All Knotted Up – Tatting Laces All Sorts of Antique Linens

An early handkerchief with an elaborate tatted design.

An early handkerchief with an elaborate tatted design.

Close-up of the handkerchief showing the intricate detail of the tatting. The round loops on the edge of the chain are picots, which are typical of tatting.

Close-up of the handkerchief showing the intricate detail of the tatting. The round loops on the edge of the chain are picots, which are typical of tatting.

Tatting is a unique type of knotted lace that was popular from the 19th century through the middle of the 20th century. It is now enjoying a resurgence in popularity, as needle workers are forming groups, sharing patterns and creating tatted doilies and trim.

Tatting, which is considered a lace, is done with a tatting shuttle and one’s hands. It consists of one basic stitch—the double stitch (also referred to as the lark’s head or cow’s hitch) —which is done in a ring or chain. Unlike crochet, where stitches are connected, tatting stitches are independent. A unique characteristic of tatting, which makes it easy to identify, are the picots. These are tiny loops of thread that stand out from the rows of knots.

Tatting was used primarily as an edging or trim on collars, hankies, scarves, doilies and table linens. In some cases, entire doilies are made from tatting. Early tatting was usually done in very fine white or ivory thread. Today tatting tends to be done with heavier, thicker threads, and very often in colors.

An early tatted edging for the top of a ladies undergarment or bodice. Since tatting is a loose stitch typically of cotton, which tended to stretch easily, the ribbon laced through the shoulder straps would have helped the straps keep their shape.

An early tatted edging for the top of a ladies undergarment or bodice. Since tatting is a loose stitch typically of cotton, which tended to stretch easily, the ribbon laced through the shoulder straps would have helped the straps keep their shape.

Close-up of the tatting on the bodice.

Close-up of the tatting on the bodice.

In “The Art of Tatting” (1910) by Queen Marie of Romania and Lady Katharin Hoare, the Queen writes: “Tatting has the charm of lacemaking and weaving combined. It is the same shuttle as in the weaving loom, only the loom is our fingers and the shuttle obeys our thoughts and the invention of the moment. The joy when a new stitch is found is very great.”

According to legend, Queen Marie, an accomplished tatter, worked all her jewels and pearls into her tatting and then gave the tatting to the Sinaia Monastery in the Carpathians so that her husband’s mistress would not get them.

Tatting’s origins are not very clear. It is thought to have evolved from knotting, a technique used by sailors to make netting that later became more sophisticated and was practiced by ladies to decorate clothing. Several early 18th-century paintings depict society women with what appear to be tatting shuttles, but are really knotting shuttles, which are much larger. There are no documented pieces of tatting or even historical mentions of tatting prior to 1800.

A tatted doily in an unusual square design.

A tatted doily in an unusual square design.

Two simple tatted doilies.

Two simple tatted doilies.

Early tatting shuttles have become quite collectible. A tatting shuttle is only three inches long and consists of two flat oval pieces pointed at the ends and connected in the center. The thread was wound around the shuttle. Antique shuttles were made from ivory, bone, mother of pearl, tortoise shell or silver, and can be simple or quite ornately decorated. During its heyday—around the turn of the 20th century—tatting shuttles were a sign of status. Well-to-do ladies often carried a small tatting bag, frequently made of silk and exquisitely decorated to show off their wealth or talent. The bag carried their shuttle and current project.

In the early 20th century, a needle was introduced as a replacement for the shuttle. Although needle tatting looks similar to shuttle tatting, it is usually thicker and looser. By the end of World War II, interest in tatting seemed to fade.

The most prominent name in early tatting is Mademoiselle Eleonore Riego de la Blanchardere, who published more than 80 books on needlework, including more than a dozen on tatting. She was well-known for her many tatting designs. Her tatting won the gold medal at the 1851, 1855, 1862 and 1872 world expositions. Mlle. Reigo was appointed Artiste in Needlework to Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales, and taught needlework to the royal family of England.

Another early handkerchief with a tatted edge.

Another early handkerchief with a tatted edge.

Close-up of the fine tatting on this handkerchief. The fineness of this tatting is typical of pieces from the early 1900s.

Close-up of the fine tatting on this handkerchief. The fineness of this tatting is typical of pieces from the early 1900s.

In 1866, Mlle. Riego wrote, “The favour with which tatting in its modern form has been received, has induced me to make still further additions to the Art, and I am pleased to find that instead of its being considered a trifling and rather useless amusement, it has now become a standard branch of needlework.”

In 1886, Mademoiselle Therese de Dilmont authored “The Encyclopedia of Needlework,” which became a major reference source. This informative book is still published today. At the Chicago Exhibition in 1893, this book was chosen as one of 40 French publications “reputed to be most useful in women’s education.”

Mlle. Dilmont is credited for using two shuttles and the half-ring, which later became known as the Josephine ring or picot. She is also known for often using different colored threads.

Anne Orr, is another well-known needlework designer who created exquisite patterns for tatting as well as crochet, cross-stitch, embroidery, knitting and quilting. She was the needlework editor for “Good Housekeeping” magazine from 1921-1938, and also produced a number of pattern books for J&P Coats. Orr wrote many books on needlework design, many of which are still available today.

Although tatting appears to be intricate and complicated, there are quite a few resources on the internet for instructions, as well as a number of groups or clubs that offer instruction. These groups can be credited with reviving an almost lost art. Tatting designs and books are also widely available.

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Lynda Kolski is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage textiles.

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No Comments

  1. Leanne says:

    How do you date tatting or vintage linens? Any simple rules to go by?

    • Lynda Kolski says:

      Dating tatting or vintage linens depends on many different variables, including condition, what it’s made of, style, how it was made, size or colors, etc. There really aren’t any simple rules. If you have a particular piece that you are interested in getting a general idea of when it was made or getting an estimate of value on, I would suggest sending a photo with a detailed description and questions to Ask a Worthologist to get specific information on that piece.

  2. Simon says:

    There are a bunch of free tatting patterns at http://www.craft-patterns-free.com

    This really is a beutiful art!

  3. These are lovely photos! Thanks for sharing! I always enjoy seeing articles about tatting!

  4. Rose says:

    Before my mother was married, in the 1940’s, she bought a small amount of thread each week when got paid. She spent a total of $100.00 on this thread and tatted a whole bedspread. It is abolutely beautiful. When she finished, the store owner where she bought the thread offered her $1,000, which was alot of money at that time. He also showcased it in his store window. Luckily, she didn’t sell it and often on the holidays put it on her bed with a pink silk liner. I have it today, and treasure it. Thought I might share this story with you.

    • Lynda Kolski says:

      What a wonderful story! You’re very lucky to still have the bedspread and know its history. The sentimental value of a piece can far surpass the market value of an item, especially when it was made by a family member or close friend and passed down. I have a few handmade pieces done by my great grandmother, who was a prolific needleworker. While they probably wouldn’t command a huge price in the general market, they are priceless to me. I hope you have someone in your family to pass it on to who will treasure it as you do. Thanks for the story.

  5. Lori Cheney says:

    Thank you for all the info & value on antique vintage linens and textiles all you collectors of crochet should ask your questions to her ……anything you need to know including what is this ???? Enjoy!