I had developed an enormous fondness for making tiny, fussy things
January 31, 2015 1:11 PM   Subscribe

As a stagehand, one of the worst side effects of the smartphone revolution is the loss of backstage knot-tying. We'd sit waiting for resets or the next setup, and we were all occupied. For the first few hours, we'd retreat into newspapers, books, coffee and crosswords. After that, we'd be awake enough for some companionship, at which point the rope would come out and everyone would start comparing knots...the old guys would teach the young ones the everyday knots necessary for the job, but the ones who'd been around a while would share the most awesome knots...stuff like this, intricate weaving, whipping, all sorts of decorative work. It's such a loss that I feel fairly regularly.

Great article, thanks!
posted by nevercalm at 2:06 PM on January 31, 2015 [15 favorites]

I got into tatting for a while and somewhere have a small pile of abandoned motifs. It was enjoyable and I liked actually doing it, but as he mentions in the article (although he reaches the opposite conclusion) I just didn't care enough about anything the technique could produce to really keep going with it.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 2:14 PM on January 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

If your appetite for tatting articles was merely whetted by this surprisingly long, in-depth article, Franklin Habit has written about his experience with tatting on his knitting blog, and I too have written about tatting for my knitting blog.
posted by orange swan at 2:22 PM on January 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

Tatted lace is so pretty. I learned to both needle tat & shuttle tat at a craft conference. Every so often I'll pick it up, reteach myself the double stitch, make a couple bookmarks, and put it away again. It's fun to do but I don't have the patience to do anything larger than a bookmark.

Needle tatting is definitely the easier of the two since you're shaping the stitches on the needle and don't have to worry about flipping the stitches. I only have plastic shuttles but covet something prettier.
posted by bluesapphires at 2:46 PM on January 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this great post. My grandmother taught me to tat when I was a young boy. She'd sit for hours in her rocker, tatting and watching the wrestling on TV. It was the damndest incongruity of activities.

I return to the shuttles occasionally but haven't finished anything in many years.
posted by key_of_z at 4:08 PM on January 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

I love tatted lace. A friend showed me how to tat several years back, and I found it fairly easy to learn but just so fiddly. And, as far as I can tell, there's no easy way to ensure your picots are evenly sized, unlike with knitting or crochet where the size of every stitch is determined by your needles/hook. I know that would drive me mad. That, plus the not-very-practical nature of most tatted pieces, and my ridiculously long knitting queue, have prevented me from picking up the craft. But I admire hardcore tatters.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:07 PM on January 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Throughout that entire article, all I could think about was friendship bracelets! They share the basic building block of a knot, only in a friendship bracelet the "flip" is a mistake to avoid.

I have a feeling I would love tatting- I still think about making friendship bracelets now and then - but I have a hard time with the impracticality of it. Doilies don't really fit my personal style.
posted by misskaz at 5:16 PM on January 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

MetaFilter: stuff like this, intricate weaving, whipping, all sorts of decorative work.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:36 PM on January 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Isn't it nice when a man takes the time to explain a thing that legions of women have been doing for a century or two.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:59 PM on January 31, 2015 [8 favorites]

I didn't see it that way, Mary Ellen. I saw it as a personal narrative of how someone picks up a new hobby that not many people know about. I found the description of his history with the surgical instruments quite interesting.

One of the most famous practitioners of knitted lace is a man: Herbert Niebling.

Although much needlework comes from women's traditions, there are some that are tied even more closely to women's roles. Aemilia Ars lace in Bologna was a completely new style that came out of a society formed by aristocratic women to help less moneyed women earn money from their handwork.
posted by Madamina at 7:43 PM on January 31, 2015 [8 favorites]

Really? Because I chose to read that in the more charitable voice of someone who got really involved in a reasonably obscure hobby and wanted to share his enthusiasm with people. (on preview what Madamina said)

Anyway. I keep meaning to try and get the basics of tatting down (I've crocheted for ages), if only because of this illustration in an old pattern book someone gave me.
posted by wreckingball at 7:46 PM on January 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've done tatting -- I don't think the "flip" is quite as hard as he makes it out to be! -- but I ran into the same problem he did ... once I'd made snowflakes and butterflies for all my friends, I was kinda like, "Um ... now what?" (Because I make doilies doing Hardanger and, well, I have plenty.) It's not tough to pick up if you've made friendship bracelets or if you've done any fancy embroidery where the tension of the stitch matters ... you pick it up pretty fast.

It IS a totally great craft for tucking in a pocket and having it immediately to hand. Nothing else is quite as portable! I haven't found it takes quite as much concentration as he does -- I can watch TV and count my stitches just fine.

Contrary to his comments, I DO think it requires patience ... I go into my zen place when I do fiber crafting (embroidery, tatting, etc.) but you have to be patient about letting the project take shape over a long period of time. These aren't quick "one and done" projects you can finish in an afternoon. To me that requires patience.

Also bobbin lace is very dark artsy when you watch someone go super-fast, but it's not actually hard. The pattern they're moving the pins in is printing on a piece of fabric or paper on the pillow. After that it's just counting your stitches like anything else!

I do find some amusement in "men discover fiber arts that women (and fishermen) have been doing forever and ever," but I think the principal thing is that if you've never sewed or knitted or whatever, these things seem like magic. If you have a baseline competence in SOME fiber art, you're like, "Oh, yeah, I kinda see how that could work," and if you've developed your expertise in one, you can pick up most of the others without TOO much frustration, because thread tension is usually the key point that's hard for beginners. I don't really know anything about needle lace, but I could see just from looking at the picture how one would begin to build it.

The other thing that fiber arts teaches you is to be humble and learn from the masters, because you really CAN create crocheting or needle lace or bullion knots or whatever from scratch once you've got a feel for thread ... but if you take a moment to learn the proper technique from a master, it'll go a lot better, and you'll be a lot more versatile!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:01 PM on January 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, also, tatting was popular in the Victorian era because it let wealthy women show off their pretty hands. More than most lace-making methods, it keeps the hands in view and the work doesn't ever overwhelm the hands of the worker. It also makes more delicate (smaller-threaded) lacework than most knitted or crocheted lace, which also shows off your wealthiness that you a) have more delicate lace and b) spent all that time making it.

It's really not that hard if you want to try it! Do not be put off!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:04 PM on January 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a box of tatting that my grandma left me, and it's beautiful stuff. It just doesn't match my lifestyle. I framed three pieces, one for each of my girls, and one for me, and may frame one for each of my granddaughters, but then what to do with the rest?
Who would want it? Sad.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:31 PM on January 31, 2015

See, I thought I was tatting, but there's this flip. I don't know why you'd flip, because mine looks pretty identical, but I guess I learned something today.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:03 PM on January 31, 2015

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