What Is Tatting?

Lace doilies hanging on wall

Getty Images / Dmitry Bairachnyi / EyeEm

Tatting is a type of vintage lacework. If you enjoy crochet, knitting, embroidery, and sewing, then there's a good chance that you'll enjoy tatting. In particular, if you like thread crochet, you'll find tatting enjoyable. Tatting is used to create lace edgings and doilies that are very similar to those in crochet.

What Is Tatting?

Tatting is a method of using thread and tools to create intricate knotwork. It's a precursor to many other crafts and combines various techniques seen in all of them. For example, you make knots, but you also draw from weaving to create the texture of tatting fabric. Historically tatting was used primarily to add detailed edging and design to garments to increase their value.

Types of Tatting

There are actually several different types of tatting. The different types depend on the tools that you use. Start delving into the craft and you'll discover:

  • Shuttle tatting: This form was probably the original version of the craft. Tatting was passed down from the knotwork that sailors done. They used a tool similar to a weaving shuttle, but smaller in size.
  • Needle tatting: Is a type which—as the name says—uses a needle instead of a shuttle. Many people consider this to be the easier of the two, particularly if you're a knitter who is familiar with the cast-on which is similar to how you start a project in needle tatting.
  • Cro-tatting: Is a fusion between crochet and tatting. This method uses a small crochet hook as the primary tool. However, the knots you make derive from tatting. If you're a crocheter who wants to learn tatting then this is a great place to start.

History of Tatting

Tatting likely originated in some form thousands of years ago when sailors and fishermen worked with different knots to create their nets. However, it really came into its own as a craft in the nineteenth century. The craft had different names in different places: frivolet in France, knotting in England, and tatting in America.

Like crochet, tatting was popular in Ireland during the potato famine. People in Ireland were struggling desperately to get by. They would create beautiful laces using just thread and shuttle, needle, or hook. They would sell those laces to richer people, often in England, in order to support their families.

Tatting, like other forms of needlework, was popular in America in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. In addition to making tatted doilies, women would make popular lace collars using tatting techniques. If you look for vintage women's magazines from those eras then you can find tatting patterns and instructions.

Tatting Stitches

When you first start tatting, it's going to feel like you have to learn a whole new language. Just remember that it's the same way when you start knitting or crochet. You'll get the hang of it quickly. When you started crocheting, you probably were puzzled by "yarn over, pull through" or abbreviations like "hdc," but once you learned the language, it became easy to read those instructions.

Like those other crafts, tatting has its own core stitches that you'll learn when you begin. Basically, what you'll need to know to get started, is that tatting involves a variety of chains, loops, stitches, and rings. You make knots, combine them strategically to get motifs, and use spacing to create different styles of intricate designs.

The most common stitch in tatting is called the double stitch, which is a half hitch knot. When you create a loop as you're doing a double stitch, it forms a picot. When you join motifs, you usually make the join through a picot. Some of the other common words you'll see when you're working on a tatting pattern include:

  • Center ring
  • Chain (which is a series of double stitches)
  • Ring (which is a grouping of double stitches formed to make a shape such as an oval or circle)
  • Separate (the amount of space you'll leave between picots)

What Can You Make With Tatting?

Historically, tatting was used for edgings, so it's a great craft to add vintage-inspired lace edging to any home decor project or garment. However, you can also use tatting to make a nice array of contemporary lace projects. Tatting is perfect for making fine thread jewelry, for example.

Tatting works well for luxurious projects. For example, if you want to make your own wedding veil, then tatting is a great craft for that project. It's also a smart choice for other delicate items such as baby booties and Christmas ornaments. If you want to do something a little bit different, use tatting to create a personalized lace edge on notecards before you mail them.

In other words, any project that would look good with a little bit of lace added to it is a project that would be a great choice to try tatting.