Introduction: Tatting 101

Tatting is such a great take-with-me project. It is so small that I can keep the whole project in my purse in a Ziploc bag. I can pull it out whenever I am stuck in a waiting room. Tatting is a process of making lace by tying half hitch knots in thread to form small connected rings.

My grandmother (1908-2000) learned to tat as a child in Germany. When I was a child, I watched her for hours before I asked her to teach me. She 'taught' me when I was 12 and even though she got really excited when I 'got it to move', I really do not think I learned anything that day.

I took my shuttle home but no matter how many times I tried, I could not get it to work right.

It wasn't until I was 15 or 16 that I figured it out. I had been staring at the same page in the instruction book for 3 days when I finally saw what I had been doing wrong. Even with my epiphany, it was still a long time before my motions were as fast and fluid as Grandma's.

If you are new to the concept of lace making, I have a few suggestions. Don't plan to learn today and be ready for a major project tomorrow. Tatting takes practice, practice, and more practice before you feel you really have it.

Beginners should use thicker thread. You will be better able to see what you are doing. If you can get your hands on thread that cycles through a few colors, it will also help. It lets you see which thread is on the outside of the rings.

Grandma made lace edges for handkerchiefs--she gave them away to lots of different women. Mine is long gone but I have made and given away my own creations for years. I am currently working on one for my newly engaged niece.

I have a lot of fond memories of sitting on the floor next to grandma's chair watching the evening news on tv while we both worked on our current project. She could knit, crochet, and embroider. Tatting was my favorite thing to watch her do since it was so beautiful and I knew no one else who could do it.

Step 1: Supplies:


There are a lot of different shuttles available. I have my personal favorites. The shuttle holds the thread and keeps it from getting tangled. You can learn by simple winding the thread around a small piece of cardboard.

The hook may or may not be attached to the shuttle. Most commercial shuttles come with a hook already attached. A few shuttles that I have seen have a pointed stick on one end but these are not my favorite. The hook makes it easier to pull the thread through your picots. A tiny crochet hook works.

They sell small balls of thread called 'tatting cotton' but I recommend that you use something considerably thicker when you are learning. I have taught several people the process of tatting by starting them out on size 10 or 20 crochet cotton. This size thread makes nice Christmas ornaments.

I usually have a small pair of scissors in my bag but you can also get away with a pair of nail clippers. It is really just nice to be able to clip the tail ends when you finish a piece. You could probably get away without scissors most of the time.

Step 2: Before You Start

Wind your thread onto your shuttle. This can take a while or not. Filling a small shuttle with thin thread on a removable bobbin is super easy if you do it on your sewing machine. You can also wind it by hand. Some shuttles must be wound by hand since they don't have removable bobbins.

Choose your thread carefully. If you are a beginner, use something thicker--so you can see what is actually going on. As you get more proficient, you can move to thinner thread. The thicker your thread, the less you will be able to load on your shuttle. That means you will have to stop and refill it. For a handkerchief, I usually fill an extra bobbin or 2 before I start.

Grandma told me that she learned tatting using the drapery cord on her childhood bedroom window. She had been trying unsuccessfully to learn to tat when she got sick. She stayed home from school and was stuck in bed all day. In order to alleviate her boredom, she started playing with the cord. She was scolded by her mother for yelling "It moved! It moved!" when she finally figured it out. It was one of the few stories that I remember about my great grandmother. You would think that she would have been a bit more excited that her tomboy daughter had finally learned to do something girly.

Step 3: The Basic Ring

Tatting involves basically one stitch--the double half hitch. Maybe you should think of it as 2 half hitches. One half hitch leans to the right; the other leans to the left. If you do not alternate between the 2, your work will want to twist.

The books show you how to wrap the thread around your hand to make the whole half hitch in one fluid motion. This is how my grandmother tried to teach me. I could not figure out what I was doing. I will walk you through a multistep process. When you have it down pat, switch to the faster, single step process.

Hold the thread in your non-dominant hand, a few inches from the end. Pinch the thread between your thumb and middle finger so that you can wrap the thread up and over your fingers. Complete the loop by pinching the shuttle end of the thread between your thumb and middle finger. The first half hitch will be made where the thread crosses itself. I colored the beginning few inches with a marker so you could tell which thread was wrapped around my hand and which thread was on the shuttle end.

You may be tempted to use your index finger instead of your middle finger. I have found that my first finger works much better at controlling the tension on you thread. Since holding the thread is probably awkward anyway, you may as well use the awkward middle finger right from the start.

Step 4: The Basic Ring--part 2

You will make a loop using the shuttle thread. Hold your 'hand thread' so that there is a space between you pinched thumb/middle finger and your index finger. This is where you will be working.

Bring the shuttle thread UNDER the 'hand thread' making a loop of 'shuttle thread'. Bring the shuttle up over the hand thread. Drop the shuttle DOWN through the loop.

Now for the important part--the part that took me days to see. Release some of the tension on the hand thread. You just have to move your index finger the tiniest bit. Pull the shuttle thread straight. This will allow the hand thread to wrap itself around the shuttle thread. It is important that the shuttle thread is inside the tunnel that you will be making out of the hand thread.

Step 5: The Basic Ring--part 3

The second half hitch needs to mirror the first half hitch.

This time you will bring the shuttle OVER the hand thread. Then you bring it UP through the loop. Release the tension on the hand thread and pull the shuttle thread straight.

This is a completed double hitch knot. To make sure that you did everything correctly, pull on the shuttle thread. It should slide smoothly back and forth. As you work on a piece of lace, you will often need to enlarge the loop on your hand so that you have enough room to work. You will also need to pull on the shuttle thread to close each ring. If your thread does not 'move' when you pull on your shuttle thread, you have got your threads reversed.

Step 6: The Basic Ring--part 4

Repeat the 2 half hitches multiple times. Patterns will tell you how many time to repeat the process. This is just a practice ring so do at least 10 or 12 double hitches (20 or so half hitches). The more repeats, the larger your ring will be.

Pull the shuttle thread. Hold the piece between your thumb and finger. As the part wrapped around you hand gets smaller, pull your fingers out of the way. Keep pulling until the ring is tight. If you don't pull tight enough, your ring will be floppy. Pull tight.

Practice a few of these rings.

Step 7: One Step Process

Once you have the double hitch down and can consistently get the correct thread on the outside, it is time to try speeding things up a bit. It took me a few months before I tried this more efficient method of tying the knots. You do not really have to switch but it is much faster and I think easier to control the tightness of each knot.

With the shuttle in your dominant hand and the thread coming out of the bottom of the shuttle, wrap the shuttle thread UNDER your fingers and up OVER the back of your hand. Pass the shuttle UNDER the hand thread. Pass the shuttle OVER the hand thread and pull back through the loop around your dominant hand. Snug up the stitch.

Second half--wrap the shuttle thread OVER the back of your hand. Pass the shuttle OVER the hand thread. Pull the shuttle from UNDER the hand thread and snug up the knot.

It may be slow for the first few times but I promise, it gets easier with practice.

Step 8: For the Leftys

My aunt wanted to learn to tat as a child (My mom was a tomboy and had better things to do) but her mother could not teach her. As a lefty, my aunt had to teach herself most things. She tried to tat but all the books were written for rightys.

When my aunt found out that I could tat, she told me how she had always wanted to learn. That inspired me to learn to tat lefty. It took a few days, but I figured it out. I showed her while she was in Michigan one summer. She went home and did not practice. She did not learn.

This video is here just so that I can pretend that someone somewhere who happens to be a lefty and who wants to learn to tat (yes I know that the chances of all that happening are pretty slim), is trying to learn. That way I did not waste those few days when I was teaching myself to tat backwards.

Step 9: Fancy Rings (joining Rings--part 1)

If you want to be able to make lace, you have to be able to join 2 rings together. This means that you have to be able to make picots. A picot is basically a loop of loose thread sticking out of the ring. You will draw thread through some of these picots in order to attach rings together. Some picots are just there as frilly decorations.

I like to make the connecting picots small and the decorative picots are larger. Both are made using the same steps.

Start by making 3 double hitches (6 half hitches), start the next half hitch but do not slide it right next to the previous one. Leave a small gap. Make the next half hitch. Slide it up next to the previous one. Now that the full double hitch has been made, try sliding the whole thing over next to the first 3. You should see a loop.

Make a few more double hitches. Leave a few more gaps. Experiment with longer and shorter gaps to see what size picots they make.

I usually make the picot so that my hook will just fit through if I plan to use it to join rings. I make them longer if they are decorative.

Practice picots until you are comfortable.

Step 10: Joining Rings--part 2

Work the next ring up to the location of the join. The first half hitch of the next double hitch is made by pulling the hand thread up through the picot of the ring you are joining to. Pass the shuttle thread through the loop. Pull the threads snug. Check to make sure that your ring still "moves" and then do the second half of the double hitch. Keep working on the ring until the next join or picot.

I joined 5 rings and turned it into a lace Christmas ornament.

Step 11: Chains

If you intend to tat chains that connect one ring to the next, leave the ball of thread attached when you wind your shuttle.

To start a chain, flip your work. Hold the previous ring between your thumb and middle finger. Wrap the ball thread over top of your fingers. Wrap the thread around your little finger to anchor it while you work. Work the shuttle thread the same as for a ring.

Once the chain is finished, pull the shuttle thread tight. Flip your work over. Wrap the thread over your fingers. Pinch the threads with your thumb and middle finger so that the threads cross right at the end of the chain. Start the double hitches for the next ring.

Step 12: Following a Pattern

I am making a handkerchief for my niece for her wedding. I made a piece using crochet cotton, so that you could see what I did. Then I started the handkerchief using the same pattern but thinner thread. Thinner thread = more delicate lace.

I have tatted with hand quilting thread or button hole thread if you are ready for the thin stuff but cannot find tatting thread. Don't bother using anything that will break if you pull hard. Ordinary sewing thread is not strong enough.

The pattern I used is as follows:
First ring: 5 dh, p, 3 dh, p, 5 dh, close ring
Second ring: 5 dh, join to last p of previous ring, 2 dh, p, dh, p, dh, p, 2 dh, p, 5 dh, close ring
Third ring: 5 dh, join to last p of previous ring, 3 dh, p, 5 dh, close ring
Chain: 2 dh, p, 5 dh, p, 5 dh, pull tight
Fourth ring: 3 dh, join to last p of previous ring, 3 dh, p, 3 dh, close ring
Chain: 5 dh, p, 5 dh, p, 2 dh, pull tight
Fifth ring: 5 dh, join to last p of previous ring, 3 dh, p, 5 dh, close ring
Sixth ring: repeat 2nd ring
Seventh ring: repeat 3rd ring
Chain: 2 dh, join to the last p of previous chain, 5 dh, p, 5 dh, pull tight
Repeat to desired length

dh stands for double hitch
p stands for picot
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