Taking Tatting Into My Own Hands

Dakotah Davis © 2011

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Egyptian Nights Purse - The Egyptian Nights purse I made which features a piece of dusty rose antique tatting in the lower right hand corner.

Ribbons and machine-made lace greatly enhance the look of any crazy quilt project, but my favorite trim embellishment by far has to be tatting. You just can’t beat the unique charm and old-world quality of this handmade trim.

Finding tatting that is suited for your particular crazy quilt project, however, can be a real challenge. I’ve been able to find some online at a good price, but I have yet to use it on a project because the colors were not a match. A couple of years ago I finally found some antique tatting - one piece in cream and the other in dusty pink - at a local antique store, but had to practically arm wrestle the eccentric and possessive owner to get out the door with it. (Those who live in my town will know who I’m talking about and understand!)

My efforts to acquire ready-made tatting have been largely futile. I even tried to make my own tatted lace and purchased a package containing two little oval-shaped, traditional-style plastic tatting shuttles and some tatting thread. What a mess that turned out to be! Watching a how-to video on YouTube, I couldn’t even figure out how to make a simple ring - the first step in the tatting process - using the shuttle contraption. I ended up with a big tangle of knots. For someone who prides herself on being able to do just about any embroidery stitch in existence, I have to admit this was a blow to my stitcher’s ego.

Then I heard about needle tatting from my friend, Julie Craig, who owns The Attic Heirloom crazy quilt shop in Wichita, Kansas. She said this kind of tatting was easy. Of course I went right home and Googled “needle tatting.” I found a video and watched as a young woman effortlessly slid thread over an extremely long, blunt-end needle to form a perfect ring. It certainly did look easy.

I found a needle tatting set at Hobby Lobby that included four needles of various sizes and a needle threader. (The set’s not cheap, so print out the coupon in their ad if you want a discount.) Unfortunately, the kit does not come with instructions, so I put it away in a drawer thinking I would learn how later. This winter, during an extremely long and sedentary bout with the flu, I resurrected the needle kit from the bottom of a drawer and decided this was as good a time as any to give needle tatting a try.

Searching YouTube, I found several very good tutorials for the beginner. I watched them over and over until I got the hang of creating stitches to form rings and chains. (By the way, if you can do the cast-on stitch you can needle tat!) My friend Julie was right. It really is easy. After a couple of days I had a hand full of tatting in various colors and designs. I not only had lengths of trim, I also had quite a few tatted flowers, which are simple to make and really quite attractive.

I only had a couple colors of #10 tatting thread in my stash, so I substituted embroidery thread for many of the trims. Embroidery thread is not as sturdy as tatting thread, but thicker threads will hold up just fine, especially a #5 or #8 perle cotton. The thicker the thread, the bigger the needle and the bigger the lace. Thinner embroidery threads (using a smaller needle, of course) will give a more delicate look but they can be a little fiddly. Just keep with it, keep your stitches snug and you will do fine.

I won’t go into the how-tos of needle tatting here, since there are already good instructional videos available. But I will include instructions below for one of my own designs that I call the Grapevine. I’m sure someone out there has already come up with this one somewhere, but I haven’t seen enough tatting patterns to know. This one just popped into my head, so if someone “owns” the pattern, sorry. This one’s truly my own original.

I will say I have discovered that once you get the knack of making rings, picots and chains you can experiment with creating different combinations. You can also, with a little patience and fortitude, figure out how to recreate a piece of antique tatting by counting the stitches and picots in each ring and chain. This is what I’ve done with my two precious pieces of antique tatting. The real thrill is no more arm wrestling!

Enjoy the freedom of creating your own tatted trims and motifs. I believe this skill will add a whole new layer to your crazy quilting experience.

If you want to turn some tatting into wearable art, here is a great tatter who is a really good source of inspiration: http://www.etsy.com/listing/61915172/art-nouveau-tatted-lace-necklace-sepia?ref=sr_list_1&ga_search_query=tatting&ga_search_type=handmade&ga_facet=handmade.

The Grapevine by Dakotah


To form the first ring c3-1p-c3-1p-c3-1p-c3. Form ring. (Always tie off after each ring or chain. This is the first step in tying your shoe.)

Form second ring exactly like first. You will have two rings that look like mirror images with their closed ends meeting.

To form chain, place needle in the middle of the two rings and c9.

Begin 3rd ring. After 3c bring thread through first picot of 2nd ring (the ring closest to the end of your chain.) Finish the ring exactly like the others. (Obviously, you will not make the first picot of this ring because you are sharing a picot with the closest ring.)

Make your 4th ring, which will sit opposite your 3rd, c9 and so on, attaching rings to the first picot.

The chains make a continuous wavy line through the middle of the tatting, while the rings sit at diagonals, making a sort of grapevine appearance. If you get confused, just study the picture for a while and you will figure it out. Good luck and enjoy taking tatting into your own hands.

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