"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

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How Did You Start Tatting?

Murray at The Tatting Whisperer has posted the delightful story of how and why he learned to tat. I had been thinking of doing a similar post but hadn't gotten around to it. Murray's post has given me the tuit, and it is indeed round (if you're reading this via Google Translator or similar, just ignore that). My story isn't as good as his, but here it is.

I was 18, a  freshman at Indiana University and starting to make friends with the people in my dorm. I had one friend in particular who was very creative; she was a fine arts major and highly skilled with all kinds of fiber arts. I myself could barely thread a needle but I did have a great fascination with anything to do with fabric, thread, yarn, etc. One day I was hanging out in this friend's room when she said, completely out of the blue, "I feel like tatting something", took out a shuttle and thread, and started making these little knots. I had encountered the word tatting somewhere before, probably read it in a book, but I had no idea what it was. I'm sure that my eyes were as big as saucers and my jaw scraping the floor as I watched my friend do this magical thing. Evidently she noticed, because she asked it I would like to learn. Heck yeah I would!

So she got out an extra shuttle, a Boye stainless steel bobbin shuttle to be exact, and a ball of ecru thread which I think was probably Cebelia. She wound the bobbin and showed me the right way to put it in the shuttle, then cut the thread off the ball and tied it back on with an overhand knot. I now realize that she only did that to give me something to hang onto, but it did take me a while to figure out the continuous thread method and other ways to start without a knot. She first taught me how to make a chain. I'm very grateful that she started this way. It seems that a lot of tatters are taught rings first, but to me the chain is the much more intuitive structure. I was able to get the flip right away, which I'm sure I wouldn't have if I had started with rings. After I had made a chain of several passable double stitches, she showed me how to reverse work and make a ring; I remember going, "Whoa!" when she showed me how to close it. Once I had mastered rings and chains, she showed me picots and joins. The whole session took maybe twenty minutes, and that was the only tatting lesson I've ever had. My friend gave me that Boye shuttle (which I still have and treasure, even though I don't use it because I've found other shuttles much more pleasant to work with) and ecru thread and some patterns photocopied from Workbasket magazines.

As she was teaching me, my friend told me how she had found an old shuttle of her grandmother's in the attic. (This shuttle was also a Boye, but much higher quality than mine, being of an earlier vintage.) She knew what it was because it said "Tatting Shuttle" right on it, and determined to learn how to use it. She asked older ladies in her community to teach her tatting, but none of them knew. She finally found a book in the library and learned from that.

She hated the way the book told her to hold the thread and shuttle, and she knew enough about needlecrafts to know that there is no one right way to do anything, so she developed her own way, which I still use. The left hand is just the "crochet hold", where you pinch with the thumb and middle finger instead of the index finger. This just makes sense to me; whichever of these two fingers holds the pinch, the other one has to do the flip. It is more logical to do the flip with the more dextrous index finger and let the middle finger passively hold the pinch. With the right hand, she taught me to hold the shuttle just with my thumb and middle finger. Instead of catching the thread with your whole hand as you manipulate the shuttle, the thread is just caught with the index finger. I've tried using the "normal" way, and it is very uncomfortable for me, although I'm sure that my way would be uncomfortable for someone who learned the "normal" way.

After that lesson, I went back to my own room and practiced and practiced. Luckily I didn't have a roommate. Some of the patterns she had given me called for two shuttles, so at some point she gave me another one (she must have had quite a collection of those Boyes). I still couldn't figure out how to use two shuttles, though. I didn't understand that the second shuttle was in place of the ball. I thought it was in addition to the ball, and I was completely bewildered about what to do with that third thread! By then it was summer and I couldn't ask my friend.

Eventually I found the book Tatting Technique and History by Elgiva Nicholls at Borders. This book showed me how to use two shuttles correctly, as well as how to start without a knot and how to sew my ends in (I had just been clipping them about 1/4 inch from the final knot, which was very ugly). Plus I learned all kinds of things about the history of tatting and got ideas for different shapes that can be made; I highly recommend this book to all tatters. I also found the modern reprints of Anne Orr's books, as well as a gem of a book called Tatted Snowflakes by Vida Sunderman. I liked the snowflake book the best because it had easy patterns for a beginner. From the Orr books, I learned to do what she calls "reverse stitch"; a few years later when I encountered the description of a split ring for the first time, I realized that it was the same thing, and that there are ways to use it that never occured to Mrs. Orr. In the meantime, I got a job at Jo-Ann Fabrics, where I was able to buy cheap crochet threads. There was also another craft store in town where I could get slightly better threads in a larger selection of colors. I continued to pick up every tatting book I could find at Borders.

A couple of years later, I discovered the Internet. It was still pretty new, and there were only a couple of tatting sites, but it was better than nothing. I also found that I could mail order DMC tatting thread, which was a godsend. Having a really good thread to work with makes all the difference, plus this was back before DMC started discontinuing colors left and right, so I had plenty to choose from. I lost the Internet for a while because the computer had belonged to my boyfriend and we broke up. Then I moved in with my sister, had access to a computer again, and rediscovered the online tatting world. It had grown a lot, and now there was Handy Hands, where I could get any tatting supplies and patterns that I could possibly dream of. I also discovered David Reed Smith's shuttles and have never looked back. Now, of course, the online tatting community is huge, and there are all kinds of sites to teach you any technique you could possibly want to know. Frankly, if it weren't for the Internet, I would not tat nearly as much as I do.

So, tell your story of learning to tat. Post it on your blog, and then let me know. I love reading other people's stories of how they came to tatting.

And Vannessa from Farmland, if you're out there, THANK YOU!!!!!


  1. Interesting Post. I knew an elderly lady who could quilt and tat but as a teenager it did not interest me. I look back and wished I had taken more of an interest in her work. When she passed my mother received 2 tins of Star threads and I have them but no shuttle. Also have my Mother-in-law's Boye stainless steel bobbin shuttle. I learned to tat from the net in the fall of 2007 and continue to learn from all the videos and blogs.
    Linda M in NM

  2. Hi Miranda,

    Nice post. I also enjoyed reading Murray's post too. Both are intriguing!

    I have written my story, but alas it's not as adventurous as yours.

    Anyway, here's the link:

  3. I visited Murrays blog yesterday and told him my story..... it looked more like a book when I finished, but as you are interested I will put my story on my blog. thanks for sharing your story, I enjoyed reading it.

  4. I blogged about my first experience tatting - nothing great but just a reminder to me: my post

  5. Hi :) I enjoyed reading your story and Murray's, and wanted to join in. I've posted my own story, and invited others to share as well.

    Thanks for the inspiration to write it down - great idea!

  6. Great story! I think this will inspire many tatters to tell their story, including me. Thanks you!

  7. i am curious..i am a heavy beadweaver, but would like to add tatting to my repetoire and mix the two. what, exactly (sizes and all) do i need in terms of materials?

  8. Anonymous, you can tat with nearly any size thread, but for a beginner it's much easier to use a larger thread where you can see the stitches easily. I would recommend starting with a size 20. If you use two different colors, one on the shuttle and one on the ball, it will also be easier to see what you are doing. I suggest two colors that are both fairly light (again, it's easier to see) but contrast with each other. You will also need a shuttle, a pair of embroidery scissors, and some needles to sew your ends in (I like to use hand quilting needles for this). I like to use a shuttle that has a small hook or point on the end of it; if yours does not have this, then you will also need a very small crochet hook for making joins (about 0.9mm works well with a size 20 thread). You will only need one shuttle when you are first learning, but it won't take you long to get to the point where you are working patterns that require a second shuttle. The size of the shuttle doesn't matter at all, so try different ones to find what feels comfortable to you. You can get all of the necessary supplies at www.hhtatting.com

    Linda Davies has a nice instructional video for beginners at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJa5FQQy_gY There are also books with good instructions; the quality of beginner books has improved a lot in the last few years. However, since I didn't learn from a book myself I can't recommend any one in particular.

    If you join the Here-Be-Tatters group on Yahoo at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Here-Be-Tatters/ you will find a boatload of friendly people just waiting to answer your questions. You are also welcome to e-mail me at luthien1@comcast.net

  9. I began tatting about a month ago. A friend send me a image of tatted pedant. I asked her --- what is that ? How do you make it ? That pendant is soooo beautiful that it grabbed my heart. I start tatting about 30 days !! Simple stuff. Learned from You tube. And it is true to use thicker thread to begin with, so I can see how the knot is formed and where the thread is going. I still can't handle shuttle. Not sure how to make it work. But can do simple needle tatting.