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Tatting (sometimes referred to as knotting) is a form of lacemaking that enjoyed great popularity in Victorian times. Victorians loved embellishment, and tatting was a very ladylike and portable craft that created delightfully frilly things. However, tatting does not have to be extremely frilly in the Victorian vein. Many modern patterns are elegantly simple. The versitility of tatting is one of the reasons the art is experiencing something of a renaissance today.

Tatted pieces are comprised of a mixture of double-stitch knots and small gaps in the thread. When these are strung tightly on a core or carrier thread, the small gaps in the thread become loops called picots. The core thread can be tied into loops or used to form chains; the resulting matrix of threads forms a delicate-looking lace. It looks delicate, but is extremely strong; as long as the thread itself is in good condition, the piece can weather a great deal of abuse.

Tatting can either be done on a shuttle (a eye-shaped holder with a bobbin of thread in it) or on a needle. Tatting needles are about 6 inches long, blunt-tipped, and can come in several different diameters. When tatting using a shuttle, the forming of the knots is done directly on the carrier or core thread. Needle tatting is easier to master because the knots are formed on the needle, then slid off onto the carrier or core thread.

Most patterns are written for shuttle tatting, although with patience can be converted for needle tatting. Some shuttle tatting techniques cannot be easily reproduced on needles. An excellent Web reference on this subject can be found on the German website Dreams of Lace (written in English,website at end of node).

Patterns and Notation

Tatting patterns are notated in several forms. There is a drawn pattern notation system, but the most common notation is the written type. This comes in two flavors, referred to as long and short written notation. The abbreviations below are common to both:

  • R: Ring
  • Ch: Chain
  • j, +: Join
  • p, -: picot
  • sp : small picot
  • cl: close ring
  • prev: previous

    The long written notation has more instructions on forming the patterns and presents the patterns in smaller chunks that are repeated. Short notation patterns often have a diagram or picture of the finished piece so you can glean the details from it. The more complex a pattern, the more likely it is to be in long notation. For example, a ring that has eight stitches, a picot, two stitches, a picot, two stiches, a picot, and eight stitches would be written like this in long notation:

    R: 8ds (p, 2ds)twice, p, 8ds, cl 1

    The same ring would be written like this in short notation:

    R: 8-2-2-8

    Both of these would yield a ring that, if stretched out, would look something like this, with the asterisks as double knots and the paired parentheses as picots (ah, the fun of ASCII art):


    Here's a simple pattern I use a lot, notated in short notation:

    R (2-2-2-2-2-2)cl, {Ch 3-3-3-3,rw, R (2-2+2-2-2-2)cl,}four times, Ch 3-3-3-3,rw, R (2-2+2-2+to first R 2-2) cl.

    The size of a motif will depend primarily on the size thread used. A simple hexagonal motif worked in a standard tatting thread (70 or 80, like sewing thread) would fit on the palm of my hand. If I work the same pattern in size 10 thread (like butcher's string, commonly used for crocheting) the resulting motif will be slightly larger than my outstretched hand.

    Choosing the proper thread size for a project is a must. Larger thread sizes are used in larger projects like bedspreads; smaller pieces like doilies or collars use the finest threads. The intended use of the final object also can affect thread size selection- decorations or edgings for items like towels are often executed in larger thread sizes so the pattern is easier to see against the fabric.

    Web Tatting Resources
  • Dreams of Lace needle vs shuttle comparison: www.is-koeln.de/spitzentraum/DOL/ndltat.htm
  • Shuttle tatting instructions, left and right-handed: www.123.net/~carlson/
  • Stitchguide is another good basic reference: www.stitchguide.com/stitches/tatting/index.html
  • Handy Hands Tatting is an excellent source for supplies and patterns: www.hhtatting.com
  • Advanced techniques and many good references: www.picotnet.com

    Note- it is extremely difficult to learn to shuttle-tat on your own. This is because mastering the second half of the knot (the dreaded 'flip') is very difficult to pick up from printed instructions.If you are interested in learning how to do this, check out the video clips on the websites above or hit craft stores for videotapes.

    Better, find someone's grandmother to teach you- that was the way I learned, and the way I recommend. You learn a skill and make an old lady happy at the same time.

  • Tat"ting (?), n.

    A kind of lace made from common sewing thread, with a peculiar stitch.

    Tatting shuttle, the shuttle on which the thread used in tatting is wound.


    © Webster 1913.

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