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, 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.


Sharren - Tatting in Greenwood, South Carolina said...

This is so interesting! I wonder if there are any references before 1842?

BTW, there was a shuttle up for sale on eBay a year (or more) ago - came with the original owner's little cardboard box she kept it in, and had a little poem she'd written which referred to her "tatting needle." It was pre-1900, but I don't remember how "pre" it was.

Martha said...

Sharren, I have found references to tatting earlier than this, but this is the first example of tatting instructions I have found in English. I did find some very basic tatting instructions in French, from 1830.

Margarets designer cards said...

Very interesting, It seems that saying needle and showing a shuttle I am wondering if whoever wrote the piece translated it from some French text which might have got it completely correct and put needle when they did not know the French for shuttle.

It's wonderful hw you are managing to find out so much information, I tried to find out about tatting and how far it went back, but I did not find this reference

Martha said...

I often hear the expression "crochet needle" instead of crochet hook. I wonder if it was just natural to call any needlework implement a needle.

H J Hess said...

It may be that the name for a tatting shuttle was derived from the netting 'needle' which is not a needle at all (see and the term 'needle' was carried over to name the shuttle used for tatting. Just my conjecture, but it sounds plausible.