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Tatting Patterns & Shuttles
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Nordic Needle's History of Tatting - The Online Tatting Class

"The following article was written by Debi Feyh and Ryan Evelyth of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article with The Online Tatting Class. For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada."


I love Christmas ornaments. In my box of keepsake ornaments are the macaroni angels made in Sunday School and Santa heads from the traced hands of a toddler. Many are store bought honoring a special event: an adoption, a wedding, a family vacation. Some ornaments are there because they are pretty. Others represent things we like to do and teams we like to watch. Then there are the family heirlooms, lovingly passed down through the generations. The ones I treasure most are those tatted snowflakes, angels, and bells. They are so delicate looking, with no two exactly alike.

With the real snowflakes continuing to fall here in Fargo (in fact we have just set an all-time record for amount of snow in December at 36".) I decided what better way to begin the 2009 newsletters, but in a winter wonderland of white with traditional tatting.

What Exactly is Tatting?

Most resources agree it falls under the category of knotted lace. This means the lace is made by tying knots (often with the use of some type of tool) onto a foundation ring. Then the object "grows" as more loops are tied onto the previous round. Patterns are created by adding, changing, and deleting loops and rings as you work around the previous ring.

Tracking down the history turned out to be quite a chore. Often France is created with the development of tatting, because of the word "picot" which means "to prick". A picot is a loop of thread created for functional or ornamental purposes along the edge of lace, ribbon, crocheted, knitted or tatted material. These loops vary in size, according to their intended function and to their creator's artistic intention ( One resource credits Italy developing tatting in the 16th-century.

Yet I found several books reporting hieroglyphic texts where Egyptians used a shuttle called a "makouk" to form rings and circles. Some forms of knotting were mentioned in literature and shown in paintings in Europe as early as the 17th century. Surviving examples of tatting dating back to the mid-1700's have been found in a pair of chair covers by Mary Granville Delany. However, the most definitive proof comes in the mid to late 1800's. Mlle. Elenore Riego de la Branchardiere was appointed as Artiste in Needlework to Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales. Elenore was considered a needlework artist. She wrote eleven books between 1850 and 1868 and is credited for developing several techniques. One of her most important contributions was the use of continuous thread.

It was not considered lady-like to sit with idle hands. Many ladies fanned themselves, while others did some sort of needlework. It is well documented that tatting became a needlework of choice, easy to carry and do while sitting. Tatting shuttles became elaborate as did the tatting bags that housed them. This was a way to display a person's wealth as well as talent.

Anne Orr (ca. 1869-1946) is one of the renowned tatting designers of our era. She created exquisite patterns for crochet, tatting, cross stitch, embroidery, and quilting. Many of her books have been reproduced as her designs and techniques are timeless. Ann served as the needlework editor for Good Housekeeping magazine for many years. One of her contributions was the development of the split ring tatting which first appeared in print in 1923. It wasn't highly used and was destined to be forgotten until Mary Sue Kuhn published the book "The Joy of Split Ring Tatting" in 1984.

People are still developing new techniques and taking tatting to the next level. Teri Dusenbury read Mary Sue's book and began to work the split ring into her designs. She went on to develop two new techniques that she calls "directional tatting" and "stacking" which gives a 3D look. Her innovative techniques and designs are published in Tatting Hearts (TAT125).

Tatting Terminology

Tatting has some what a secret code of abbreviations, symbols, and graphics the tatter has to decipher to understand the pattern. Most of the patterns and books I looked at had a legend on the first few pages. While a majority of the abbreviations and symbols were the same, there were some that were not. It is important to look for the legend and make sure you understand the symbols and abbreviations used by that designer. Here are some of the common words:

Cl - close
Ds, DS – double stitch
Hs – half stitch
J – join, or shown as "+"
P – picot, or shown as "-" small picot "- -" medium picot, "- - -" large picot
Rnd, rd – round
Sp – space
RW.....reverse work
Sh - shuttle
* **, ( ) indicate the directions should be repeated the specific number of times. A piece of your pattern instructions might look like this:
Ring (3+3 - 3 - - 2 --- 1 --- 2 - - 3 – 3 -3) Which translates into: Work a ring with 3 double stitches, join to the previous ring, work 3 double stitches, small picot, 3 double stitches, medium picot, 2 double stitches, large picot, 1 double stitch, large picot, 2 double stitches, medium picot, 3 double stitches, small picot, 3 double stitches, small picot to be used for joining another ring later, 3 double stitches, close ring.

Workbasket Items

Tatting shuttles can be made of wood, metal, bone, or plastic. Plastic ones usually have a sharpened point at one end while metals ones have a hook. They also come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Tatsy makes a large plastic shuttle (7279) great for beginners. It is large and will handle a thicker thread, which makes it easier to see your stitches.
Susan Bates makes a nice metal shuttle (7282)
Many tatters like the shuttles with the bobbins such as the Aero (7276) and extra bobbins (7275). H
andmade shuttles (7285) are also a wonderful addition to your workbasket. Tatting needles are like a long needle resembling a milliner's needle where the eye is about the same width as the shaft to allow for easy pulling through of the thread. They come in different sizes.

Using a good pair of sharp scissors is always recommended.

Use threads that are mercerized and have a tight twist in their ply. DMC makes threads especially for tatting in size 80. We carry DMC Cebelia thread in several sizes.

A small bag to make a "to go" tatting bag because the projects are small and can be done whenever you have time. The tote-alongs are excellent choices for this.

No Victorian lady would be without her mother-of-pearl thread winders (364-475-0011).

Additional Supplies:

A spacer tool, which can be a piece of cardstock or plastic that you use to make your picots uniform. Be sure to mark the size on your tool.
Quilter's T-pins are excellent for blocking the finished piece.
A stiffening medium, such as sugar water, glue, corn starch, laundry starch or commercial stiffening.
A small crochet hook will help you connect your rings. Click here to check out all the tatting tools we carry.

If you like learning by seeing someone demonstrating the art and you don't have an instructor in your area, then check out these options for needle tatting. Needle Tatting by Carol Forbes, CD (1267)
Learn the Easy Art of Needle Tatting & More: V
HS (1250) DVD (1254)Technically Speaking... What Is Tatting?

Tatting is basically a square knot, a half hitch one way and a half hitch tied the opposite way. It truly is a series of knots. I confess that I cannot shuttle tat. I even tried a class here at Nordic Needle and I just can't "flip my knot", which is the key to the success of shuttle tatting. I can make beautiful knots, but they end up on the wrong string and do not slide! However, I tried needle tatting, and I love it. In my opinion, my tatting (especially the picots) turns out to be more uniform. I can better judge the size of my picot by the space I leave on the needle between the double stitches. I still admire those who can shuttle tat. It is pure artistry to watch their hands fly and the delicate tatting appears.

There are a couple of excellent sites with tatting instructions. gives shuttle tatting instructions (

Helping hands has free patterns along with needle tatting instructions (

Tatting Tips and Tricks

When using beads add a couple extra beads on your thread just in case one breaks.

How you finish your work is almost as important as the tatting. Not only does it make it ready for display, but it will give it some durability. You will need a padded surface; quilter's T pins or some type of rustproof pins; and a blocking pattern such as a circle or star to ensure your piece is the correct shape. Block the piece with right side down on a padded surface. Pin it to the desired shape. In my opinion, the picots are what make the piece extra delicate. So I often pin each of them to ensure they will be open and even. Place a damp cloth over the tatting and iron the cloth dry. Remove the pins and examine the piece, repeating the process if something needs to be moved.

To keep the shape, you will need to use a stiffening agent. Some people block their project and then brush the stiffener on. I usually dip my snowflakes in the stiffener and then block them to dry. This is an area where you need to decide what you like and works best for you. Grandma used sugar water and I've never had a problem with any of her snowflakes. There are lots of homemade and commercial choices. I found a wonderful site by Noël V. Nevins that goes through the list of stiffener choices and gives you some hints on each (

Take your time and pay close attention to your pattern. Especially if the pattern is just a graphic, I will make myself a working copy and use a highlighter to show what I have done. I get lost in some of the patterns, spending a lot of time trying to find my place if I don't make a "map". Correcting mistakes are tough because tatting does not unravel as each is a knot. You have to pick them out, and that is not fun!!!

The size of a ring is determined by how many double stitches are worked before closing the ring and the weight of the thread or yarn you are using. It is not determined by the size of your shuttle.

We have some excellent resources whether you are a beginner or advanced tatter. Tatting – Rings of Flowers (160-134-0001), first book on tatting T
atting Artistry in Thread (1243) translated from German (This is a fabulous book to step out and create your own pictures......beautiful and innovative.) Tatting Adventures (1237) with beads, shuttle, and needle Easy Tatting (160-216-0001) 24 snowflakes in tatting (1225) Needle Tatting with Style (1261) The complete book of tatting (1238) Click here to see all our tatting books Tatting Trivia

Tatting has found its place in literature. Sir Charles Sedby's published poem "The Royal Knotter" makes reference to Queen Mary knotting thread when riding in her carriage. Chaucer mention it in Canterbury Tales (1387).

Tatting has some interesting translations, among them:

German is schiffchenarbeit, the work of the little boat
Italian, occhi, refers to the eyes or the rings of the lace
Turkish, makouk, is their word for the shuttle
Finnish, sukkulapitsi (sukkula (shuttle) and pitsi (lace)) The word "doily" comes from a Mr. D'Oyley, an 18th century shop owner from London. He sold small pieces of material that were decorated and/or fringed, which he marketed to use under bowls to keep them from scuffing tables.

Victorian ladies had a unique tatting tool called a purling pin. This was a small ring with a small hook or pin attached by a chain. The ring was worn on the left thumb. Uniform picots were formed by wrapping the thread a designated number of times around the pin before making the next double stitch. Then the pin was removed and dangled from the thumb until the next picot.

Any questions? You are welcome to email me:
Tatting is NOT a lost art! Visit the Learning Center