that out later, when I came to embellishing the area.
What also became apparent, was that it is VERY HARD to take photos of yellow shot silk without it coming out a different colour each time, so you will just have to believe me when I say that the silk is a lovely colour in real life. Honest!
Usually, when I write about embroidery projects on this blog, I write as I’m stitching the item, so that anyone reading the blog is as far ahead with it as I am. But with the project that I want to share over the next few weeks, I have had to do things a little differently. This is because the panel I have been working on since the summer was made as a gift, so it had to be kept ‘under wraps’ until it was received by the relevant person! Now that they have taken possession of it, I can write about it 🙂
The panel is an unusual one, even for me. It is the Lord’s Prayer, written as a transliteration from the original Aramaic. That is, the panel is written in a phonetic version of Aramaic, which is the language that Jesus spoke. It is the ‘bridging’ language that was spoken in the Middle East between about 400BC and 600AD, linking Hebrew with Arabic. It is still spoken in some parts of the world (particularly Syria and parts of Iraq), by about 2 million people altogether. Aramaic-speaking Christians still use it in their religious services. It is a really beautiful language when spoken aloud. Each word has several layers of meaning, so it is a very poetic language.
I wouldn’t describe myself as Christian, although I am sympathetic to Christian ideas. I follow the Universal Sufi spiritual path, which honours all the religious traditions of the world, and is often described as ‘the religion of the heart’. I have a Sufi teacher, Neil Douglas-Klotz, who is an independent Biblical scholar, and this embroidered panel was made as a gift for him. This was because he has spent many years of his professional life translating the words of Jesus from their original language of Aramaic, and then teaching these ‘new’ (original?) meanings to people all over the world. Even if you are not of a religious or spiritual persuasion, I hope you’ll be interested in this project, as it’s still embroidery, after all!
This is what the Lord’s Prayer (or what I would call ‘the Prayer of Jesus’), looks like when written in Aramaic script:
Although I have created embroidery before which uses Aramaic script itself (see the series of blog posts on the ‘Shlama bag’), for this panel, I wanted to use the transliteration of the Aramaic. This was because a major part of Neil Douglas-Klotz’s work for the past 30 years has been to popularise the Aramaic version of the Prayer by making it accessible through the transliteration so that it is possible for people who do not speak Aramaic to say the Prayer, and so speak it in a similar way to the way that Jesus would have done, uniting people worldwide in their spiritual practice.
His transliteration, and expanded poetic translations, make it clear that what we take to be ‘the’ translation of the Prayer (taken from Greek versions) is actually quite a poor translation in places, and seriously inaccurate in others. The version I learned as a child was this:
Our Father, which art in Heaven
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
For ever and ever,
From Neil Douglas-Klotz’s work, one possible translation from the Aramaic can be written like this:
O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos,
Focus your light within us – make it useful:
Create your reign of unity now –
Your one desire then acts with ours, as in all light, so in all forms.
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do, the song that beautifies all, from age to age it renews.
Truly – power to these statements – may they be the ground from which all my actions grow: Amen.
If you’d like to find out more about Neil’s work, then visit his website. He has written several books, but the one which explains in detail his work on the Aramaic words of Jesus (the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes, mainly), is called ‘Prayers of the Cosmos’.
So, getting back to my embroidery…… first of all I felt I had to write the words out in a font that gave a ‘feel’ of the Aramaic/Arabic-type scripts. These kinds of fonts are called ‘Arabic simulation fonts’. They kind of look a bit Middle Eastern-y (to Westerners, anyway!).
Getting the lettering positioned in exactly the right place for each line of the prayer, and leaving the correct amount of spacing for the decorative pieces around the lettering took five solid days (and an awful lot of assistance from my husband, who is far better at using computer programs than I am)! When I was happy with the layout, I printed the design out at actual size onto two pieces of A4 paper and taped them together so that I had an exact sized printout of the design. I chose a piece of sunny yellow shot silk, with a backing of undyed muslin, to help prevent stretching of the silk, as some parts of the design would be densely stitched, and I didn’t want the fabric to pull out of shape. I used a long piece of fabric so that I could roll a lot around the rollers on my frame, so that it would be comfortable to stitch the top and bottom of the design without having those parts right up close to the rollers.
It looks a bit strange in black and white, so I had to have a good imagination to picture what it would eventually turn out like, at this stage! I knew I wanted it to have lots of bright red, deep blue, and gold thread, but other than that, ideas were quite vague at this point.
I taped the paper design to the window in my conservatory, and then taped the yellow fabric carefully over the top.
Then I spent HOURS carefully drawing over every line with a mechanical pencil, to transfer the design to the fabric. I do have a light box, but it is quite small, and I felt that if I used that to transfer this design, then if the fabric shifted, the design would be off kilter.
The yellow silk itself is quite diaphanous, so the muslin backing, as well as helping support the silk, made it look more ‘substantial’.
Once the design had been drawn on, I tacked the muslin and the yellow silk together, and then attached the fabrics to the bars of the roller frame with DMC no. 12 perle cotton, which I find is good for this, as it’s so strong.
In 2010, I wrote on this blog about a large wallhanging with a Zen Buddhist saying on it which I’d stitched for a Unitarian Chapel that I used to attend – the blog post is here . In that post, I explained in detail how it had taken almost a year to make.
Even when I wrote the original blog post, I had already stopped being Unitarian, and my dilemma at that time was that the Chapel still had the wallhanging. Recently, though, I heard that the Chapel is probably due to close, as there is now no regular Minister and the congregation has dropped to just one person! And he’s 82 years old. So, I contacted ‘the congregation’ and asked him if it would be possible for me to have the wallhanging back. I really didn’t like the idea of the wallhanging languishing in a damp building for ages, not being seen at all. Surely, I’d be able to find somewhere better for it?
I got it back within days, fortunately. It did seem strange to have it back in my possession, when I’d never thought I would have it (or, possibly, not even see it again). So, then I had the issue of deciding what to do with it. I certainly didn’t want to just roll it up and store it in my loft, as that was as daft as leaving it in a building that no-one uses any more. I tried placing it against the wall of my living room, to see if it would work to hang it there, but it just looked completely out of place – it’s very big (about three feet by four), and was made for a public space – it just looked silly in a living room!
Then I remembered a couple of friends, who are Universal Sufi, the same as me and my husband. They have a large house in Germany, which they run as a khankah (a Sufi house where people come to study, and to dance). They have large ‘public rooms’ that I thought might be suitable. So, I emailed them and asked if they’d like it, but also made it clear that if they thought it wouldn’t be suitable, then I wouldn’t be offended – I didn’t want them to have to take it under sufferance! But they said,’Wow!’ when they saw the pictures I emailed them, and so, a few weeks ago, I delivered the wallhanging to them. It now has a new home in a place where it will be really appreciated, and the spiritual phrase on the wallhanging will hopefully inspire lots of people. It might even tempt someone to start embroidery – you never know!