Adventures in Needle Tatting

Dakotah Davis © 2012

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Just over two years ago, during a particularly long and dreary winter, I decided to teach myself how to needle tat. I had already tried shuttle tatting and, after ending up with a tangled string of threads, decided it was not for me. But with the help of one or two tutorials online, I found needle tatting extremely easy to learn, as well as a very enjoyable craft.

Whatís more, Iíve always relished bits of tatting added to crazy quilt pieces. I also found tatting pieces extremely hard to come by when looking for trims to adorn my own CQ work. In one strange shopping experience I practically had to arm wrestle a local antiques dealer for several scraps of antique tatting she seemed to think should be destined for doll clothes and not CQ work. I had found a few makers of tatting online, but not in offerings with the colors I needed. The only answer to putting tatting on my own work was if I made it myself.

The beauty of knowing how to needle tat is that I can custom design a piece to fit a specific seam or a corner, without having to chop up bits of precious tatting Iíd rather not part with or cut into. Using some CQ postcard blanks Iíd sewn together some time ago, I decided to try my hand at matching tatting to CQ. Here are the results:

I will be the first to admit Iím not the best at squaring up edges, so try not to judge me too hard on that point. Itís one of the reasons Iím not a traditional ďsaneĒ quilter!

I made a double challenge for myself with these fabric postcards. I wanted to custom design tatting, but I also wanted to see if I could choose stitching that would stand out against a colorful print. I found the use of black very helpful in both pulling the colors together and helping the stitching design stand out a little more from the background fabric. This is something I will probably always find challenging. But, back to the tatting...

In the pink rose postcard the tatting turned out very nicely. When you tat a custom piece you can round up both edges neatly without having to cut lengths and fold them under (adding bulk) or stitch fraying threads down (which can sometimes be messy.) The green tatting on the right edge is the perfect example of this. A little beading made this trim even more flower like in appearance, and it is accompanied by Bullion Roses with Fishbone Stitch leaves. In the top left corner is a very small bit of tatting - just one ring with many picots (loops).

On the postcard featuring a chicken, youíll see examples of a quick and easy tatting piece, the five-petal flower on the lower right, and a more challenging piece called a split ring, located in black under the top line of flowers. The tatted flower is a tutorial you can easily find online, and it is a good beginner piece. The split ring involves adding stitches to one side of the needle, then removing the thread from the eye and adding stitches to the other side of the needle. You then rethread the needle and pull through, forming a ring. You do this for every single ring. It can be quite time consuming (one price of making your own handmade lace), but I find the string of pearls effect to be quite nice and rich looking. Iíve also used a piece of split ring tatting in an underwater scene. This was given to me by a fellow classmate during a workshop by well-known crazy quilter Judith Montano where we made a pouch with a seascape theme. The string of split rings look just like bubbles rising to the surface, or some exotic form of seaweed.

This postcard also features Colonial Knots. I prefer them to French Knots because they hold their shape better and the stitches do not slip from the knot so easily. The picture does not do the burgundy flowers justice, but they are composed entirely of Colonial Knots done in wool thread. They have a very nice 3D effect. You can learn how to make Colonial Knots in Judith Montanoís book, Elegant Stitches. They are a little tricky to master, but once you can make them they may soon become favorites.

When making fans for use in CQ, I realized I had to tighten up the chains so I could get a natural curve in the line of stitching. Chains in tatting are the bits that link two rings together. You can play with tension in the thread, as well as using more or fewer stitches until you get the shape you want. You donít have to change anything, and you can certainly bend a straight line of tatting into the shape you want, but you donít always have a lot of wiggle room and crowding can result. I found it easier to just design a fan shape from the start.

The blue flowers on this postcard are Cast-On Stitch. If you can do a cast-on stitch you can needle tat. Cast-On Stitch is the first half of the needle tatting stitch. The pink flowers are Bullions centered in a Lazy Daisy Stitch and accented with Colonial Knots. The tatted burgundy flower has six petals (chains) instead of five.

The postcard with the blue tatted fan is my husbandís favorite of the four. Maybe he likes it because of the bright colors. This was my first in the series and I strayed a little out of the color scheme with the light green tatting and the bright blue fan. (The print does have the bright blue color, you just canít see it well here.) But, overall, I think it works and it was another fun piece to customize. I really like the pattern I used with the light green tatting. It always reminds me of a row of flowers. And I do like the blue fan. Itís very striking against the orange, and itís fun choosing a button to set off the fan shape. The six-petal green tatted flower has beading and a little extra stitching.

Tatting thread, like embroidery thread, comes in all different sizes. I mostly used tatting thread for these examples, but some of it is embroidery thread. Colors of tatting thread, especially variegated versions, are limited. Having the option of tatting with embroidery thread means you have even more choice for customizing your work because you have more colors to choose from, as well as texture differences if you use something like wool or silk.

I hope you enjoyed these examples of customizing needle tatting to CQ pieces. I continue to tat and find ways to incorporate it into CQ pieces, as well as clothing. Needle tatting is not only a great way to embellish, but itís also very relaxing and therapeutic. I also find it easier to pick up a ball of thread and a tatting needle and take it with me on the go, rather than a whole CQ piece or other big project. Itís just one of the added pleasures of tatting for yourself.

Just a side note: my stitching moniker is MichelleMermaid, hence the ďMMĒ when signing my latest work.

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