The origins of tatting, called frivolité (frivolous) in French, occhi (eyes) in Italian,and Schiffchen arbeit (little boat for the shape of the shuttle) in German, are uncertain. This lace made of knots has been used for centuries to adorn clothing and household goods. When it reached England in the 15th or 16th century it was named tatting, perhaps because of the old English word tat meaning to entangle or weave.
Tatting is made of knots worked in a ring or a semicircle around a base thread. It can be made with a long needle, but is more commonly created with a tatting shuttle and one or more threads. Textile historians believe that tatting may have developed from different forms of knotting, including macramé and purling (mentioned in Chaucer’s The Canturbury Tales). The early Egyptians made rings and circles of knots with a shuttle called a makouk (Dusenbury 3). To allow for thicker threads, European knotting shuttles are wider and longer than modern tatting shuttles. An early mention of tatting in found in the poem The Royal Tatter, by the English poet Sir Charles Sedley in 1707. In the poem Queen Mary II (1662-1694) is seen to be either knotting or tatting:
For here’s a Queen now thanks to God!
Who when she rides in coach abroad,
Is always knotting threads.
The earliest true tatting, as we know it today, was found on two chair covers made
by Mary Granville Delany in 1750 (Dusenbury 3). This type of lace was popular in
Europe in the last half of the 18th century, especially among aristocratic women. A
portrait of Madame Adelaide, the daughter of Louis XV, painted by Jean-Marc Nattier
(1685-1776) shows her holding a large tatting shuttle, as does an 18th century portrait by Benjamin West of Queen Charlotte of England and her daughter (Blomquist 8-9). Interest in tatting declined in the early 19th century but was revived by the display of several pieces in the first Industrial Exhibition in France. Tatting was mentioned in a book titled The Lady’s Assistant for Executing Useful and Fancy Designs in Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work (1842) and The Ladies’ Hand-Book of Millinery,Dressmaking, and Tatting; with Plain Instructions for Making the Most Useful Articles of Dress and Attire (1843) (Mescher 2-3).
From 1846 to 1868 an English woman named Mademoiselle Elenore Riego de la Branchardière wrote eleven books on tatting. She was the daughter of a French nobleman and an Irish woman. She owned a needlework shop in London and was appointed as the Artiste in Needlework to Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales. She won prizes at the Great Exhibition in 1851, 1855 and 1862 and her many innovations in the art were responsible for a great upswing in interest (Mescher 5). Prior to this, tatting had consisted of a series of knots that were sewn into circles. She improved on a system of rings of knots formed in a circle and connected by picots (small loops between the knots). Tatted lace adorned caps, shawls, collars, cuffs, handkerchiefs, baby clothes and underclothes. It was also popular on table runners, curtains, doilies, and antimacassars.
Tatting fell in and out of fashion as styles changed. After 1870, interest in tatting
waned, perhaps because of the popularity of the needle point laces. In 1910 The Art of Tatting was published by Queen Elizabeth of Romania (1843-1916), writing under the
pseudonym of Carmen Sylva, and her friend Lady Katharin Hoare. She incorporated
jewels and beads in her tatting and appreciated the beauty and luxury tatting added to an increasingly industrialized life. She expressed many women’s appreciation for the solace that needlework brought to their lives when she wrote “I have often pitied men, in the first place because they can’t know motherhood, in the second because they are bereft of our greatest comfort – needlework (Trumbull 57). Needlework provides a creative outlet for women who have few ways to express themselves, while also offering the opportunity to show off skills, fine tools, and the finished products.
Tatting came to America with the pilgrims, and although its popularity has
fluctuated over the years, it remains a well loved art. The women’s magazines of the 19th century, including Harper’s Bazaar, Godey’s and Peterson’s published tatting patterns and in the early 20th century American thread companies included tatting patterns in their leaflets. Much tatting in America today is used to decorate household linens and baby clothes as it launders well. Tatting is one of the sturdiest laces: once each ring of knots in tatting is closed, it is difficult to open. Because of this tatting holds it shape well and will not unravel like other laces. Traditionally done in white or cotton ecru thread, contemporary tatting often incorporates different fibers and colors. As with the other laces, there are guilds and teachers available to provide instruction and support. Yarn shops carry tatting shuttles and thread, and the lace making guilds include tatters among their members.
Like knitting and crochet, tatting patterns were initially written out in words.
Modern tatters have developed diagrams that provide a clear visual set of instructions. Most pattern books in print now provide both charts and written directions.
FROM: Michelle C. Chase. American Lace. (Pages 55-56), Master of Liberal Arts, Winthrop University, Spring 2004.