Needle Exchange – In Tatters

Latest posts by Penny Nickels

Hello everybody! This week I’ve decided to write about tatting! Confession. I know nothing about tatting. I have never tried it, only a few of my books talk about it, and I only know one person who’s tried it. So, to the readers who are tatting enthusiasts, please forgive my ignorance and clumsiness. I also welcome any additional information or corrections. Feel free to use the comment section.

The Archduchess Marie-Antoinette of Austria by Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-1789)

One of the problems I ran into while writing this article, was finding references to tatting in my books. Obviously the contemporary textile books would mention tatting, but my books that were published before 1900 don’t say anything about it. That’s where the Scooby Gang Mystery started. I could find painted portraits of fancy ladies, all pre 1800’s, working with shuttles, but no written references from that time period. So after spending days reading Needlework as Art (1886), and The Lace Book by N. Hudson Moore (1905), and A History Of Lace by Mrs. Bury Palliser (1869), I was ready to give up. Then I cracked open Needlework Through History by Cathrine Amoroso Leslie and she says, “…the word “Tatting” does not appear in English literature before 1842. Because of the lack of  early documentation of the word tatting and differences in appearance between knotting and tatting, some researchers believe that tatting is a completely separate form of needlework that came about on is own.”

Countess Albermarie by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

Well that explains my difficulties, then. Instead of delving into knotting, or other types of lace, let’s look exclusively at what tatting is. “Tatting is a lace-like needlework made by knotting with a shuttle and thread. Knots and loops for picots, which are then drawn into circles and semicircles. The same effect can be created with a needle and thread, which is known as needle tatting.” -Needlework Through History

But don’t fret! I did find a couple of classic tatting books to share, and I’d thought we’d take a look at the authors and even some patterns. First up we have Eleonore Riego de la Branchardie. She published her first book at age 12 in 1846! Although she is most recognized for her work in crochet, she published 13 books on tatting.

She was eventually appointed Artiste in Needlework to the Princess of Wales in 1800’s, and went on to develop the “continuous thread” technique, (not that I know what that means…) Here’s a special treat for you adventurous types, if you click HERE, The Project Gutenberg has her entire book, “Golden Stars in Tatting and Crochet” (1861) online!

Lady Katharin Luisa Hoare, plate from her 1910 book, The Art of Tatting

Lady Hoare’s book, “The Art of Tatting”, was both a pleasure and a relief to find. She says, “To tatting, I can find but few allusions in either English or foreign literature. There is, however, a poem of Sir Charles Sedley’s, published in 1707, called The Royal Knotter, evidently intended as a skit on William and Mary. The following lines are eveidently pointed at the queen’s homely habits, one of which, it is interesting to note, is tatting-

There’s so many things I love about this book, from the illustrations-

As well as the beautiful examples of her work-

All and all her work and words are wonderful, but I was thrilled when I read the introduction by Carmen Sylva, which was the literary name of Queen Elizabeth of Romania.

Queen Elizabeth of Romania

Not only are several examples of her work showcased in the book-

But she also wrote the introduction, which is fascinating-

See Also

It has taken every ounce of self restraint to not copy and paste the entire 4 page intro.

I know this has been a strange post, less about history, and more like a book report, but the few written texts I did find on tatting and its early popularity are absolutely fascinating. Next time I’ll be back to normal, and we’ll look at contemporary tatting, I promise!


Penny Nickels is a printmaker that started playing with needles with tremendous effect. She and her husband, Johnny Murder, have been described as the “Bonnie and Clyde of Contemporary Embroidery” and you can discover the power of her creativity at her blog.


All references for this article are listed in the text.

View Comments (14)
  • Hi there! I have all those books and they are good ones for reference to be sure! I didn’t know the first portrait was Marie Antoinette! She is holding a knotting shuttle. I have that on my tatting blog! That is kind of fun. Anyway you are welcome to hop on over to my tatting blog anytime if you would like to know more about tatting! I have a lot of photos of my tatting and tatting shuttles and lots of links to other tatting blogs and other tatting sites so please come and visit anytime! 😀


  • Thanks for sharing that – so interesting! Next time, please show less restraint and do copy and paste the whole four pages 😉

  • Thank you TattingChic for the information! I’ll be spending sometime at your blog to prepare for the next article on contemporary tatting!
    To everyone else, I’m glad you guys found this interesting! If you’d like to read the entire introduction, and the text of The Art of Tatting, click this link.

    You can download the entire book!
    A lot of times, early publications can be found on google books or even The Project Gutenberg, which is useful because they can be hard to come by.

  • Penny, thank you for another great article! I was suprised and delighted to see an article on tatting. My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother are tatters. I’ve tried many times, even recently and I still haven’t gotten the swing of it, but I find it facinating! I still have a few of the dresses my mom made me when I was little (she made all my clothes until I was in 7th grade and thought I was “too good” for home made – what a fool, no? But hey, I was 12 and it was 1986 and new wave was the flavor of the day… but I digress) and several of them have tatting on the sweet little collars, tatting made by my mother. I love those dresses more than I can express… Thanks again for brining tatting back to the forfront of my mind. Recently while in an independent crafters showcase type store, I spoke to two ladies about needlework and tatting, one of them actually gives tatting lessons when she learns of people who are interested, so I think I’ll give it another go. It was sad to hear her say that it was a “dying” artform…

    Thanks TattingChic, for speaking up, I’m on my way to check out your blog right now.
    Cheers to all,

  • I actually heard of tatting before I heard of knitting. In an ancient fairy tale storybook I read about this Dread Pirate Roberts-character who decided to quit his Evil Ways and Do Good by sitting at home and tatting lace doilies all day. I didn’t really know what tatting was at the time, altho I rightly figured it was some sort of fiber work. It wasn’t until I started seeing tatting shuttles next to the cross-stitch stuff in Michael’s that I realised that was what the Dread Pirate Roberts must have been doing.

  • Psst, Lisa, try Rebecca Jones’s Complete Book of Tatting & try using multicolor size 10 thread. It makes the learning process much easier. & there are also videos on how to tat on YouTube.
    -an ardent tatter

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