Learning to Tat

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, June 11, 1914:  Besse was trying to teach me tatting today. Am awful stupid about it, but still I persist in trying to make the stuff. It takes some patience.tatted handkerchief

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma’s married sister Besse was visiting for a few days. Even if it was it was difficult to learn how to make tatted lace, it sounds like a fun activity for the two sisters.

I’ve often wished that I knew how to tat, but it seems almost like a lost art. I remember seeing beautiful tatted doilies and handkerchiefs when I was a child—but both seem to have vanished from modern households.

According to Wikipedia:

A tatting shuttle facilitates tatting by holding a length of wound thread and guiding it through loops to make the requisite knots.

To make the lace, the tatter wraps the thread around one hand and manipulates the shuttle with the other hand.

Tatting Shuttles (Photo source: Wikipedia)

Tatting Shuttles (Photo source: Wikipedia)

39 Responses

  1. My Grandmother used to tat. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Thanks for introducing me to a whole new vocabulary apart from everything else!

  3. Vintage linens!! Now you’re speaking my language! I’ve wondered if Helena did any handwork–nice to get a sense that she did.

    • I’ve enjoyed seeing the vintage linens that you have on your blog. They are beautiful . . and the “risque” towel post was a lot of fun.

  4. A lost art indeed – looks quite complicated.

  5. Of course, I had to find out.

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ljXBGDVwEIU

    It’s still a mystery to me.

  6. I never knew it was called tatting or even gave much thought to how that was done! I learn so much through you and Helena!
    Diana xo

    • I can remember my maternal grandmother (not this one) tatting when I was small–but it seems like it has almost become a lost art.

  7. Wish I could see that done!!! I love all kinds of vintage linens and have a collection of doilies…can’t figure out how those are done either!!! What beautiful work tatting is to add an edge to a plain piece of fabric. Maybe someday I’ll tackle that!!!

  8. I feel for Grandma just remembering how all thumbs I was learning to crochet and knit. In Italy we toured an area where the ladies on the street were tatting at a lightning speed. It was incredible. But it does seem a lost art to us here.

  9. One of my favorite things to do in antique malls or thrift stores is to look for old, vintage, antique linens & hankies… I guess they remind me of my grandmother (and I think they’re beautiful, too).

    • I’ve recently rediscovered vintage handkerchiefs with lovely tatted or crocheted edges. I use some of the less fancy ones when I’m at home instead of Kleenex. I guess they also remind me of the good old days. :)

  10. A long time ago an elderly lady tried to teach me to tat. I could not master it at all, although I can both knit and crochet. The trick was to make a loop and then transfer the loop to the work with a flick of the tattling bobbin. The result was a series of half hitches on a base thread. Jane

    • Your description makes it sounds like you need really good fine motor skills to become a proficient tatter. This may be a skill that I never master. :)

  11. So sad to lose the needlework expertise of a generation. I hope some day ladies will find the time to return to it.

    • Sometimes I wish that tatted and crocheted doilies would come back into style. Recently I’ve been bringing flowers in from my garden and putting them into vases. . . and I think a doily would beautifully set the vase off from the dark wood of the end table.

  12. I didn’t tat, but I crocheted like crazy: borders on hankies, window pulls, doilies, handbags — mostly at Ladies Aid Society meetings with my mother after school That and my cup of coffee made me feel very grown up.

    • What a fun memory!. . . I can also remember how a cup of coffee made me feel very grown up at meetings I attended with my mother.

  13. My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was 16 or 17 years old. At the same time she tried to teach me how to tat. It was very difficult! I never did get the hang of it, but nevertheless she taught me a great appreciation of the fine art of tatting. Thanks for posting your stories.

    • What a wonderful memory of your grandmother. Thank you for taking a moment to write the nice note. It’s always wonderful to hear when someone enjoys this blog.

  14. My grandmother and mother were very talented with tatting. I took a class a few years ago to learn tatting and it was very difficult!

  15. I’ve only known one person who tatted. I recall our home ec teacher telling us that it was extremely difficult (that probably meant she didn’t know how!).

    • I bet that you’re right about your home ec teacher not knowing how to tat. I can almost picture my home ec teacher saying something like that.

  16. I admire anyone who can tat. I’ve tried it and seemed that I didn’t have enough fingers and hands to control the shuttle. lol
    There’s not much more bonding/comforting than sharing in learning or teaching a craft. Tatting’s a beautiful art. :)

    • I agree that that teaching a craft can be a wonderful bonding experience. . . and it probably was just what Grandma’s sister Besse needed.

  17. I don’t think I have seen anyone tatting, although some of elderly relatives probably knew how to do it.

  18. It would be a great idea for someone to give tatting classes. I also have many doilies and quilts a great aunt made. She made them in no time without instructions.

  19. It is indeed a lost art. There was a woman around here that taught it, but she passed away. Last time I checked with the Muncy historical society no one stepped in.

    • It’s nice to know that someone was still teaching it in central Pennsylvania until recently. It’s too bad that no one stepped in to teach it after the woman’s passing. .

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