Tatting

Many researchers believe tatting’s ancestor was a technique called knotting. A very large shuttle was used to create knots along a heavy cord which was then couched down. Some people point towards net making or macrame as a possible precursor for tatting. The Irish were great tatters and had a dominating presence in the mid 1800’s creating lace from tatting and crochet. Irish immigrant’s clothing was trimmed with tatting, introducing the technique when they arrived in America.

Tatting knowledge was passed along from person to person. In time, patterns were printed in popular magazines like Harper’s Bazaar. The Workbasket also published tatting patterns.

As the quality of thread improved, so did techniques. Finer threads brought about smaller shuttles and more intricate design possibilities. However, the first designs were not created like we do today. A length of rings was created and then placed in specific ways to create motifs. The rings were then stitched together making the finished piece not quite as delicate as those done today.

Today’s tatting is done with either a shuttle or a needle. A shuttle is a small tool that looks like a small boat “sailing” in and out of the thread. Tatting is called schiffchenarbeit in German, which means “the work of the little boat”. There are two popular types of shuttles. The first type of shuttle has closed ends and a removable bobbin where the thread is wound around. Since the ends are closed, this type is often made from metal or plastic. The second type has a post in the center where the thread is wrapped around. The ends of the shuttle are open but snug. Because it is constructed of two pieces, it can be made of materials like bone, ivory, and mother of pearl. Nordic Needle carries a variety of shuttles.

The second method is done with a long, thin shaft called a needle. The knots are formed around the end of the needle and then the needle is pulled through the knots transferring them to the foundation thread. Here are some of the needles available:

There are a couple of tools that will make your tatting more enjoyable.

One of the interesting things about tatting is that it has its own coded language. Here are a few of the most common terms along with the abbreviation(s) generally used. Some pattern books show the abbreviations in lower case, some in upper case, and sometimes mixed. They are shown here in upper case in alphabetical order. There are symbols for some of these terms used to create a visual chart as well.

  • C or CH – Chain is a row of double stitches.
  • CL – Close a ring, to complete the circle or motif.
  • CR or CTR – Center Ring
  • DS – The Double Stitch is a half hitch knot, the primary stitch for tatting.
  • J or + – Join means you are connecting motifs, most of the time by hooking them together through the picots on the motifs.
  • P or (-) – A picot is a deliberate loop made while you are doing the double stitches to create your motif.
  • R – A ring is a group of double stitches that form a shape, usually a circle, oval, or tear drop.
  • Rep or * – repeat the instructions between the asterisks
  • RW – Reverse work
  • Sep – This is the number of stitches separating two picots
  • SP – space

Today, many patterns assume the stitch is the Double Stitch and leave it out. A typical coded instruction might look like this: Ch: 10-4-4-5 rw Translated this means for this chain make 10 double stitches, 1 picot, 4 double stitches, 1 picot, 4 double stitches, 1 picot, 5 double stitches, reverse work.

There is some terminology to know also. When shuttle tatting, you have to flip, pop, or transfer your knot. This means the knot moves to the shuttle thread, off of the working thread. If done wrong, you get a knot in the wrong place. This has always been my problem! The shuttle thread is the thread that comes off the shuttle. The working thread is the foundation thread upon which the double stitches are made.

So, what kind of threads work best for tatting? You can use a variety of threads depending on the size of your shuttle or needle. Some of the common cotton threads are Cordonnet and Cebelia. Specialty threads like Kreinik metallic braids will work also.

Here is a cat done using a needle.

If you want to try needle tatting, here are some great resources!

Here are some of the resources we have available for shuttle tatting:

Learn to Tat is set up well with lessons. Each lesson has a photo, coded instructions, charted instructions and extra hints. We just started selling some pretty plastic shuttles with a little hook on one end and two bobbins. Cebelia size 10 in a pink color #603 was the thread I chose.

The book suggests using two different colors of threads so you can see what you are doing. Using just one color it may be difficult to tell which way the knot flips. If you find that you are having difficulty sliding the knots along the thread, using a larger shuttle, like the Tatsy shuttle, and heavier thread may make it easier. Once you are making double stitches, you will have passed lesson one!

Lesson Two has you making a ring using the same thread and then expanding on that knowledge by adding picots.

Tatting is a wonderful technique for creating ornaments and edging linens.

There are many books that will show you how to create edgings on handkerchiefs. Choose from these hankies! White Cotton Hanky with straight edges or curved edges.

In Norway, tatting used on linens and costumes is called nupereller. The Nupereller pamphlet shown is written in Norwegian, so it is fun to see the Norwegian names of different stitches. For example, double stitches with picot is called dobbeltknuter med picot.


We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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