25 October 2007

My Favorite Girly Art

Not too long ago, I posted a message on the Quilt Art list and mentioned that I am a tatter and that I taught it for the three years that my store, Lost Arts Stitchery, was open.

I got tons of email about it, some excited, some nostalgic...and some asking me just how many tattoos I had and what did that have to do with fiber art? So I thought tonight, dear reader, I would talk to you about the fiber art that my friends say proves I am a girl: tatting.

Tatting is a form of lacemaking that dates back to the 1800s. I say it proves I am a girl because its incredibly dainty and delicate, which is not always the first type of fiber art I am attracted to. (Hey you...quit that snickering...) But I do like it a lot, its really interesting and there are seemingly endless applications for it.

(This is one of my favorite books from Dover. They have lots of tatting pattern books.)

Its used for all kinds of things. Doilies, edging on pillows, edging on cuffs, purses (both the whole thing as well as edging), tablecloths, bracelets, earrings, Christmas tree ornaments, decorations for handmade greeting cards, embellishments on crazy quilts (which is what I used it for) and probably way more then I could ever possibly think of.

And there are two ways to do it: using a shuttle or using a blunt tipped needle. Shuttle tatting is the traditional tool, which is what I use and teach. And I should mention that if you choose to do needle tatting, you need to buy multiple sizes of needles depending on the size of the yarn. With the shuttle, one size fits all.

This is a shuttle.

These are needles.

One woman who wrote to me after I posted to the Quilt Art list asked how she could go about learning it. I have to say that even with all I know about it, I read some of the books out there and feel like I've never picked up a shuttle before. So, in my opinion, shuttle tatting is really hard to learn from a book. Note that I said hard, not impossible.

However, I have been told that there is a really good book for learning needle tatting called Learn Needle Tatting-Step By Step by Barbara Foster. Many semi-homicidal wanna-be tatters have found redemption in needle tatting after trying to learn it on a shuttle. Plus this site, Handy Hands tatting, has online instruction about the technique. I've personally never done needle tatting but if you've not had an easy time learning shuttle tatting, you may want to give it a go. Plus if you have arthritis in your hands, I've also been told needle tatting is easier.

For those of you more like myself - determined to torture yourself into learning it the traditional way - there is help. Handy Hands also offers videos for shuttle tatters. I can't really endorse these because I've not seen them but I can tell you that in the three years of teaching people to tat, all my students caught on. This is clearly an art easier learned by seeing someone else do it.

But if you are on your own with no human to show you how to do it and determined to learn, you should know that there are about a billion resources on the web. Well, maybe not that many, I didn't count them all. But I did google "tatting" and about went cross eyed looking through all the hits.

This is one of my favorite sites for learning shuttle tatting. Its from Carrie Carlson and I think its exceptionally clearly written. Plus she has instructions for both left and right handed people, which is near impossible to find. (Oh, here's a good tip. I am right handed but successfully taught left handed people to tat many times. If you are left handed but your teacher is right handed, sit across the table from them. You'll be looking at a mirror image of their hands and its easier to pick up.)

Here's how I taught my class and what I recommend for beginners:

  • Keep in mind that tatting is all based on one stitch called The Double Stitch, which is nothing more then a set of two slip knots. Learn that and you are good to go. So stay calm and concentrate on conquering that stitch into submission.
  • I had my own instructions for my class but I can't locate them. I suggest printing out Carrie's instructions. They are good, trust me.
  • Start with big thread. The bigger the number, the smaller the thread. So start with a size 10 thread. Yeah, yeah, I know 80 is the bigger number but its dinky thread and you'll be cursing in no time flat.
  • Use two colors of thread, its easier to learn how to flip the knot. Carrie's instructions are easy to follow because she uses two colors to demonstrate what to do.
  • I like plastic shuttles, like these from Clover. They do make a somewhat annoying clicking sound when you are using them that always solicits dirty looks from my dog but hey, sometimes the loved ones have to suffer for our art. They'll get over it.
  • Start by learning the chain first. Your objective when you start is to learn the double stitch and the chain is easier to learn first. Then become a contortionist and learn the ring. (Which Carrie shows under her First Half of Stitch and Second Half of Stitch sections.)
  • Oh yeah...remember to breathe....and take breaks if you are feeling frustrated.
  • And PRACTICE. This is not an instant "I get it!" thing that only takes 30 seconds. And if you do get it right away (to which I congratulate you!!!) and there are other new tatters around you, you may want to consider celebrating on the inside for the moment. New tatters are sometimes disgruntled.
I would really encourage you to give it a try if you are interested in it. Too often people psyche themselves out into thinking its too hard. Its really not. Especially if you are a knitter or crocheter. I do those too and I'm tellin' ya, I'm not buying the "Tatting is too hard" when you already turn string/thread/yarn into various types of knots.

I'll help ya as much as I can if you get stuck. And definetly do an internet search for "tatting." There is TONS out there!!!


FunkyC said...

How'd you know I was snickering?!?

Fibra Artysta said...


Because you are evil...but that's why I like you. :) Hey, why don't you go post something on your blog? I check it constantly and all I keep seeing are stones with no moss on them!