Tatting

Since I am a little worried about beginning my tatting lesson, I will start with a short history lesson. 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. However, I am an accomplished macrame artist, having made large projects like hanging glass tables. I personally see no correlation between macrame and 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. Here is the April 1990 issue belonging to one of my husband’s aunts where she did a practice sample in pink and taped it into the magazine.

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. I have shown them 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.

Fortunately, I know how to needle tat. Here is a cat I did several years ago using a needle.

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

Okay, it is time to try shuttle tatting again. Here are some of the resources available through Nordic Needle.:

I decided to purchase the Learn to Tat (1197) because this 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 (7285). One set just happens to come in a purplish color, so I bought one of those as well. Cebelia size 10 in a pink color #603 was the thread I chose.

With much anticipation, and a little trepidation, I got everything out last night. I carefully read the instructions in the book. I got the shuttle ready, took a deep breathe, and tried my first stitch. The book said to use two different colors of threads so you can see what you are doing, but I thought I was smarter than that. I found that using one color, I couldn’t tell which way the knot flipped but I kept making them! The moment of truth came when I tried to slide the knots along the thread…they wouldn’t budge! I had found a large Tatsy shuttle (7280) in my stash, so I got it out along with two different colors of heavier thread. Finally, I could see what I was doing. Before long, I was making double stitches! I passed Lesson One! Lesson Two had me making a ring using the same thread and then expanding on that knowledge by adding picots! Yeah! I was able to make a ring and pass this lesson. Feeling pretty confident, I picked up the little shuttle and tried to make a ring. It’s not pretty but it did slide closed! Here are the results of a couple hours of sweat and tears!

I had hoped to be able to do a heart, or at least a butterfly, but it just didn’t work out that way. I will continue working through the book to see if I can get beyond one ring. I will keep you posted!

Tatting is a wonderful technique for creating ornaments and edging linens. For Christmas, Megan gave me a lovely set of vintage pillowcases with wonderful needleweaving and a fun tatted edge.

Embellishing with Edgings (1263) will show you how to tat edgings on handkerchiefs. Choose from these hankies! White Cotton Hanky with straight edges (9715) or curved edges (9714). There are also round white cotton doilies, 8″ (9717) and 6″ (9716).

While in Norway, I saw tatting used on linens and costumes as well. It is called nupereller and I bought one of the pamphlets. It is written in Norwegian, so it is fun to see what they call they 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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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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