Learning to Tat

I decided, some time last month, that I was going to try to learn to tat. Tatting is somewhat related to lace making, by way of crochet and magic. It is seriously complicated until you get the rhythm down, but once you do, it gets… No, it’s still pretty complicated.

I started with a shuttle, because I was enamored with videos of people shuttle tatting, the small piece of plastic seemingly gliding and sliding around in their hands, creating knotted wonders from nothing. I did not so much glide as drop like an angry bungee jumper. The shuttle would escape my hands, drop to the floor and pull the loop out of my hands; setting up again would be a disaster.

But then came the first massive stumbling block: the knot transfer. There is a trick to shuttle tatting where the knot needs to be around the shuttle thread, not the thread in your hand, even though you are knoting with the shuttle thread. If you do not perform this knot transfer perfectly (and perfectly ever time), you not only get a backwards loop of tatting, you can also not add any other loops, chains or anything to it. I practiced for over a week, making one little orphan loop after another, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. I was technically making knots it a tatting like way, but I was not actually tatting.

So I decided to try needle tatting instead. There is a fabulous woman, TotusMel, who makes great tutorials over on instructionables. Her Learn Needle Tatting With My Flower Pendant video is extremely helpful. She goes slow enough at first to show you the basic stitches, and then manages to speed up enough to show you what kind of rhythm you can achieve once you get the hang of it. It is also nice to learn a new skill and have something pretty at the end of it.

I have made dozens of her flower pendant. I went to a cottage where there was not only no wifi, but it had no bloody electricity. I made flower pendants until it was too dark and I was a bit too tipsy to actually thread needles and do my knots properly (to be fair, it only took two drinks, I’m a lightweight). I made flower pendants on the dock, I made flower pendants in the boat, and I made them on the car ride back. Some of them twisted, some of them were too loose, some of them were too tight, and some just died in my hands, little knots without hope.

I think I’m getting then hang of it. I am now trying to learn TotusMel’s Needle Tatting Split Rings & Josephine Chains which is proving to be interesting.

I think the part that has been most frustrating was having some of my friends ask me what I was going to do with the mess of tatted flowers I was making. To them, anything I produced was pretty and needed to be treated as a piece of art, which is fair. To me, though, they were sketches, incomplete bits with little to no emotional attachment beyond trying to figure out why one of the loops was twisting crooked or why a chain had suddenly developed an extra picot. Crafting takes as much practice as other skills and not everything needs to be kept. If I am learning how to make brownies, I may have a few batches that are inedible. If I am learning how to write code in a new programming language, I am bound to created some stupid uncompilable piece of code. The failures do not have to be kept, but you do have keep what you have learned from them, which is the important part of practice.

When I created a tatted piece of work I would be glad to wear as a necklace or a pair of earrings, I want it to be as perfect as possible, and I want to know that I have done all I can do to make it that way.

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4 thoughts on “Learning to Tat

  1. I had no idea there was more than one kind of tatting! I love the look of it and quite fancy giving it a go myself one day. I’m a bit scared now I’ve read your post! And what to do with the practice runs? Give them to the friends who admired them and let them find a use!

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    1. Don’t be scared! There are lots of videos online about the “Dreaded Double Stitch” as this video is called: http://www.tattedtreasures.com/2011/08/the-dreaded-double-stitch/ I have not completely given up on shuttle tatting, since most books and patterns seem to be made for it. I have ordered a book just on needle tatting, so hopefully it’ll help. Honestly, it’s cheap enough to just dabble in (5$ shuttle, 6$ ball of thread, 2$ needles). If you want to try it, it’s a small enough investment that if you don’t love it, you haven’t lost out!

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  2. Hi Kim, I love your first attempts, and especially appreciate your attitude that any new skill will take practice. Tatting certainly does take practice–it has a pretty steep learning curve–but once you get the hang of it I promise it is one of the easiest types of handwork/needlework to do. Keep at it!

    You asked on my blog about simple or repeatable patterns, and transferring shuttle to needle tatting instructions. Here’s my two cents:

    Cent one: Here’s my post about reading patterns and simple projects that should keep you occupied for a little while. http://www.tattedtreasures.com/2011/09/reading-patterns-and-making-projects-part-1/

    Cent two: Until you get into the really fancy stuff, you can do just about anything with a needle that you can with a shuttle. Some things take a bit of a different technique, like split rings, but I wouldn’t worry about those yet. Most patterns at a beginner level are the same instructions for both.

    Let me know what other questions you have. I’m glad to help.

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