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.

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!