The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Tatting with Rings and Chains

Wooden table surface with three strips of handmade tatted lace.
You can tat all these with two threads.

If you’ve been following my series on introductory tatting, you’ve spent the last several installments working with only one thread. If you missed prior sections, you can find the last one here. Personally, I love shuttle-only designs for their airiness and their portability, but one cannot live by shuttle alone. So today I bring you a few options for tatting with rings and chains.

There are two ways to tat with two threads. You can keep the thread connected to the ball of thread after winding your shuttle. You then make your chains using the ball thread while you create rings with the shuttle thread alone. While this is a traditional way to tat, it offers drawbacks as well as advantages. It allows you to suspend the ball from your wrist in a holder if you like. This keeps it close yet lightens the weight on your hands. A negative, however, is that when you run out of shuttle thread you have to cut both threads, rewind the shuttle, and attach both threads as you continue. That, in a word, is a pain.

An alternate way to tat with two threads is to use two shuttles. I thought this was a relatively recent way to tat until I came across a 1925 pattern calling for two shuttles. The benefit here is that everything is very portable. Two shuttles fit into your pocket or bag as easily as one, and off you go. Plus, since your remaining thread waits for you on the ball, you can refill an empty shuttle at any time. I have found two drawbacks to this method, however. First, the extra weight from a loaded shuttle can be trying for my hands over time. And second, the two shuttles tend to wrap around themselves and tangle if my attention wanders or I try to go too fast.

However, the two-shuttle method remains very popular. Lots of tatters use it and love it. Experiment a bit, if you haven’t yet, and decide which method is better for you. You should also know: in some modern patterns two shuttles are required because they include techniques that simply cannot be completed with only one shuttle and ball thread. So if you regularly tat modern patterns, or you plan to, the habit of tatting with two shuttles may be a good one to acquire.

Instructions: tatting with rings and chains

These patterns are all straight edgings. Done two-sided they would make splendid bookmarks. As they are, they would look nice on handkerchiefs, towels, shirts, jackets, bedsheets, hats, handbags, or whatever you fancy. Usually I present these in time order, oldest to newest, but today I’ll give them in simplicity order. All these threads are tatted with size 10 thread so you can see the detail. You make them in whatever size thread you like.

Abbreviations you will need:

  • r: ring
  • cl r: close ring
  • ds: double stitches, the basic tatting stitch
  • p: picot
  • ch: chain
  • rw: reverse work. Turn the thing upside down so the ring facing north is now facing south
  • turn: flip the work over side to side, like looking at the front and back sides of a PopTart, or turning the page of a book

Edging 1

tatted lace in white on wood background. Clover, circle, clover, circle, joined with arcs at the top.

This first edging dates from 1959/1960. As you look at it compared with the others you can see that it’s very simple. This is the next step up from a beginner’s pattern of tatting with rings and chains. I really liked the little ring in between each clover leaf. In a fine thread (size 40 or 80) this would make a lovely edging for a handkerchief, special dinner napkin, or scarf – if you use scarves to dress up your 1950s wardrobe.

This would look lovely made in two colors. The chain thread could be a light version of a color, like lavender or pink or yellow. Then use a darker version of that same color, like purple or rose or deep yellow for the rings. Here’s how to make it:

  1. First, wind a shuttle and leave attached to the ball, OR wind two shuttles splitting 6 – 8 yards of thread evenly between them, OR use a wound shuttle and a ball thread or second shuttle thread, knotting the ends together before you begin. Your choice.
  2. Make a ring of 3 ds, p, 3 ds, p, 3 ds, p, 3ds, cl r.
  3. R of 3 ds, join to last p of last ring, 3 ds, p, 2 ds, p, 2 ds, p, 3 ds, p, 3 ds, cl r.
  4. R of 3 ds, join to last p of last r, 3 ds, p, 3 ds, p, 3 ds, cl r. [You have now made one of the clover leaves.]
  5. Rw. Make a chain of 6 ds, p, 3 ds, p, 3 ds, p, 6 ds. Pull up tight and rw.
  6. Make a r of 3 ds, join to 2nd p of last r, 3 ds, p, 3 ds, p, 3 ds, cl r. Rw. [This is the small ring in between clovers.]
  7. Ch of 6 ds, p, 3 ds, p, 3 ds, p, 6 ds. Rw.
  8. R of 3 ds, p, 3 ds, join to last p of previous r, 3 ds, p, 3 ds, cl r.
  9. Repeat from step 3 for the length of the lace.

Edging 2

White tatted lace on wooden background. It looks like a row of little figures holding hands, their arms raised next to their heads. Below the arms the lace terminates in a circle with five picots.

This lace dates from 1925. You can see that it’s more elaborate than the one above it. This would be a great edging for all the uses described above, especially handkerchiefs. It would be nice by the yard to trim underthings or pajamas. This edging would probably look best in one color, unless you use a variegated thread. That might be really pretty. Here’s how to make it:

  1. First, wind a shuttle and leave attached to the ball, OR wind two shuttles splitting 6 – 8 yards of thread evenly between them, OR use a wound shuttle and a ball thread or second shuttle thread, knotting the ends together before you begin. Your choice.
  2. Make a r of 2 ds, p, 2 ds, p, 2 ds, p, 2 ds, cl r. Rw.
  3. Ch of 7 ds. Do not rw.
  4. R of 2 ds, p, 2 ds, p, 2 ds, p, 2 ds, p, 2 ds, p, 2 ds, cl r. [You are making a ring of 2 ds, (p, 2 ds) 5x, cl r.]
  5. Rw. Make this next ring as close as possible to the base of the last one. R of 7 ds, join to last p of first small r, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, p, 7 ds, cl r.
  6. Rw. Chain of 7 ds. Rw.
  7. Small r of 2 ds, join to last p of large r, 2 ds, p, 2 ds, p, 2 ds, cl r. Rw.
  8. Repeat from Step 3 for length of lace.

Edging 3

A sturdy scalloped lace. White tatting on a wooden board background.

This lace also dates from 1925. This is one sturdy lace. If you look closely you can see that almost every picot attaches everywhere else. It does not move. If you make a row of this, the only picot that hangs free is the one at the bottom point. This is a lace for bedsheets, towels, the ends of runners. I’m thinking about making a length of this for the edge of my fireplace mantel or a piano scarf.

It would be gorgeous in holiday colors, whatever colors say holiday to you. Taking pink and green for example (are there any pink and green holidays?), rings of pink with chains of green would look like flowers winding up and down, up and down. Very nice. Here’s how to make it:

  1. First, wind a shuttle and leave attached to the ball, OR wind two shuttles splitting 6 – 8 yards of thread evenly between them, OR use a wound shuttle and a ball thread or second shuttle thread, knotting the ends together before you begin. Your choice.
  2. R of 4 ds, p, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, cl r. Rw.
  3. Ch 6 ds. Rw.
  4. R of 4 ds, join to last p of last r, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, cl r. Rw.
  5. Another r of 4 ds, p, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, cl r. This should be close to the base of the last one so they sit bottom to bottom. Rw.
  6. Ch 6 ds. Rw.
  7. R 4 ds, join to last p of last r, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, cl r.
  8. Maka a r of 4 ds, join to last p of last r, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, cl r.
  9. R of 4 ds, join to last p of last r, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, cl r. [You have just completed the clover at the bottom. Now you will work your way back up.]
  10. Rw. Ch of 6 ds. Rw.
  11. R of 4 ds, join to last p of clover, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, cl r. Rw.
  12. Another R of 4 ds, join to 2nd ring made, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, cl r. Rs.
  13. Ch of 6 ds. Rw.
  14. R of 4 ds, join to last p of last r made, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, cl r. Rw.
  15. R of 4 ds, p, 4 ds, p, 4 ds, cl r. [You are back where you started, completing the first ring at the top of the lace.]
  16. Repeat from Step 3 for the length of the lace, being sure to join the third ring of the second scallop to the seventh ring of the first scallop as you go.

What do you think?

If you enjoy tatting with rings and chains and would like to see more patterns like these, drop me a comment and I’ll hunt them up for a future post. I really enjoyed making these and found a new favorite pattern or two along the way. If you’d like to check into this series from the beginning, you can take a look at Easy Vintage Tatting Patterns. If you need basic tatting instructions, Making Lace with Shuttle and Thread links to some beginning tatting videos that I found very clear.

The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Making Lace with Shuttle and Thread

An assor
tment of tatting shuttles and balls of thread arranged on small tatted lace projects.
Tatting shuttles, thread, and tools from my private collection. These are both vintage and modern. On one side of the blue Clover shuttle is the elusive tortoise-shell plastic Clover. On the other side is a reproduction of the shuttle that Modern Priscilla gave out as a subscription premium in the 1920s. The pink and green thread is my current project, and underneath it is a metal Boye shuttle. The threads range from size 20 to 50.

Today I’m going to talk about tatting, which is simply making lace with a shuttle and thread. Lacemaking is a great vintage craft. For one thing, it is extremely portable. Most days I carry a shuttle and thread in my pocket, attached to some unfinshed tatting. That way if I have a moment, I can progress with my latest project.

Second, to learn tatting you only need to learn one knot. Of course, you make that knot ten thousand times in different positions, but it is only one knot. With shuttle and thread, all those knots make lace.

Third, lacemaking can be a very inexpensive hobby. All you absolutely need is thread. And the thread can be any size, but it’s nice if it’s thick enough that you can actually see it. Especially when you’re learning. Sewing thread does not make good tatting thread (although it can be great for other kinds of handmade lace.) For tatting, sewing thread is really small, and really tight. It’s hard to undo stray knots in sewing thread.

Use thick thread when you start

So to begin with, at least, start with something bigger: size 10 thread is easy to find and it makes a good starter thread. If you want to stick with size 10 for awhile, do so. Some advanced projects and edgings are tatted with size 80 thread, which is thicker than sewing thread by enough that you can at least see it. I make almost everything I do in a size 20 thread. It’s about half the size of 10, yet it’s big enough to see and big enough to loosen if a stray knot appears where it’s not supposed to.

I said that the only thing you absolutely need for tatting is thread. Do you need a shuttle? Not at first. Not if you don’t want to. Here’s a tutorial on how to make a tatting shuttle from a plastic lid you may have lying around the house. And here’s a link from the incomparable Georgia Seitz that gives you a pattern for making your own shuttles from cardboard or plastic. Georgia taught and designed tatting for many years.

What is a shuttle and where do I find one?

If you want a tatting shuttle to learn with, by all means get one. Most vintage shuttles were made from metal or bone, but today’s shuttles are formed in plastic. Two very popular styles lead the rest: the “Aerlit” style and the “Clover style.

blue tatting shuttle
This is an Aerlit shuttle. It has a hook and a separate bobbin. (Image: Handy Hands, Inc.)
yellow tatting shuttle and green tatting shuttle
These are Clover shuttles. They have picks on one end and a post in the middle You wind the thread around the post.
(Image: Clover Inc.)

The Aerlit shuttle actually began its life in England as the Aero tatting shuttle, and then moved to Germany. It came in one color. Gray. With one or two colors of bobbins. Black and perhaps gray. Then these shuttles went out of production, and Handy Hands, a tatting thread and shuttle manufacturer in the U.S., began making them. (If I recall correctly, Handy Hands bought the original molds from the manufacturer and retooled them.) Now they come in a rainbow of colors, and they are very popular with tatters. The hook helps to catch the thread and pull it through loops.

The Clover shuttle first came in a hard plastic, two-toned tortoise-shell. Then Clover began making these shuttles in many different solid colors. Now they are available in two colors per package, which is really nice when you either have two projects going at once or you are using two shuttles at the same time. The various colors help you to keep things straight. The pick functions similar to the hook. It grabs thread so you can bring it through a loop as you tat.

The Clover shuttle is also very popular. If you want a metal shuttle like tatters used in the 1920s through the 1960s, Lacis (another lace supplier) has reproduced the old metal Boye shuttle. It looks like this, and this style is what I used when I learned to tat.

silver metal tatting shuttle
This is a reporduction of the 1920s through 60s Boye metal shuttle. It also has a removable bobbin and a hook. Lacis makes it. (Image: Lacis.)

So… where can you get these things? You can purchase both tatting shuttles and threads from Lisa at The Tatting Corner. It’s a great shop, I buy from her regularly, and I believe she ships anywhere. All of these shuttles cost about $4 to $6 apiece. The Clover shuttles are more expensive because you get two.

Wind that shuttle and go!

Once you have whatever you plan to use as a shuttle, wind it with thread. Shuttles need a smooth, even, not-too-tight wind so that the thread comes off easily when you need it. A little practice will even out those threads. As a youngster I was not a very good bobbin winder, and my thread continually slipped under other strands and got stuck. If that happens to you the first few times then know that you are not alone. Your shuttle and thread will still make lace, but you may find the thread a bit difficult if your thread is too tight.

Learn with a video or two

The easiest way to learn how to tat is to watch someone do it. This is the value of YouTube videos. You can stop and review the same step over, and over, and over as many times as you need. The video will not lose patience. It shows you the same segments as many times as you need to see them.

I’ll link beginning tatting instruction from two different teachers. Look at each one to see which one matches your way of learning best. You do not want to learn tatting from a video I produce. I learned to tat from Victorian manuals, so I literally tat like someone’s great-great aunt. In fact, more than one person has said that to me over the years. “You tat like my Great Aunt Bessie! I’ve never seen anyone else do that!” Well, I wager that Great Aunt Bessie learned to tat from the same 1853 and 1878 manuals that I did. And when you begin tatting like Great Aunt Bessie, it’s tough to change!

The best video to use is the one you understand well. Frivole’s Shutting Tatting for Beginners – Transferring the Knot starts off a short series of videos. The presenter uses a thick cord to show the process, which may make it easy to understand.

The second presenter, Kaye Judt, uses a larger normal-sized thread but her instructions are very clear. She talks you through making rings and chains in two videos. The first one is Introduction to Tatting by Kaye Judt. Kaye is a needlework and tatting designer who teaches at the various tatting conventions held around the U.S. each year.

Regardless which online video instructor you choose, I hope you find yourself making lace with a shuttle and thread in very short order. Next I’ll introduce some easy and popular vintage patterns for you to do. One of them has been used so often over the past 100 years that most tatters know it by name.