Tatting is a technique for handcrafting a particularly durable lace constructed by a series of knots and loops. Tatting can be used to make lace edging as well as doilies, collars, and other decorative pieces. The lace is formed by a pattern of rings and chains formed from a series of cow hitch, or half-hitch knots, called double stitches (ds), over a core thread. Gaps can be left between the stitches to form picots, which are used for practical construction as well as decorative effect.
Tatting dates to the early 19th century. The term for tatting in most European languages is derived from French frivolité, which refers to the purely decorative nature of the textiles produced by this technique. The technique was developed to imitate point lace
In German tatting is called Schiffchenarbeit, which means the work of the little boat, referring to the boat-shaped shuttle, and in Italian tatting is called chiacchierino, which means chatty.
Technique and materials
Tatting with a shuttle is the earliest method of creating tatted lace. A tatting shuttle facilitates tatting by holding a length of wound thread and guiding it through loops to make the requisite knots. Historically it was a metal or ivory pointed oval shape less than 3 inches (76 mm) long, but shuttles come in a variety of shapes and materials. Shuttles often have a point or hook on one end to aid in the construction of the lace. Antique shuttles and unique shuttles have become highly sought after by collectors — even those who do not tat.
To make the lace, the tatter wraps the thread around one hand and manipulates the shuttle with the other hand. No tools other than the thread, the hands, and the shuttle are used, though a crochet hook may be necessary if the shuttle does not have a point or hook.
Traditional shuttle tatting may be simulated using a tatting needle or doll needle instead of a shuttle. There are two basic techniques for needle tatting. With the more widely disseminated technique a double thread passes through the stitches. The result is similar to shuttle tatting but is slightly thicker and looser. The second technique approximates shuttle tatting because a single thread passes through the stitches.
Needle tatting originated in the early twentieth century, but did not become popular until much later. A tatting needle is a long, blunt needle that does not change thickness at the eye of the needle. The needle used must match the thickness of the thread chosen for the project. Rather than winding the shuttle, the needle is threaded with a length of thread. To work with a second color, a second needle is used. Although needle tatting looks similar to shuttle tatting, it differs in structure and is slightly thicker and looser because both the needle and the thread must pass through the stitches.
However, it may be seen that the Victorian tatting pin would function as a tatting needle. As well, Florence Hartley, in 1859, refers in The Ladies' Hand Book of Fancy and Ornamental Work to the use of the tatting needle. So it cannot have originated later than the mid-1800's.
In the late twentieth century, tatting needles became commercially available in a variety of sizes, from fingering yarn down to size 80 tatting thread. Few patterns are written specifically for needle tatting; some shuttle tatting patterns may be used without modification. There are currently two manufacturers of tatting needles.
Cro-tatting combines needle tatting with crochet. The cro-tatting tool is a tatting needle with a crochet hook at the end. One can also cro-tat with a bullion crochet hook or a very straight crochet hook. In the nineteenth century, "crochet tatting" patterns were published which simply called for a crochet hook. One of the earliest patterns is for a crocheted afghan with tatted rings forming a raised design. Patterns are available in English and are equally divided between yarn and thread. In its most basic form the rings are tatted with a length of plain thread between them, as in single shuttle tatting. In modern patterns, beginning in the early twentieth century, the rings are tatted and the arches or chains are crocheted. Many people consider cro-tatting more difficult than crochet or needle tatting. Some tatting instructors recommend using a tatting needle and a crochet hook to work cro-tatting patterns. Cro-tatting is most popular in Japan.
The stitches of cro-tatting (and needle tatting before you close a ring) unravel easily, unlike tatting that is made with a shuttle.
Older designs, especially through the early 1900s, tend to use fine white or ivory thread (50 to 100 widths to the inch) and intricate designs. Often they were constructed of small pieces 10 cm or less in diameter which were then tied to each other to form a larger piece -- shawl, veil, umbrella. This thread was either made of silk or a silk blend, to allow for improper stitches to be easily removed. The mercerization process strengthened cotton threads and spread their use in tatting. Newer designs from the 1920s and onward often use thicker thread in one or more colors, and newer joining methods to reduce the number of thread ends to be hidden. The best thread for tatting is a "hard" thread that does not untwist readily. DMC Cordonnet thread is a common tatting thread; Perl cotton is an example of a beautiful cord that is nonetheless a bit loose for tatting purposes. Some tatting designs incorporate ribbons and beads.
Older patterns use a long hand notation to describe the stitches needed while newer patterns tend to make extensive use of abbreviations and an almost mathematical looking notation. The following examples describe the same small piece of tatting (the first Ring in the Hen and Chicks pattern)
- Ring five ds, three picots separated by five ds, five ds, close, turn, space
- R 5ds, 3 p sep by 5ds, 5ds, cl, turn, sp
- R 5-5-5-5 cl rw sp
Some tatters prefer a visual pattern where the design is drawn schematically with annotations indicating the number of ds and order of construction. This can either be used on its own or alongside a written pattern.
Some believe that tatting may have developed from netting and decorative ropework as sailors and fishers would put together motifs for girlfriends and wives at home. Decorative ropework employed on ships includes techniques (esp. coxcombing) that show striking similarity with tatting. A good description of this can be found in Knots, Splices and Fancywork.
Some believe tatting originated over 200 years ago, often citing shuttles seen in eighteenth century paintings of women such as Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Madame Adelaide (daughter of Louis XV of France), and Anne, Countess of Albemarle. A close inspection of those paintings shows that the shuttles in question are too large to be tatting shuttles, and that they are actually knotting shuttles. There is no documentation, nor any examples of tatted lace, that date prior to 1800. All of the available evidence shows that tatting originated in the early 19th century.
As most fashion magazines and home economics magazines from the first half of the 20th century attest, tatting had a substantial following. When fashion included feminine touches such as lace collars and cuffs, and inexpensive yet nice baby shower gifts were needed, this creative art flourished. As the fashion moved to a more modern look and technology made lace an easy and inexpensive commodity to purchase, hand-made lace began to decline.
Tatting has been used in occupational therapy to keep convalescent patients' hands and minds active during recovery, as documented, for example, in Betty MacDonald's The Plague & I.
- "Tatting". The Free Dictionary By Farlex. Retrieved 2012-05-23.
- Beeton, Isabella (1870). Beeton's Book of Needlework. Chancellor press. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
- "Tatting supplies and history". Navarro River Knits. Retrieved 2012-05-23.
- Caulfeild, S.F.A (1972 (reprint of 1887 edition)). Encyclopedia of Victorian Needlework (Dictionary of Needlework). New York, New York: Dover. Check date values in:
- Pam Palmer, Tatting, Shire Publications Ltd, 2000
- Spencer, Charles Louis (1935). Knots, splices and fancy work. Kennedy Bros; 2nd edition.
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