Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Sophisticated Art of...Tatting?

Object: Tatting Shuttle
Accession#: 2008.0010

This brown tatting shuttle in Wilton’s collection is made of ivory or bone and a faded white thread is wrapped around middle. This simple yet important tool is what holds the thread and is held in the right hand like a pencil, blade uppermost. The thread leaves the shuttle on the side furthest away from the holder. To form the knot, the shuttle is passed over and under a taut thread held in the left hand. So the stitch or knot is made by the movement of the fingers. More elaborate designs may be made with more than one shuttle being utilized. A tatting shuttle can be made of bone, ivory, mother of pearl, or tortoise shell. Two oval blades are connected in the middle forming a spool-like tool.

Real lace, “the manufactur[ing] of which was a sophisticated art,” is composed of many kinds of ornamental knots and stitches of which the tatting knot is one. The word tatting does not seem to appear in print until 1843 and the origin of tatting is unclear. The knot may have originated about 2000 years ago when sailors used a large shuttle to weave heavy cords into fishing nets. This technique then might have been passed onto weavers who used a finer stitch to weave lace. According to one historian, “lace making was a thriving business in Europe” catering to the royalty who could afford garments trimmed with lace. Children and handmaidens were taught to tat edgings which were bought by weavers to be added to garments that were then sold for large sums of money.

Anne, 2nd Countess of Abermarle
by Sir Joshua Reynolds
The commonly held belief, however, is that tatting evolved from the “old craft of knotting.” Practiced toward the late seventeenth century in Western Europe and the British Isles, it was particularly popular with the ladies of French and English courts. Around 1760, Sir Joshua Reynolds painted a portrait of Anne, 2nd Countess of Abermarle, engaged in the craft. Lengths of thread were knotted at quarter inch intervals. The pre-knotted thread was added to other fabric. A shuttle was used to manipulate the thread. The technique of tatting starts with a similar smaller shuttle which merely is the holder of the thread as it is in knotting.

The tatting knot is created by looping and tying knots that are formed on a core thread which gives, as one historian attests, “the strength and comparative firmness of the work.” In England it was called knotting, in France frivolite, and America tatting. In the 19th century, when the craft became popular, women’s fashion magazines, such as Godey’s and Harper’s Bazaar, included tatting patterns and instructions in their issues. This technique is used to trim anything from undergarments and pillowcases. Although the craft of tatting may have come later, the Randolph daughters may have been taught knotting.

Interested in lace? Visit Wilton between now and January 15 to see a site-specific lace installation as part of Wilton's current exhibition Anywhere But Now. Displacement, by Olivia Valentine, mimics the wood paneling of the house with thread in a bobbin to create a large lace piece.

Work Cited

Leslie, Catherine Amoroso. Needlepoint Throughout History: An Encyclopedia. 18 September 2014. <

Kelly, Donna.  “What is Tatting?”.Victoriana Magazine. 8 August 2014.

Nicholls, Elgiva. Tatting Techniques: Old Revivals and New Experiments. Charles Scribner’s
and Sons, New York: 1976.

Tabler, Dave. “Reviving the Ancient Art of Tatting”. Appalachian History: Stories, Quotes, and
             Anecdotes. 7 October 2011. 29 August 2014.

Image Credit

The Tatter’s Guild of Australia. 29 August 2014. < >

Wikimedia Commons. 18 September 2014.

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