Tatting tales: not just for grannies any more

The unlikely resurgence of the craft is far removed from its Victorian lacemaking roots

You call this a doily?

Pamela Quevedo

Don’t tell a tatter she practises a lost art. And don’t mention doilies. The next-generation tatters want to distance themselves from prim, lacy coasters—“the optics aren’t good,” one explains. They would rather make slave bracelets or Celtic-style chokers while attending a roller derby. Despite its near invisibility in craft stores, tatting—a form of lacemaking—is experiencing an unlikely revival. It’s unlikely because tatting is fiddly, a craft more suited to generations raised to have patience. Yet young crafters like the meditative aspect and the portability. (Try carrying around a big bag of knitting and you’ll appreciate the difference.)

The tatting resurgence isn’t splashy and celebrity-driven—notwithstanding Lady Gaga’s interest in tatted ankle corsets—but it’s undeniable. “Never thought I’d see the day,” crows Debbie Coté, owner of Aunt Debbie’s Knit and Stitch in Chilliwack, B.C., which will offer tatting classes starting this fall. “YouTube gets the credit,” Coté adds. But long before YouTube, in 1998, Sharon Briggs of Brampton, Ont., posted some of the first how-to tatting videos. Her blog, Sharon’s Tatted Lace, is one of many Canadian blogs, along with Carllie B. Fox’s Tat-ology, at the top of the tatting blogosphere. “There are thousands of people in email groups. We may tat in isolation,” notes Briggs, “but we aren’t isolated anymore.”

“Like many tatters I know, it skipped a generation in my family and my friends think I’m completely nuts for taking it up,” says Toronto designer Jamie McCurdy, who contemplated tatting her wedding dress this summer. “We’re a stealth movement,” notes Victoria Clarke, a Manotick, Ont.-based chiropractor who is teaching a workshop on how to tat a 3D high-heeled shoe ornament at the annual Fringe Element Tatters conference this September in Cambridge, Ont. “We’re slowly coming out of the closet. The Internet allowed us to find each other, and supplies.” Supplies can be a problem. It took 26-year-old Crysta Westoby in the Okanagan Valley over a month to find a tatting shuttle—the tapered, hand-held tool used in tatting. “I finally found a beautiful French ivory shuttle in a vintage consignment store,” says Westoby, a master’s student, “but I heard you can get a plastic shuttle at Zellers and Wal-Mart now for a couple of dollars.”

Romni Wools in Toronto noticed the surge in tatting interest last spring. “There’s enough demand to carry shuttles and thread, which wasn’t the case before,” notes owner Jonathon Leonard, whose staff recently reported seeing an intriguing young customer with an elaborate tattoo of a tatting shuttle. Some people tat with a needle, claiming it’s easier. Purists stick to the shuttle, using superfine, 120-gauge embroidery thread. But the old rivalry between needle and shuttle tatters is dying out.

The guiding light of the new tatters is a purple-haired steampunk in California who goes by TotusMel, meaning “all honey” in Latin. Her real name is Pamela Quevedo, and her videos online have attracted 230,000 total channel views since she posted them in 2009. She sells about 30 original pieces a month on the online store Etsy. Prices range from $5 to $425. “I never thought I’d be a professional tatter,” says Quevedo, 35, who changed tatting’s image with the Goth-lite jewellery, haunting masks and ankle corsets she makes. Lady Gaga’s stylist selected, then rejected, the latter for the singer’s Judas video.

Just as knitting broke through the gender barrier (thanks, Russell Crowe!), so has tatting. “I tat while watching hockey or football,” says Jeff Hamilton, the Saskatoon-based blogger behind Bridge City Tatting. A self-described homebody, he taught himself 15 years ago. “It’s not quite ‘woman’s work’ anymore, but it isn’t something I do outside the home. I’m so envious of all those women who can tat at Tim Hortons.”

Murray Schellenberg has no qualms about tatting in public. “I do it in movie theatres, on airplanes, in waiting rooms. People are curious,” says Schellenberg, a Ph.D. student in linguistics at the University of British Columbia, who learned his techniques in 1991 from an old Time-Life book at home in Alberta. “I was hopeless at knitting. I’m a binge tatter and, you won’t believe it, but I’m a doily guy!”


Tatting tales: not just for grannies any more

  1. You don’t know knitters if you say knitting isn’t portable. I carry my bag with me everywhere, usually with a sock or mitten in progress. Go to any knitting forum, and you’ll see myriad threads about KIP (knitting in public).

    • I agree completely! My mother takes her knitting everywhere with ease!

    • He didn’t say knitting wasn’t portable, just that tatting is easier to port. Most tatting projects are small (but not all). I have a bag just for knitting projects that is that size of a large purse. My tatting kit fits inside of my purse and is no larger than an eyeglass case.

  2. This is a great, I am UK tatter and a link was put on the blogs for anyone to read, I have been tatting 41 years and I am not an old girl but feel a young late 50 something. I am so pleased that tatting has got the press it deserves, I take my tatting with anywhere on holiday in Europe. Thank you for putting tatting in the press,

  3. Great article!

  4. What a great article! I am avid shuttle-tatter and design most of my work while camping through out the year. I am impressed by the increasing amount of my customers that tell me they are taking up tatting and would like to know how to get started. It is indeed a unique form of fiber art that feels like a meditation with its repetitive counting. Slow as molasses but well worth the time! I take my work in the opposite direction from Totusmel. I am totally aware of her skill and talent, she is a major source for tatting on Etsy. I work more with the whimsical and glamorous. Just shows how flexible designing can be. Fantastic!

  5. Thank you for the article. Well written. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the newer take on tatting. I have learned so much about the many different styles and creativity that is out there on the internet. Tatting is much more versatile than I first thought when I started tatting 10 years ago. It has been very enjoyable watching the evolution and transformation of this art form.

  6. I’m a tatter from Alberta. Thank you for publishing this article. If people could see how many tatters there are in north American, and Europe, they wouldn’t say it’s a dying art. It certainly up and coming, again. If I were a shop owner, where yarn is supplied, I’d also feature tatting supplies. It’s harder to get in Canada, these days.

  7. I’m a tatter in Australia. Your article reveals how tatting can morph into something that’s up-to-date. Great to read.

  8. I have been tatting since the early 1950’s and have taught many ladies and one gentleman to tat….Tatting dying out?????? Not on your life… I still teach classes here in Australia and do demonstrations whenever and wherever I can, I love to see the jewelry but I still tat doilies and edgings too….a BIG Bravo to all the tatters the world over

  9. I often put tatting shuttles in my pocket to tat in the dr office, the park, at the coffee shop, or where ever I may be. I knit as well, but you can’t put knitting in your pocket, lol.

  10. I’m a tatter from India.Really tatting is so beautiful art.I love tatting and i am fond of tatting designs

  11. I’m a tatter from Germany. Europe is full of tatters, especially totally tattered tatters – and they really would say this from their dying start. If I were a barn owner I’d offer barn dance for everrrrybody…..Not only Irish people.- Great! I Iove you for tattering it up.

  12. Tatting is enjoying a resurgence worldwide. There are many great support groups for tatters on Facebook, filled to the brim with helpers and fantastic ideas for patterns. We at Artisanthropy recently opened up our online store in Southern Ontario, Canada, to provide access to tatting supplies usually found in Europe or the U.S. to Canadian tatters (as well as worldwide), at great prices. Check us out at https://www.artisanthropy.ca – we have everything you need to get started, as well as materials for more advanced tatters.