What is Tatting?
The French call it frivolité; for the Italians it’s occhi; to the Danish it’s orkis; in English it’s tatting, but no matter what the language, it’s still a fun way to make lace.
Just what is tatting? It’s making lace using only thread and shuttles. None of the cumbersome pillows, pins, and many bobbins with dangly beads used to make bobbin lace. This type of lace making is very portable. All you need is one or 2 shuttles, thread, small scissors, and a pin (in case you need to pick out a mistake). All of it will fit in a cosmetic bag. There’s no need to learn a lot of different stitches like those needed to make crocheted or knitted lace. With tatting there’s just one basic sliding knot. By using multiple shuttles, multiple threads, or by making half of the knot, you can alter how it’s made. Unlike, the fine and somewhat fragile needle laces, tatted lace can be quite strong. Your finished piece can be delicate enough for lingerie but still survive machine washing.
Tatting is made up of knotted rings and chains. The knot is called a stitch. There are 2 steps to make it and it’s like a lark’s head knot. If you are familiar with macramé, you will notice the similarity. This same stitch is used to make a split ring, split chain, Josephine knot, node stitch, pearl stitch, lock stitch, and mock ring. The loops on a ring or chain are called picots. These are used to join rings and/or chains together, add beads, and just for decoration.
Tatting isn’t just hankie edgings, doilies, and snowflake motifs. Today’s pattern designers have come up with so many new and unusual patterns, there’s something to appeal to everyone. Love butterflies and hearts? What about bookmarks and jewelry? Holiday decorations? Maybe you just want to make some simple pieces to give as gifts. Searching the internet for free patterns results in hundreds. I have a free heart pattern at my Ebay store that makes a great patriotic red, white, & blue pin. When you are ready to start buying books of patterns, you’ll find many here at Ebay in the auction and store listings. You can also contact me if you know what book you are looking for and I will order it for you.
A Little Tatting History
Tatting is believed to have evolved from knotting and many historians believe that today’s style of tatting was begun in France in the early 1800’s. The shuttles they used were made from wood, ivory, bone, metal, or shell. They were longer than most used today and almost always highly decorated. Whether they were carved or studded with jewels, these shuttles were meant to catch the eye as the lady made her lace. The movements of the hands holding the shuttle and thread were often described as “dancing thru the air”. Tatting also became a way for well-to-do ladies to show off their jewelry and pretty hands.
The shape of the shuttle has changed very little over the years. Many slightly different kinds were produced in the early 1900’s. Justrite is still making metal shuttles similar to the original ones made in 1923. The biggest improvement was a shuttle with a removable bobbin. Those familiar with tatting may have seen the metal Susan Bates or Boye shuttles with removable bobbins. The Boye shuttles were first manufactured in 1923. When the patent expired in 1940, the Bates version was made.
If you’ve never seen a tatting shuttle, you will find many listed on Ebay including those I sell in my store. If you are interested in the history of shuttles, I’d like to recommend this book: Tatting Shuttles for American Collectors by Heidi Nakayama. I can order it for you, just contact me!
Other than the shuttle, you need thread to do tatting. Thread has vastly improved over the years, particularly cotton thread. In 1835 John Mercer developed a way to treat cotton to make it stronger and smoother. It was called mercerized thread. Now instead of tatting with silk thread, less expensive cotton was available. To tat you need smooth thread that has no bumps or slubs. These will stop the tatted ring from closing correctly.
As thread has improved so has it gotten thinner. Now you can buy cotton thread from a thick size 3 to a very fine size 100 (it’s thinner than regular sewing thread!). You’re not limited to various kinds of cotton thread either. There are beautiful silk and rayon threads on the market. These are slightly harder to work with as the stitches tend to become loose if not pulled tight. For an old fashioned look try linen thread but be warned that linen thread has a stiffness and can have a slight bumpiness to it that makes tatting with it more difficult. The more adventuresome may try tatting with metallic thread over a cotton thread core or even with yarn.
If you are interested in learning more about tatting and it’s history, please contact me with a message. I can recommend some books for you to read!
What Do I Need To Tat?
Ok, now that I’ve peaked your interest about tatting, you say you want to learn how to tat. Here's what I suggest to get:
1. A how-to tat book - I usually have a booklet/poster that’s low cost and is easy to follow in my Ebay store. I can also get you a book that has actual photos of how to tat. It’s more expensive but the photos make it easy to understand what to do. Just send me a message about it!
2. A shuttle (or 2) – Here at Ebay you’ll find new and vintage shuttles. If you have trouble gripping things there is a larger shuttle called Tatsy. If you plan on working with thin threads you may want the small clover shuttles. My favorite and the one I sell in my store is the Aero shuttle. If you aren’t sure you’ll like tatting just buy one shuttle but once you’re hooked you’ll want 2.
3. Good thread - I use two colors of size 5 pearl cotton to teach beginners. It’s large enough to see the stitches you make and the sheen of the thread makes the stitches slide much better than using regular crochet cotton. There are many brands, sizes, and colors in the auction and store listings. If you can’t find what you want, please contact me.
4. Scissors - A pair of embroidery scissors is needed to cut the thread. In a pinch I’ve used nail clippers when I couldn’t find my embroidery scissors. They should be new and sharp to get a clean cut. Clippers also are great when you are packing up your tatting supplies to take with you. No scissor points to poke out of your bag or case. I usually sell a great pair of scissors that fold up at my store. They’re very well made and sharp.
5. Something to carry it all in - I’ve used cosmetic cases, tins, drawstring jewelry bags, small baskets with handles, and plastic zip top bags. What I use depends on the size of the ball of thread.
When you learn to tat you’ll find you want to add more threads and books to your tatting supplies. I store my threads, shuttles, and the projects I’m working on in stacked decorative boxes. The books, patterns, newsletters, and magazines fill a shelf. As for the finished tatting, I give most of it away so I don’t have much to store. I bet once you start showing off your tatting to family and friends, you won’t have much to store either!
I hope you enjoyed this guide and want to learn how to tat. It’s not that hard to do and you can make beautiful lace items. Bookmarks and other flat pieces are great to tuck into greeting cards. If you have any questions about tatting please send me a message.