Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Art of Tatting - Jaime Wright

This weekend was a bit emotional for me. With my youth pastor husband out of town on a youth canoe trip, the kids and I packed up for one of our rare and soon to be ending weekends at my childhood homestead. My parents have reached retirement age and mowing three acres of lawn, plowing a long driveway from two feet of snow, and harvesting a massive garden has worn out its grandeur.

That left Mom and I to start going through the nooks and crannies where small family heirlooms and memories had been tucked away, forgotten, but alive with legacy. A drawer in the spare room's antique dresser was stuffed with my Great-Grandmother's tatting projects. Rows upon rows of delicate thread hand-tatted into delicate circles of lace to be sewn to the edges of pillowcases or towels, or a collar or cuff. Her tatting spool was still threaded and attached to a project she never completed. My writer's mind was alive with why she never finished the pink and white lacy border.

I love tatting. Partially because in a lot of ways it appears to be a dying art...until you surf YouTube and realize how many are keeping it alive. Tatting has roots over a thousand years ago. Of course it wasn't called "tatting" then ... it was knotting by fisherman with a ginormous shuttle to weave rope into nets. Over time, it miniaturized and became the delicate form of lace making. 

Tatting uses a shuttle with thread spooled around it. Tatting rings are connected to each other by slipping a bit of the thread through the tiny loops called "picots" and then passing the shuttle through the resulting loop. the result is a delicate weave of lace in various patterns, colors, and threads. 

In the 19th century, the common-woman would have used cotton thread--like my Great Grandmother's laden shuttle. Her's is a variegated pink and white knotted cotton into tiny little loops and links. It looks as if she were creating a cuff for a sleeve. More affluent ladies would use silk. Silk, as I've recently learned, was far easier to pick apart. Tatting errors cannot be undone by pulling the thread (as in crocheting) but by carefully picking apart each knot and un-knotting. Silk provided a much smoother error correction than the less pliable and smooth cottong.

Ladies creations with tatting were collars, baby booties, doilies, lace edges and trim for pillowcases, towels, bedding, shirt sleeves and bodices. The word "tatting" is distinctly American. But for the most part, tatting is Universal in its art form and has ever-evolved. 

Below you can see the thread holder beneath her mother-of-pearl ink pen that my Great Grandmother crocheted to hold her thread for tatting. It's laying flat, but the narrow portion would have hung around the wrist with the thread in the large circular hold. The thread would have been woven up through the shuttle (see example pic above left), then fingers and shuttle would have knotted away. 

It's been a fun and fascinating new research project for me ... and if any of you are schooled in this art form, feel free to add in the comments! I'm excited to uncover my Great Grandmother's projects and wonder if I'd be crazy to learn to tie the delicate, woven knots of our ancestors.

Do you carry on old art forms of vintage years? If so, let me know in the comments!


Jaime Wright - 

Writer of Historical Romance stained with suspense. Youth leader. Professional Coffee Drinker. Works in HR and specializes in sarcasm :)

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  1. I've heard of tatting numerous times before but never bothered to stop and learn what it was. Thanks for this! Some of the more delicate examples from above are beautiful.

  2. I have been so tempted to learn the art of tatting. Like you it was something my ancestors did and I was blessed enough to get the antique books passed down through the years on tatting. My family also made a lot of crocheted doilies and I have those yellowed books, too. Do I do a dying art. Yes, I hand smock. Today you can go to most any upscale store and find smocking, but most pieces are done by machine these days. I pleat my fabric and smock the outfits by hand. I've been doing it for 30 years now. Yikes! Does that give away my age or what? LOL. Sweet post,Jamie. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I have a friend who smocks. She's made the most beautiful christening gowns for all her grandchildren and practically every other child in our circle for the last 15 or so years.

      My mother quilts and I learned macramé a long time ago. Doubt I could do it now. I tried to crochet, but didn't have the passion to stick with it. Who knows, I might try it again some day.

  3. I had never heard of this, but I love learning about how things were done in the past. Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing.
    tscmshupe [at] pemtel [dot] net

  4. I've heard of tatting, but never realized it was done with a shuttle. Very interesting! What did they call it in other countries?
    I don't have any skills with vintage art forms, but my mother and mother-in-law both did some fabulous crocheting with the tiny cotton thread, similar to the tatting thread. They made gorgeous doilies, ornament covers, and my mother-in-law even crocheted an entire full-size bed coverlet with that tiny thread and hook! It took her a very long time, but it was beautiful. I don't have the patience to learn something that delicate and intricate, but I admire others' work!

  5. I love the results of tatting, but have never been able to do it myself. My step grand-mother did beautiful work and she left me some wonderful pieces as well as beautiful crochet. My step-mother tried to teach me to crochet and knit, but finally gave me up as a hopeless cause. :) I still have gorgeous doilies, arm chair covers, and a bed spread left to me by my step-mother and grandmother as well as colorful afghans. I hope my children will appreciate them. I remember napping on the bedspread and waking up with the pattern on my cheek.

    I do some sewing and embroidery today, but not like I once did.

  6. I have some lovely pieces my great grandmother hand-tatted and her fingers were deformed. Lovely article!

  7. How wonderful to find your great-grandmother's tatting projects! What treasures!! I was not familiar with tatting until reading your post, but am now looking forward to learning more. Thank you for sharing!

  8. When I was getting married, I knew a woman who tatted with colored thread. She made tiny flowers and glued them on the corner of a note card. I bought a bunch and used them for my thank you notes. I loved them and they were totally different from anybody else's.

    I do counted cross stitch and have recently started learning stained glass.

  9. Beautiful - have never heard of tatting. I don't have a crafty bone in my body when it comes to anything related to sewing, but my grandmother made hand-sewn quilts, my aunt crocheted, & my sis-in-law can do most anything related to sewing (used to make her kids clothes, lined jackets & all).

  10. I would have to say that my 'ancient' craft is crocheting and knitting, as I don't see a lot of it today. I also did a little smocking at one time. Interesting article.
    sharon, Oceanside, CA