Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Frivolities of Tatting... 3rd in a Series of 4

Whether you call it Tatting or it's French name, Frivolite, tatting saw it's popularity rise in the mid-19th century. Growing out of the family of lace known as knotting, it's technique would not be fully realized until approximately 1868.  One can see portraits of 18th century ladies holding their fashionable shuttles wound with thread. It is very easy to mistake their fancy and beautiful shuttles as tatting shuttles. These large shuttles are knotting shuttles rather than tatting shuttles which are much smaller. Wealthy ladies passed time and showed their fancy shuttles and graceful handwork by creating a series of individual knots on a thread. These strings of knots were then couched onto fabric. This type of knotting had it's limitations and would fall out favor and be replaced by other forms of knotted lace like netting and well, tatting.

"A lady knots while her companion reads"
This silhouette was painted 
by Mrs Delany ( 1700-1788) (1)

It is thought the earliest known book showing tatting was published anonymously in 1843 and was titled A Lady's Handbook of Millinery, Dressmaking and Tatting. Its patterns are limited and very rudimentary, barely resembling the tatting we know today. These simple patterns, however, do have the recognizable knots and picots of modern tatting. Modern tatting is also a series of knots but unlike earlier knotting techniques, these knots rely on one another and cannot separately stand alone.

Found in Godey's 1857
One of the the simple patterns described in the book, can be seen in the engravings on the left. These engravings were published in 1857 in Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine and a year later in Peterson's Magazine. It is a series of scallops made of partially closed rings. By the 1860's partially closed rings are uncommon, and now it is rare to see partially closed rings in today's tatting.

Seemingly, destined to languish in moderate obscurity with its limitations in design and technique, tatting would see an abrupt change as Mlle Eleanor Riego de la Branchardiere chose to embrace it.....

Contemporary tatting in its most basic form. Notice the rings (circles)
 and the picots (small loops at the tip of the rings). 
Lace c. early 19teens - 1930s from my collection

It is easy to see the chain in the 
above doily. They are the "arcs"
that connect the rings.
This is a pattern from the 1940s 
that I tatted several years ago.

By the time Mlle Riego, as she was known, wrote her first of 11 books on tatting, the 2 most common elements of tatting had been the achieved. The ring (a circle of linked knots) and the picot (the tiny loops around the ring. She would use these two elements to create enough designs to publish books until 1864. In 1864 she would take the craft to the next level nearly completing what we recognize as modern tatting with the creation of the chain. From this point forward, little has changed in tatting technique. 1868 would be her last book on tatting.

Top: Tatted lace in the style of late 1850s - 1860s
Middle: Gutta Percha tatting shuttle
Bottom: Tatted Lace in the style of the 1840s

Tatting became an easy craft for any of the publishers of  ladies' periodicals and books to market. Women could master these techniques fairly quickly and with very little expense. Although much money could be spent on fancy shuttles made of sterling silver or carved ivory, most ladies used very basic tools. By the mid-19th century a basic gutta percha shuttle could be purchased for a few cents. A ball of cotton tatting thread was also very inexpensive. Tatting became a brand new form of fancy work to be embraced by the modern Victorian woman desiring to keep with the latest styles.

It is easy to put a tatting project in a workbasket or a pocket ready to be picked up when a few moments of free time may be spared. It does not require the concentration or space that more complicated forms of lace making may require. Tatting's French name, Frivolite, does give a good indication that a lady may only produce decorative pieces as opposed to something utilitarian. It is however, important to note that tatting is the most durable form of lace. Look closely at the rings. Once a ring is pulled closed, it cannot be opened easily and will therefore never unravel. During the high Victorian era, it was more common to apply it to children's garments than to women's garments. It was an attractive decoration that in turn wore well on children's apparel.

In the photo above, there are two vintage pieces of tatting from my collection. Left: Tatting on a linen table runner (c. 1860s-1880s)
Right: Doily with lace edging (c.19teens-1930s)

1916 Tatting Pattern Book
Tatting, like crochet, would keenly hit its zenith between 1900 to about the mid-1920's. At this time, both forms of handwork would flourish in both household decor and in women's apparel. Never before nor since would the complexity of designs and availability of challenging, complicated patterns exist. Women of any background had the ability to produce an ample supply of lace, and indeed they did. Many of the pieces that exist from this time are exquisitely beautiful.  

Top: Vintage Doily c. 1930s-1940s
Bottom: Doily Pattern from 
1940s tatted by me.

Tatting would again see a renaissance in the 1940s and 1950s when color would be added to the mix. What was a craft that was almost exclusively produced with white or ecru thread reached another level of whimsy. Dozens of choices of colored tatting threads would become available often variegated with odd mixes of color. It was also at this time when very thin thread became more common than the heavier threads seen in the 19th century. The most familiar tatting to many of us is the tatting from this era. We have seen it on edges of table runners, pillowcases, women's collars and of course, the handkerchief that every lady had in her purse. 

Tatted Lace, Shuttle and Thread from c1940s - 1950s

Tatting has had a difficult time surviving since the 1970's. It sees peaks and valleys every few years, but has fallen into a more obscure place than its cousin, crochet.

Next up the Copycats.....

 (1) Pam Palmer, Tatting, (Buckinghampshire, UK: Shire Publishing Ltd., 2004).

 Elgiva Nicholls, Tatting Technique & History, (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1984).

Mary E. Fitch, Tatting - Series No. 6, (Brookline, Mass: 1916)

Heidi Marsh (Compiled By), Knit, Net, Crochet and More of the Era of the Hoop, (Greenville, CA: Self-Published, 1993).

Kathleen Warnick, and Shirley Nilsson, Legacy of Lace, (New York: Crown Publishers, 1988).

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