Join me as I explore tatting history. I may trace the development of the craft, translate old patterns into modern notation, or play detective tracking down the earliest appearance of a technique, design, or term.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Single Stitch According to Riego

Tatting by Mlle. Riego, 1850

In this first English book devoted entirely to tatting, the join as we know it has not yet been invented, so Mlle Riego overcomes this difficulty by using a netting needle or sewing needle instead of a shuttle. She made joins by passing the needle through picots. This method was soon supplanted by the regular join, but was a revolutionary step by allowing larger pieces to be made without laboriously tying the picots together with bits of thread.

In this book, the needle is manipulated the same way as a shuttle, so this is not needle tatting in the modern sense.

Mlle. Riego's description of the single stitch may seem baffling when you first read it, but take a shuttle in hand and follow along and it becomes clear. Once made, you can recognize this as our "second half" of the double stitch.

On page 6 she writes:
Raise the 2nd finger of the left hand, so as to loosen the loop ; pass the needle though the back part of the loop, bringing it in front between the two threads, as Fig 2 ; and holding the foundation thread quite tight, raise the right hand above the left : the foundation thread will now divide the loop into two parts, and still holding the foundation thread quite tight, remove the 2nd finger from the upper part of the loop, and placing it in the lower part, raise it up so as to draw the upper part of the loop tight, which places it between the finger and thumb, and finishes the stitch. The stitches being formed by the loop round the fingers, the foundation thread should be capable of contracting or expanding the loop.

Example. – Edging : First Oval – Commence a loop, and work 20 single stitches as directed above, withdraw the fingers from the loop, and draw the foundation thread tight. Commence the next oval close to the one already worked. Repeat.

Compare to Mrs. Gaugain's instructions here. Do you think Riego's is clearer? It is a nice touch that she points out that the core thread should be able to slide. And, like all the others before, she includes the ubiquitous 20 half stitch edging.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Tatters

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Elaborate, artistic pieces of tatting were being made, tatting was simply an edging of half closed rings.  There was no such thing as the join, large pieces were being made by tying together the picots.  Needlework books devoted only a few paragraphs (if that) to tatting, that was about to change.

It was the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty.  That year would see the publication of two books in England: Tatting, by Mlle. Eleonore Riego de la Branchardiere, and The Book of Point Lace and Tatting, by an anonymous Gentlewoman.

Riego wrote, "I have been much solicited for some time past to introduce the work (tatting) in England, bu have delayed doing so until I could simplify the mode of working, and endeavour to render it suitable to the taste of the English lady.....I have substituted a 'Netting Needle,' for the 'Shuttle,' which has enabled me to attach and shape the patterns while working...."  Her book contains tatted collars, edgings, a doily, and the famous grape motif.

The Gentlewoman wrote about tatting, "Necessarily, however, no very great variety of forms can be obtained in this style of work, notwithstanding the undoubted advance that has been made in it; it is better adapted as an adjunct than as a principal; and therefore, I have restored it to its original us as part of English Point Lace...."  While she give some good instructions for how to tat, her patterns are very simple.

Riego saw the elaborate work done in France and experimented with new ways to imitate it with less effort. She constantly strove to advance tatting as an art form.  The Gentlewoman was also aware of the beautiful tatting at the Exhibition of Industry in Paris and turned her back on any advancement, preferring to return to older, simpler tatting styles.

And that is why Riego is the Mother of Modern Tatting and the other Gentlewoman isn't.

Riego's books are available through Georgia Seitz's Archive of Tatting Books in the Public Domain and through the Antique Pattern Library.

The book of Point Lace and Tatting is available for purchase from Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions. I do not know of a public domain source.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Meanwhile, In France

Karey offers this translation from page 190 of Manuel des Demoiselles (1830), which I had written about here as the oldest tatting written instructions I had found:

Frivolité (tatting) This sort of ornament, which at one time was used as a festoon and as a lace, is something I have to put here. To make it, it is necessary to have a sort of large shuttle in ivory, partly or entirely wound with cotton, and some part left plain (UNWOUND). When you have enough cotton unwound, take the end between your thumb and index finger of your left hand; at the same time, hold the shuttle in your right hand. Hold the other fingers of your left hand aside, the cotton is twisted around them and is useful in manipulating the thread in the manner of making lace. One holds this point tightly, but not to impede the flow of thread from the shuttle. One has decided in advance, the largest number of points (I THINK THEY MEAN STITCHES) needed to make the lace. {DOESN’T THIS SUGGEST TO YOU THAT MAYBE THEY DIDN’T KNOW THE RING COULD BE ENLARGED AS THE TATTING PROGRESSED?) Certainly the thread held in the left hand is what makes these, that is the outline. (I.E. THE PATTERN OR SKETCH USED TO COMPARE YOUR WORK TO AS YOU PROCEED.) The thread on the shuttle, held in your right hand, holds the quantity of thread needed to produce lace more or less large, and an ornament may be made in a day. It’s much faster to do tatting than point lace.

Another early sighting of tatting:

In the magazine Etudes Touloises, No. 78, 1996, Anne Monnet wrote: "En France, la frivolité, pour désigner une technique dentellière, apparaît, in 1812 au Trésor de la Langue Française. La frivolité y est définie comme un feston de dentelle exécuté avec une navette et un ou deux crochets et dont l’assemblage permet d’obtenu des fleurs des rosaces." Roughly and inexpertly translated (by me), this seems to say, "In France, frivolité, to designate a lace-making technique, appears in 1812 in the (dictionary) Treasury of the French Language. Frivolité is defined as a scalloped lace with a shuttle and one or two hooks and which enables the assembly of the flowers of the rosettes." I do not have access to a copy of this book to verify her claim, but if true, a reference to frivolité/tatting in 1812 would be a new earliest known mention in print.

Monday, July 2, 2012

More Tatting in the 1840's

Last time we finished looking at Mrs. Gaugain's tatting section from The Lady's Assistant of 1842.

The next English book to contain tatting (that I know of) was The Ladies' Work-Table Book of 1843. Its tatting section is reproduced below, click to enlarge.

Look closely -- this is nothing more than a simple paraphrasing of Mrs. Gaugain's work with the patterns in reverse order!

Later that year, The Ladies' Handbook of Millinery, Dressmaking and Tatting was published.  I have not found a copy online, but Elgiva Nicholls' excellent Tatting: Technique and History has a thorough description.      The preface includes the statement: " This kind of ornament for childrens's and other dresses was once in high repute, and again appears likely to become a favourite..." This is the first of several assertions that tatting was an old craft now enjoying a return to popularity.  But the tatting patterns given, "Tatting Open Stitch", "Star Tatting", and "Common Tatting Edging" are again the same as Mrs. Gaugain's work.

It is not until 1846, with Miss Lambert's The Handbook of Needlework that we see a new, though meager,  description of tatting tucked into the Netting section of the book.  She uses the word, shuttle, instead of needle.  Only one stitch is described.  Was her description so abbreviated that she did not make clear that there were two movements for the double stitch, or is she describing only the single stitch?  You may draw your own conclusions, though I think the picture looks a bit like Josephine rings.

Now at the end of the 1840's we stand at the brink. The new decade will bring revolutionary changes that bring tatting much closer to the art we know today.

My deep apologies for the long delay between posts.  Things have been hectic and unpredictable, but should be settling down now.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Oldest English Tatting Instructions, Part 4

Mrs. Gaugain continues:

For the Edging of Petticoats, &c. &c. ; as Represented in Engraving at Beginning of Book

This is worked with fine bobbin, such as is used for children’s caps. Seven long loops form a pretty scallop.

The loop round the fingers if formed as before described in foregoing receipt; so is the first stitch; next stitch, throw the thread over the back of the hand, instead of bringing it towards you as in the first stitch, and insert the needle down through the finger loop between the first and second fingers; draw it up through between the two threads over the back of the fingers, and with the second finger form the stitch as before; next stitch as first, only leave it long, so as to form a long loop; then again the stitch over the back of the hand. Repeat the long loop and the one over the hand alternately, until you have the seven loops; then draw up the thread to form the scallop. Plain Tatting may also be done in the same manner as the second stitch here described. "

Here, in this final pattern, we finally get the directions for making the other half stitch to make up the double stitch. Note that the halves of the double stitch do not have names, and that she makes our "second" half first. Picots are called "loops", and are made between the double stitches by leaving a longer bit of thread before making the next stitch. Bobbin was a sort of thread, which was used interchangeably with a coarse loosely twisted cotton thread.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Oldest English Tatting Instructions, Part 3

Previously, Mrs. Gaugain told us how to tat the single stitch (half stitch) and use it to make an edging of partially closed rings. She continues:


As Represented in Engraving at Beginning of Book.

A very pretty trimming may be made by six scollops of Tatting being worked and drawn up quite close to form a star. When you have got enough worked, sew them together length ways. If wished to form a deep trimming for the bottom of a petticoat, another star may be added below between every other star of those already worked, which forms another pretty vandyke trimming."

Since she has so far only taught us to make half stitches, presumably these may be Josephine rings, though that term would not be coined until much later, (possibly by Therese de Dillmont). Remember that the join has not been invented yet, so she makes these tiny motifs and sews them together.

Sorry this blog has been move slowly; I've been busy....

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oldest English Tatting Instructions, Part 2

Here we continue reading from The Lady's Assistant in Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work, 1842, by Mrs. Jane Gaugain. (Last time we got as far as winding the thread around the left hand.)

"As the thumb and forefinger are never moved during the forming of the scollop, bring the tatting needle and thread toward you, straight across from the forefinger and thumb, between the second and third fingers; insert the needle from the back of the finger loop up through the centre between the thread you have on the needle and that round the fingers; always observing to have the thread (on the needle) between you and the needle after it is drawn through."

(This is what today we call the Riego style of tatting; the shuttle is brought to the back of the left hand, and passes through the loop around the fingers to form our second half of the double stitch.)

"Hold the needle and thread tightly extended from the right hand to the left, and the loop round the fingers loose, as the stitch is made with the loop round the fingers, and not with the part of the thread nearest the needle; then withdraw the second finger, so as to allow the loop round the fingers,to form round the thread; insert the fingers again, and with the second finger form the stitch, by drawing it up to its place, which is close to the thumb;"

(Relax the left hand and pull with the shuttle to flip the stitch, then pull the stitch into place.)

"this finishes one stitch, and 20 more like this form the scollop. Draw the thread attached to the needle tight, so as to pull up the scollop when completed; now commence another scollop. If the Tatting has not been properly worked, this scollop will not draw.

(Work 20 more half stitches and (partially) close the ring, then begin another. If you have not flipped the stitches, the ring will not close.)

"All Tatting stitches must be formed with the loop round the fingers. 21 stitches form a pretty scollop with Taylor's Persian cotton No. 3.
I do not think any person who has not seen Tatting done can accomplish it by any description."

Here we have the earliest known pattern in English: an edging formed by making a series of half rings with 21 half stitches each.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Oldest English Tatting Instructions, Part 1

The earliest tatting instructions I have found in English are in The Lady's Assistant in Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work, 1842, by Mrs. Jane Gaugain. Please note that tatting appears only in the three volume edition of this work, not the single volume book of the same title.

Click here for a link to the book in the collection of the University of Southampton. Many, many thanks to Erin for finding me the link.

There's quite a lot of information packed into three small pages plus 2 plates of illustrations, so I will be taking it bit by bit.

On page 411, she begins with instructions for "Common Tatting Edging":
"After threading your tatting needle with the size of cotton you intend to work with, tie a knot on the end; take the knot and put it on the forefinger of the left hand, and then so extend the second, third, and fourth fingers, as to form a loop round them, by passing the thread round the back of them and bringing it round to the forefinger again, over the knot; hold them tightly down with the thumb."

May I now draw your attention to the engravings from the front of the book. Though she speaks of a tatting needle, her illustration clearly shows a shuttle.

This terminology may be the source of much confusion. Not too long ago, members of Intatters were puzzling over an early literary reference to tatting with a needle, wondering if he didn't know what he was talking about or referring to sewing together motifs in the old style method. Now it seems clear, but I can't find the discussion anymore.

Should I have been surprised to see a shuttle labeled as a needle? Actually, no. In her book, Tatting: Technique and History, Elgiva also pointed out that another old book used the term needle but showed a picture of a shuttle. I had forgotten her words, but seeing the picture here has made a deeper impression.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Quote for the Day

"I do not think any person who has not seen Tatting done can accomplish it by any description." -- Mrs. Gaugain, The Lady's Assistant in Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work, Vol 2, 1842.

Mrs. Gaugain on the difficulty of learning to tat though words alone, without seeing it done. Nonetheless, she was the earliest person I know of who published tatting instructions in English.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Pattern from 1837--Sort of

From The Female's Friend and General Domestic Advisor, by Robert Huish, 1837, we have, well, not a tatting pattern, but a sewing pattern with tatting on it.

Click here for a link to the whole book.

On Page 213, he says, "Pattern 3. This pattern will look well with tatting, or a narrow edging of lace round it, and a sprig worked in each of the front corners."

I think this does refer to tatting as we know it. As we heard in a previous post, sometimes the word "tatting" referred to any narrow lace, but here, the author makes a distinction between tatting and other edgings. Also, a popular tatted edging in the 1800's was made of half rings pulled into the shape of scallops just like those shown in the engraving. I'll be talking about that edging pattern again soon.

Meanwhile, in France... A few friends are working on a translation of the page shown in the previous post, but anyone is welcome to join in. I later realized that the word "frivolite" appeared earlier in the book (p 53), which may refer to another form of needlework also called by that name. What might be the relation between them? I've gone back and added a link to the book on that post.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Old Style Tatting--The French Connection?

excerpt from Manuel des Demoiselles (1830)

In Tatting (1850), Mlle. Riego wrote, " was also worked with a shuttle and pin, forming coarse trimmings, &c., consisting of small pieces worked separately, afterwards tacked on a paper pattern and sewn together with a very fine needle and thread,... In this state it has recently been revived in France under the title of 'Frivolitè.'"

In The Ladies Complete Guide to Crochet and Fancy Knitting (1854), Mrs. Stephens wrote: "The exercise of the art of Tatting as known to our grandmothers,...was never more elaborate that a neat, but rather substantial edging for a chld's dress or a lady's frill.... At the late French Exposition of Industry, however, some very beautiful and elaborate specimens having been exhibited, this kind of work became the rage, both in France and England..."

The French Exposition of Industry of 1844 was a grand spectacle, a sort of World's Fair. One conjectures that the tatting exhibited there was Old Style Tatting like that shown in the blog header above, since these comments imply that tatting had evolved from mere edgings to motifs and larger pieces. Did that change originate in France? Who knows? It would seem to have flourished there and spread to England anyway.

There was a book published, Exposition de l’industrie française année 1844, by Jules Burat, with 90 plates illustrating the exhibits. Unfortunately, I don't know if it pictured any of the tatting since I haven't found a copy online. Here is a list of libraries with copies. Field trip! If anyone manages a peek at this, let the rest of us know.

Meanwhile, I wonder, were there patterns for this style of tatting published in France? For that matter, what books were published in France in the 1800's with tatting of any sort? I know of these: Manuel des demoiselles, ou Arts et métiers qui leur conviennent et dont elles peuvent s'occuper avec agrément : tels que la couture, la broderie, le tricot (1830)and Leçons de couture, crochet, tricot, frivolité, guipure sur filet, passementerie et tapisserie (1873). Dillmont published several books beginning around the turn of the century. Can anyone tell me of any more?

-Update- Click HERE for a link to Manuel des Demoiselles (1830). The word "frivolite" appears on pages 53 and 109. And click HERE, HERE and HERE for the illustrations, but be aware the illustrations are from a different edition and numbered differently.

Here is what has to say about the page at the top of this post:

This embellishment kind, that holds at once festoon and net, appears me to have to be here. To make it, it is necessary to have a sort of big shuttle in ivory: the round party is the one where one enters cotton, that one unwinds around on the part full. When there is enough do cotton unwound, one takes the end between the index and the left thumb: at the same time one seizes the shuttle of the upright hand. The other fingers of the left held remote hands, his surround by cotton, and the tool is passed underneath the thread, so as to form a point of festoon. One squeezes this point, but not so as to prevent the cotton that holds the shuttle to flow freely. One determined in advance the number of necessary points to the larger of which one wants to do frivolité. It is on the held thread of the left hand that form themselves these points: this is the track. The thread be anxious the shuttle, and by consequent of the upright hand, squeezes itself to every point, of which the determined quantity produces a lace more or less big, but similar to a festoon lace to day and cut. That goes a lot more quickly than the frivolité to the needle.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What's in a Word? -- Tatting

--excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

In 1882, Sophia Caulfeild and Blanche Saward (The Dictionary of Needlework) wrote that the word "tatting" was derived from "tatters;" and this was repeated by many later writers. Dan Rusch-Fischer distrusts this speculation and has done his own research into the origins of the word. He has submitted his findings to the Oxford English Dictionary for consideration. You can read about this in his article "The Historical & Etymological Roots of the Word Tatting"

According to Dan, "tatting" originally meant simply a narrow lace used for edging, which could be either machine or hand-made; and if hand-made, not necessarily made by what we call tatting today. (Yes, in the 1800's there were "tatting machines" for manufactured lace to further complicate our history.)

His earliest sighting of the work "tatting" is in a letter dated 1819, and the earliest usage to refer to tatting as a handicraft is the 1835 short story, The Masquerade, by Charles Robert Forrester.

My own earliest sighting definitely as a handicraft is the 1832 novel, Aims and ends: and Oonagh Lynch, by Caroline Sheridan, where the completion of a girl's education is described: "...but the honest mistress of the academy would not have thought she had justly fulfilled all that the word 'genteelly' taught an anxious parent to expect, if Jessy had not also painted very bright heartsease and very formal roses on hand-skreens, played nearly thirty sonatas tolerably perfect, and, above all, embroidered, netted, knitted, tatted, and done every thing that needles may do. At fifteen, she was reported as 'finished;'....but the knitting, netting, and tatting continued to flourish....." Earlier in the book, "Mrs. Danby stayed in the tent with Lady Portbury, where she made several yards of tatting."

In another 1832 publication, Dramatic Stories, in the short story, The Wish Unwished, two young men are given a shopping list including 10 yards of tatting, and they comically have no idea what it is. Whether this means real tatted lace, who knows?

In future, I may treat you to random early tatting quotations for your entertainment. (Or subject you to same,when I'm too busy/lazy to make up a proper blog post.)

All of these books are available in the Haithi Digital Trust.

Thank you to Erin, for supplying the OED citation.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Do We Know What We Know?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that tatting sprang from the art of knotting. However little known those early days of tatting may well be, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of tatters as to be a part of our communal memory.

However, in his article, “Tatting Myths Dispelled” Dan Rusch-Fischer refutes that there is any proven link between the two. I can agree with his assertion that Mrs. Delany’s embroidered chair cover of 1750 does not represent a combination of knotting and tatting. Both sides of this argument base their claims on a grainy photograph of the chair. The enlargement looks like not just a strip of tatting rings, but rather rings and chains. I cannot believe in chains existing so early, so I accept his assertion that this is actually a cord couched down in loops.

Much of what we think we know stems from someone, however well intentioned, stating a conjecture as fact, without supporting evidence. Others repeat the statement until it becomes a familiar truth. With this blog, I will try to be careful to distinguish between facts and my own guesswork. Anyway, I will soon be through with tatting prehistory, and on to published works.

How did tatting originate? Will we ever know?

I read one source recently that claimed that tatting evolved from point lace. (I need to find that reference again!) Does anyone out there know enough about point lace to tell us if this is reasonable, or just another conjecture? **Update later: it was Riego who said tatting was related to point lace. I'll come back to this idea later.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

An Example of Old Style Tatting

I was recently fortunate to acquire this piece of old style tatting. Isn't it lovely? I wonder what its original purpose may have been, since it's an odd shape.

It has many of the classic features of old style tatting that were used before the invention of the join:

Sections tied together with knots...

Strips of rings sewn together by their picots...

Needle weaving inside the figures.

These rings of the outer round look sewn on rather than using lock joins as we would do today.

This square motif is very pretty.

And lastly, we have...tatted chains??

Well, there are several possibilities here. Before the invention of the true tatted chain, there was what Elgiva Nicholls called the false chain, where stitches were sewn over a core thread, similar to working buttonhole stitches. But in the examples I have seen (not that I've seen everything!) this was used to cover the bare thread between rings, not the border-like effect here.

Or, (wild flight of fancy alert), an isolated tatter somewhere could have figured out how to work a chain by herself before the method was published and popularized.

Or, in the mid 1800's a tatter could have been content with the old style methods she had been using all her life, and adopted just one of those new-fangled ideas that were coming into vogue.

Have any of you seen this sort of chains(?) mixed into old style work? I'd love to see.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Welcome to my new blog devoted to tatting history. Sometimes I will trace the development of the craft in a chronological manner; other times I may take a side excusion to investigate the earliest sighting of a technique, motif, or term. Viewer participation quite welcome in sleuthing endeavors! Also expect to see here old patterns translated into modern notation and whatever else may strike my fancy.

Happy Tatting to All!

Old Style Tatting

Old Style Tatting is the expression I use for that early work from before the invention of the join. (Does it have any other proper name?) Motifs were joined by tying the picots together. The motifs themselves were made up of strips of tatting sewn together. Elgiva Nicholls describes the process in her book, Tatting Techniques. Butterick's Tatting and Netting of 1896 has instructions for this type of work (though not too detailed), with patterns based on studying examples of tatting that were already old at the time.

Make a strip of rings, leaving a long tail of thread at the beginning. Have a bare thread double the length of the picots between rings.

Then use that beginning tail of thread to sew the rings together. The last picot of one ring and the first picot of the next one are caught together in a little knot. Then the thread ties into the base of the next ring, sometimes fastening it to a picot of a ring of an inner round. Needle lace stitches often fill in the centers. Then many motifs are basted down onto paper to hold them in place while knots are tied to join them together.

This one little motif took me a long, long time to make. I'm sure those tatters of old, who were accustomed to this sort of work could do it much faster. Still, with the effort involved, I'm amazed tatting as an art survived until the join was invented to make it easier.

But wasn't that old style work lovely!