"But, really, why does anyone create? You feel a... a restlessness inside, a need to make something new, something no one has ever seen before. You want to add to the beauty and the richness of the world with a gift, an offering that is uniquely yours. It's an act of selfishness and generosity, all rolled into one."

-- Bruce Coville,
The Last Hunt

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What's in Your Tool Kit?

Warning: This is a very long-winded post!

One of the nice things about tatting as a craft is that you don't need that many supplies to do it. A shuttle with a hook, a pair of embroidery scissors, and a compact of needles for sewing in ends were all I had for a long time. Technically, this is all you need. Eventually, of course, I found the need to own a second shuttle, and soon after that discovered that it is preferable if your shuttles are not identical. At some point I started experimenting with different kinds of needles until I found what works best for me. Working at Jo-Ann Fabrics for five years, I would look at items that were intended for something totally different and think of how they could make tatting easier, faster, or more comfortable. Over time, I thus built up a collection of tatting tools, some of which were designed for tatters and some of which weren't. Some of them I've discarded and some I've kept for years.

Here is my tatting bag in its current state:

You can't see inside very well, but not to worry; there's a picture of the contents coming up. The bag itself is a tool, of course. It's made by Jane Eborall. I firmly believe that it takes a tatter to design the perfect tatting bag, and for me, this is it. The pockets keep everything in its place so that I can always find it; despite Jane's protestations to the contrary, I have never lost a crochet hook since investing in this bag. There's plenty of room in the bottom for a couple of balls of thread and a WIP (that's work-in-progress, which I think is a much happier term than UFO),  and the drawstring makes it quick and easy to open and close. Here are a couple more views:

The last I looked, Jane had one left in this style in her Etsy Shop.

And then there are the goodies inside the bag:

The shuttles are of course the most essential tatting tool. Here you see two by David Reed Smith and one by The Shuttle Shop. I love the feel of a wooden shuttle. Sure, I could get plastic ones cheaper, but the tactile experience wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable. I normally have four shuttles in my bag, but the other one was attached to a project at the time of this photo.

The scissors are Ginghers. I insist on nothing but the best tools; it's much better to buy one high-quality expensive item than five cheap frustrating ones. The Ginghers have been well worth the money. I've had them for 13 years, and they're still as sharp as the day I bought them.

The needles I finally settled on are quilting needles. I find that they have a big enough eye to take the tatting thread, yet they're fine enough to slip between the stitches relatively easily. I've had this compact for at least 10 years, and I will cry if I ever lose it. Even in this day of mass-production, no two needles are exactly identical; in this compact I've segregated two that work especially well for my purpose, one for large threads and one for small threads. I've never yet managed to make the magic thread trick work- even if I tat so loosely that the work is floppy and ugly, I can't pull the thread through. Thus, having the perfect needles is essential.

For most joins I use the hook on my shuttle because it's faster and easier. However, I need the crochet hooks for situations where the picot is too small for the shuttle hook, or the location of the join is too awkward. The crochet hooks give me a bit more dexterity for joining than the shuttle does. They are also useful for loading beads onto a long joining picot. These are sizes 0.4mm, 0.5mm, and 0.6mm. Crocheters look at them and start hyperventilating.

The leather quilter's thimble (that's the big white thing, in case you didn't know) is to protect my finger, but not in quite the way that a thimble normally does. I hold the pinch with my thumb and middle finger and wrap the thread over my index finger and around my pinky (sometimes called the crochet hold). I find this much more comfortable than holding the pinch with my index finger, but I do have a problem sometimes with the thread digging into my index finger. The larger the thread, the worse it hurts (another reason why I prefer small threads). However, sometimes a large thread really is necessary for a given project. Putting the quilter's thimble on my left index finger helps immensely.

I hardly ever use the picot guage. I keep it in the bag just so that I always know where it is if I do need it. I certainly don't use it for normal picots, but sometimes you have a project where the picots need to be exactly the right size in order for the proportions to work out. Here's an example:

I designed this snowflake for last spring's round robin exchange. The long joining picots must be long enough, or the subsequent round will be ruffled. They can't be too long, or they'll flop around. They have to all be the same length, or the snowflake will be lopsided. And the long decorative picots have to all be the same length, or the whole thing will just look silly. Hence the need for a picot guage. You can cut one yourself out of cardboard, but I can't cut a straight line to save my life, so I eventually decided to get a "real" one to be certain of accuracy.

Paper clips are necessary for making SCMR's. They are also useful for holding beads on a picot until you complete the join, beginning with a chain, or occasionally for marking a spot to which you will later join.

If you are tatting something to a certain size, you'll need to have a tape measure handy as you work. It's also good to have it in your bag for when a friend sees you working and asks if you can make her a bracelet or a choker and you need to be able to measure her wrist or neck.

The pencil, of course, if for marking clarifications or corrections on a pattern.

Then there are a few tools that are essential but don't get carried around in the bag. These include the blocking board- I use foamcore because it holds the pins firmly and doesn't disintegrate in water; the blocking pins- stainless steel so as not to rust on the tatting; and floss bobbins for holding HDT's.

If you've managed to read this far, I'd love to know what you have in your tool kit! I'm not talking about things that will end up as part of a finished piece, like thread, beads, stiffener, etc. I'm talking about the behind-the-scenes stuff that the end viewer will likely not even know about. Leave a comment, or better yet, talk about them on your own blog so we can see pictures. A lot of our tools will be similar, but it's likely that many of us have a tool for a specific purpose that other people haven't thought of using. Maybe you'll give another tatter an idea for an easier way to do something.

And don't forget that tomorrow is International Tatting Day, so get your shuttles and chocolates ready!


  1. how neat I will be sure to blog about this on mine but my bag has all kinds of stuff

  2. In comparing my tat bag to yours, I have all the same tools as you, with the exception of the thimble. I also have a small notebook in mine for writing measurements down or stray ideas that spring to my mind and a small baggy (2.5"x3") filled with a couple of my favorite bookmark patterns and a couple patterns good for unloading a shuttle. Perish the thought of finishing a project while out and having nothing else to do!
    :) Ann

  3. Interesting post. I never use a gauge either, nor do the magic thread trick (it's unmagic for me!!). I don't use scissors but always use nail clippers. Recognised the bag, though!!!

  4. Love reading about what other tatters, do , carry , use, etc. I must try the quilter's needles. Sis is a quilter so I'll ask her for a couple. Also, the scissors sould terrific!

    I just took a pic of my tatting case, but not with all the stuff featured.... I'll have to revise that layout...
    Fox : )

  5. I forgot, I also carry a small magnifying glass with me because my eyesight ain't what it used to be.
    :) Ann

  6. Hi, I know your Dad from OBC and he sent out a post about your blog. My grandmother tatted. She was the most important woman in my life. So, I've always wanted to learn. It feels like a way to remain connected to my Mama D. Do you know anyone in Atl that teaches tatting? I knit and do many other hand crafts. I taught my self to knit from a video and 3 years latter am an advanced knitter. So I could also possibly learn tatting that way.

    Thanks for the help.

  7. Thanks for the comments, everybody. It's so interesting to hear what other people do or don't use. The small notebook is a good idea.

    Karol, thank you for reading my blog. I don't know any tatters in Atlanta, but I'm sure there must be some. I'll ask on the Here-Be-Tatters list. There are also some good videos online. Linda Davies has one on her blog, www.toptattyhead.blogspot.com, and you could also search YouTube. You're welcome to e-mail me at luthien1 at comcast dot net.

  8. I would really like to see your tatting tool kit, but it seems that the photos are not working. Is there anyway I can see them?

    1. A while back, I was playing around and accidentally deleted a bunch of photos. Since they were all from older posts, I never got around to redoing them. If you're really interested, I might do another post on this.