Tools, techniques and magic threads.

When my thread is running out I leave about 20cm and make sure I’m about to start a ring. I then fill the shuttle with new thread and this is the nice bit. I use the old and new threads to make the first dc in my ring. It turns out a bit thicker so it can count as 2 dc’s. I then discard the old thread and finish the ring. When I close the ring I reef knot the two loose ends and cut off as close as possible. It gives a nice solid join which doesn’t undo in the wash (most of my hankies have tatted edges and I always machine wash).

When your shuttle runs out, make sure you stop where there is both a ring and a chain (or two rings) immediately following where you stop using that thread. Refill your shuttle, knot the old and new ends together up close to your work so there are no gaps.  Then, as you work the next ring, as you make each half stitch, before you tighten it up but after you have flipped the knot, thread one of the raw ends through the half stitch, following the line of the shuttle thread.   Do this for three complete stitches.  Finish the ring, close it, then if a chain is next, do the same thing with the other raw end for the first three stitches of the chain.   The bits of thread can then be cut off after you have done a couple of more rings and chains. Top tip I learned from the Tatters Guild in Sydney – if you run out of thread, and only have the one ball of cotton (which is attached to your work to do chains), no problem.   Cut this off, leaving 4 or 5 inches of thread.    Wind the shuttle from the ball, but DON’T cut the thread when the shuttle is full.  Tie the two raw ends of your work across the thread between the ball and the shuttle, and hide the ends as above.  It’s still only two raw ends you have to finish off. Once you’re used to finishing off ends this way, you should be ready to try the Magic Thread trick for endings.  Let me know when you want an explanation of that!  It involves working a Magic Thread into the beginning of your work, so that when you want to finish off, you can pull the raw ends of thread back through some stitches to hide them.

I have taken my tatting kit on airplanes in last couple of years but my crochet hook is just the 7mm’s of the head…. set into a tiny wooden handle (I converted a divider pin for it haha!) I also converted another divider with the end 7mm of a needle point to use on finer thread for unpicking! I have several shuttles … the 1st pair I got were tortoise-shell (plastic) “Clover’s” with the nice pointy ends….I also have 4 of the bright coloured “Clover’s” with the nice pointy ends. (Red, Navy, pukey pink! and bright Turquiose!LOL) At one of the Adelaide AGM conferences I bought 2 metal shuttles from Torchon House – one is a little “fat” one with a “beaten” pattern in the metal and the other is a longer slimmer one … haven’t tried either yet though! I also bought at the same time a wooden very slimline one which John Beswick had made. The last two I have are … The “Gumnut” one and a wooden one which belonged to the late Dorothy Dower (WA) … she had a box full which were for her students to learn with. The last 5 live in the glass cabinet with the needlecase collection and other special needlework tools though.

I used to collect shuttles once – well, if the opportunity presented itself, I would buy one like I buy books now. I’ve never counted them, but I did make up a cork board about 1 ft by 2 ft with a display of one of each type of shuttle, plus some tatting needles and a netting gizmo (is it called a needle?) – I tied a ribbon around the core of each and pinned it to the board.   I filled it the board.  It’s propped up on top of my tall bookcase of lace books now – there are plenty of shuttles still left in the big box to use. My absolute favourite is made of water buffalo horn.  It is dark and glossy, and a dream to use.  Just slightly larger than a Clover shuttle.  I’ve been using it for years and it’s never lost its “click”. And my favourite tool is a fly fisherman’s “zinger” – a little broach with a retractable cord onto which I have put one of the old Milwards tatting hooks – remember, the sort with the little triangle at the end!   Came with the black and white shuttle.  My last one of those, all the others got lost out of tatting bags.  But DH did make me some short wooden handles into which he glued the cut off hook end of a crochet hook.  There is a hole in the end of the handle so you can thread a ribbon or cord through it.  Very useful in a tatting bag.

Cardinal rule of tatting  –   Count Twice, Close Once.

It seems to date back as far back as the 1700’s, as a series of knots, which were then couched onto fabric.  The thread holders looked like our modern shuttles, but were much larger and often very ornate, some studded with jewels, and the points were not closed.   These are the type of shuttles pictured in the portrait of Countess of Albemarle, and referred to in the poem about Queen Mary – “Is always knotting threads”.  It was fashionable for the wealthy to show that their hands were not idle, and to be able to show off their elegant hands holding an expensive shuttle – I don’t think much actual knotting was done.  So although it was a pastime of the wealthy, it was not really tatting, and was usually just called knotting.
True tatting (and tatting shuttles) seem to have evolved in the mid 1850’s.  By then, shuttles could be made out of hard rubber (vulcanite) or metal as well as wood and bone, and this is when actual patterns started to be published.   I don’t think it was ever a trade, like bobbin lace, more an occupation for the rising middle class of that period – they seemed to do a lot of different sorts of handcraft from about that period.
But no matter how much I look for a mention in my books, I cannot find any mention of when the reverse knot first came into use.  Everyone seems to agree that the early knotting was not a reverse knot, but no-one seems to want to say how the reverse knot came about – I would guess it had something to do with sailors and their skill at knotting.
Jenny, wouldn’t it be interesting to find out just why your Great Aunt was called a “tatter”.  If she was born in 1866, then machine lace had been in production for some time, and the trade of “lacemaking” was a thing of the past.  My convict Lucy Brand, born in 1753, is a more likely true lacemaker, forced to make lace as a way of earning a living.

Tatting was an occupation/pastime of the wealthy. The poor did not tat as such. There was once a reference to some Duchess who even tatted in church! They made bobbin lace. So the term lacemaker referred to bobbin lace makers. I am of course talking about the UK here. There was of course knitted lace as in Shetland lace. Crocheting, knitting and sewing were done by most women. Some poor women took in sewing.

At the start I use the hook to flip the thread in under the knots as I make them. Georgia Seitz the tatting guru says to tat over the end, but I find it difficult to hold both the thread and the end  at the same time. I sort of flip the thread through before I tighten up the knot. do that for about 4 knots and then cut off. To finish I use a magic thread, Btw I sometimes use a magic thread to start in awkward spot like small rings.
When I do the magic thread I find that I use a piece of thread pretty much the same weight as the tatting to avoid it snapping when I pull. I always hold the tatting with my left hand while I pull the thread through for purchase or the thread snags. My explanation of the magic thread is this:
Lay the magic thread through under the tatting for the last 4 doubles. The magic thread should be a loop of thread roughly about the wieght of the tatting the looped end should be where the thread finishes. (I have been known to put them in backwards) Leave plenty of end to manipulate, too awkward to pull through fiddly little ends. Thread the end through the loop, not too far, Hold your tatting for purchase and firmly pull the loop out. Cut the end off the thread and there you go. Need to practice a few times to get it right cause when you muck it up you can’t fix it. It goes all skew wiff, as my dad would say..