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The Ancient Art of Tatting

Updated on January 28, 2017
Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green is an avid crocheter and knitter. She has a yarn shop in her home and designs and sells handcrafted goods.


A Simple Tatting Shuttle and Thread Yield Stunning Results

A craft that has come down to us through the centuries, tatting is a method of creating distinctive-looking lace in intricate designs.

Tatting or shuttle lace, as it is called, employs the use of a thread-carrying tatting shuttle pointed at both ends. A tatter winds thread on the shuttle, then works stitches over the fingers onto the center thread.

Tatting is made up of basic units: the ring and the chain. A tatter fashions knots, loops and picots to create tatted lace. The different sections can be arranged into any number of positions, resulting in intricate and near perfect tatted designs.

Tatted lace has a defined and distinctive look to it and it is truly beautiful.

In this article, we will take a look at how tatting evolved from another ancient method that was used to adorn clothing, and we will explore tatting as it's known today.

Tatted Loops and Picots


Did You Know?

In centuries past, people used knotting as a way to embellish garments. The tiny knots resembled beads or pearls.

Origins of Tatting

How did tatting emerge as a method of making lace?

Tatting had its genesis in the craft of knotting. From antiquity, people used knotting to decorate clothing.

  • It is believed the ancient Egyptians used knotting on garments.
  • The Chinese used knotting techniques and worked these into embroidered designs.
  • By the seventeenth century, the craft of knotting had truly taken hold. Additional knotting styles were introduced and it became a popular pastime in Europe.
  • Early techniques involved successive knots, so that the work resembled threaded beads or tiny pearls.
  • Knotting gained popularity in England. Designs were worked in fancy threads, which extended to the use of gold thread. Queen Mary was known to be an ardent fan and ladies at Court adopted the practice.

When Knotting Was Joined, Tatting Was Born

Early Tatted Sample
Early Tatted Sample | Source

From Knotting to Tatting

At some point, the art of knotting transitioned into circles. The knotted thread was joined – and tatting, as it is known, became it's own art form and caught on. It is believed that it may have had its start when approximately 2000 years ago, fishermen used large shuttles to weave cord into certain knots while making fishing nets. Their methods were copied by weavers but they innovated by using thread and smaller shuttles to make lace. Others learned the craft, and garments decorated with tatted lace were sold to royalty.

By the 18th century, tatting gradually replaced knotting. Early examples of tatting may have been referred to as knotting; however, the word "tatting" was first used in 1843. While knotting had served as a means of adding texture and visual appeal to garments, the look of tatted lace was so beautiful that is is understandable why this method eclipsed knotting. As well, entire panels of tatted lace could be produced.

  • By the 19th century, tatting designs began appearing in books and in magazines, such as Harper's Bazarr, and techniques became more definitive and better established. With the advent of designs and books, tatting went out to a far wider audience.

While originally, thinner threads were often used, after the 1920s, thicker thread came into vogue, which not only added durability but also added to the look.

Tatted or shuttle lace looks delicate; however, belying its filigree appearance, it is durable, and can withstand the passage of time. This makes tatted lace especially suitable for decorative trim and ornamental applications.

Fast Facts

Two royals who enjoyed tatting: Queen Victoria of England and Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria.

Carved Tatting Shuttle


The Evolution of Shuttles

Shuttles themselves were a thing of beauty, and could be quite intricate, made from ivory and inlaid with mother of pearl or fashioned from tortoiseshell, made from bone or horn, from silver, or other materials. These, of course, saw a change in materials, as they were commercially produced.

Samples of Tatted Lace from Early 1900s

Click thumbnail to view full-size
1908-1917, The Women's Museum, Dallas, Texas (special exhibit Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America.A display at the Stevens County Museum, Morris, MN.
1908-1917, The Women's Museum, Dallas, Texas (special exhibit Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America.
1908-1917, The Women's Museum, Dallas, Texas (special exhibit Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America. | Source
A display at the Stevens County Museum, Morris, MN.
A display at the Stevens County Museum, Morris, MN. | Source

Early Tatting Books & Authors

  • 1843 - Ladies Handbook of Millinery, Dressmaking, and Tatting, 1843
  • 1850-1886 - An Englishwoman, Mlle. Eleonore Riego de la Branchardiere wrote the first of eleven tatting books
  • 1870 - Isabella Beeton
  • 1882 S. E A. Caulfield
  • 1886 -Encyclopedia of Needlework. Therese de Dillmont

How Tatting is Executed

A tatting shuttle holds a length of wound thread. A tatter will wrap the thread around one hand and then pass the shuttle through loops to make knots. Some shuttles have a small hook on one end to facilitate this process (as seen in the video below).

A Good Resource

I'd looked long and hard for a good tatting book. This book offered a little more than some of the others I'd seen: step-by-step instructions and an interactive DVD. Being able to actually see the process was enormously helpful. And rather than just a tutorial there are even some patterns offered. You feel you are attending a tatting class, but you get to do it, all from the comfort of home.

Other Variations

Needle Tatting

In needle tatting rather than winding thread on a shuttle, a length it is threaded through the needle. While similar to the look of tatting, this method produces a different effect. Tatting needles are available, as well as a limited number of patterns.


Cro-tatting involves a tatting needle with a hook at one end, similar to the hooked tatting shuttle. Unlike shuttle lace, cro-tatting can unwind.

Much depends on the preferences of the tatter but the shuttle is the most commonly-used tool used to create tatted items.

Tatting in Modern Times

In the first half of the 20th century, tatting was a common pastime and magazines included designs to make assorted tatted items. But with mechanization and commercially-produced lace that could be bought at sewing stores on the roll and later in the craft sections at big box stores, tatting as a method for making lace went into decline and interest waned after WWII.

However, tides turn, and such has been the case with handcrafting to make fabric and lace. Newer generations are rediscovering the satisfaction of "going back to basics" and making quality items by hand, not only via knitting and crocheting, but through tatting, as well. Modern crafters are choosing to master methods their great-grandparents and grandparents were familiar with.

The Internet has played a huge part in this renaissance. People can connect in exciting new ways, sharing their love for these crafting methods virtually; and thus, all over the globe, a vast network has formed of avid crafters, who join with others and who benefit from instructional videos, virtual classrooms, forums, blog posts, articles, and more. This connected community has created a momentum that has kindled worldwide interest.


Modern generations have come across tatted lace, doilies or edgings in antique shops and have fallen in love with the distinctive look of tatting.

Tatted Necklace and Earrings


Do You Own Any Tatted Items?

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Tatted Doily


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Tatted Earrings Make for Modern Jewelry

Photo: Tatted Earnings
Photo: Tatted Earnings | Source

As can be seen by these photos, tatting can be used to produce trendy designs that make the grade in the 21st century.


Shuttle Lace From Past to Present

The art of tatting has come down through the ages and is used by talented moderns to produce eye-catching designs that are every bit as captivating as tatted specimens from the past.

© 2013 Athlyn Green


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    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 3 years ago from Indonesia

      Very beautiful.

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