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 18, 2019

The Classic Wheel

Dear Friends,
It's been quite a while.  I started this blog with high hopes, and then the real world got a bit too overwhelming.  I've always meant to come back.  I'm not ready to pick up the detailed chronological investigation, but I'll try to give you an historical tidbit now and then.

Recently, my friend, Karey, asked me about the origin of the "classic wheel."  I didn't know, and that led to digging out some of my old notes.  

The earliest example of this wheel that I can find is in The Pearl Tatting Book, 1867, by Riego, in the pattern, Lappet Headdress.  Does anyone have an earlier sighting?

Here is a close-up of one of the wheels in the simplified engraving.

The instructions aren't as clear as modern patterns, but better than many earlier ones.  I think it is so interesting that she ties the threads in a mock picot instead of cutting the threads after the center ring  -- a very early case of trying to cut down on ends to finish off.  Too bad she didn't have the split ring for climbing out as we do today.

A note on terminology -- Riego called them "large stars,"  but we know them as "wheels."  From my quick digging through sources, it appears that later in the 1800's the term "wheel" was used for any small round motif.  As this motif had staying power as the most popular wheel, while others fell into disuse, we began to think of it as The Wheel, or the the "classic wheel", as dubbed by Elgiva Nicholls.  Karey has also seen it called a "snowball," perhaps a later terminology.  Can anyone cite sources calling it that?

You can get a free download of The Pearl Tatting Book, and many others at the Antique Pattern Library HERE, or Georgia's Online Archive HERE.

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....