All Tatted Up

A few weeks ago I tried my hand at tatting.  The clerk at the local Michael’s craft store said it was a vanishing art and they had no tatting supplies.  I went next door to the Hobby Lobby and picked up a learn-to-tat book and a pair of plastic shuttles.  So much for the vanishing part of tatting.

The learning process wasn’t intuitive to me.  Even with a step-by-step tutorial in a book I probably would not have figured it out without watching several YouTube videos.  The good thing is that there are some very good, clear video tutorials available.  However, the book taught the basics in a step-wise fashion that I found invaluable.  I progressed at the rate of about one lesson per tatting day, diving into a doily pattern about three lessons before the end of the book and using that as my final practice piece.

After feeling like I was all thumbs for a week or so my ability to hold the threads and form the knots properly improved.  Another week later I was able to remember the pattern round and not need to refer to it every thirty seconds.  But I’m not exactly speedy at this craft, especially when attempting to keep the tension even.

Incidentally, I’m glad no one told me this before I started my tatting journey: There is no good way to backtrack if you make a mistake.  When crocheting or knitting one can just ravel the stitches back.  In tatting, if the mistake is caught soon enough you can laboriously pick out the knots one by one until the error can be removed.  If you don’t see the problem until after a ring has been pulled tightly closed…  Let’s just say that I have either started over or lived with the problem.  I spent some time searching for information on how to correct an error.  The advice was “just don’t make a mistake“.  However, I did run across this tutorial on how to reopen closed rings.  I have not yet tried it.

The book I purchased didn’t make a few things clear to me, so here is what I suggest you have on hand to learn this delightful craft:

The Learn to Tat instruction book by Jeannette Baker.  I purchased my copy at a craft store with a coupon.  The value in this book is that the lessons build on each other, and there are a few patterns included to practice what you have learned.  Be warned that the Sunflower Doily pattern has a number of errors in it as printed.  For me, I found the errors to be lessons of their own and actually helpful to my understanding of the process of tatting.

Thread matters.  You want a tightly spun and smooth thread with which to learn.  The book recommended using two different colors of thread in two different sizes, size 5 and size 10.  The size 5 thread I originally tried to use was very soft and without much body.  This turned out to be very difficult to work with.  I switched to using two colors of size 10 crochet cotton and it was much easier to work.  It’s not clear to me why you would need to use size 5 thread at all for learning purposes.  My recommendation would be to use two colors of size 10 thread, perhaps white and ecru, or a color that you intend to use for a project.

Shuttles – With the thicker threads you will need a shuttle large enough to hold sufficient thread to accomplish something.  I went with shuttles of the type pictured in the instruction booklet and used plastic shuttles by Sew Mate.  There are shuttles with bobbins in them and have a tiny hook on the end.  The hook end of this type of shuttle is helpful for making tatting joins.  If you don’t also purchase a shuttle like this, you may want a very tiny steel crochet hook.


Steel crochet hook, very tiny.

Tapestry needle with large eye for weaving ends of thread into the finished project.

Plastic dental floss threaders – These can be used to help hide thread ends.  The technique is called “The Magic Thread Trick“.

Fray Check – I have not had much success with the magic thread technique with tatting thicker threads, so I tie knots and use a drop of liquid Fray Check on the knot to hold it securely.  Put a pin in the end of the bottle nozzle to keep it from gluing shut.


Currently I’m on my third Sunflower Doily from the Learn to Tat booklet, this time using some size 20 crochet cotton purchased from a thrift store for fifty cents.  The thinner the thread size, the smaller the finished project.  Right now I still prefer the look and feel of size 10 crochet cotton the best.

A few weeks after learning the basics, I sat tatting in a community meeting.  An older gentleman looked over and asked me what I was tatting.  He then told me how much he enjoyed making all kinds of things with tatting.  Perhaps tatting is not vanishing as quickly as some might think.


  1. Sue says:

    I wanted to let you know that The Needlepoint Joint in Ogden has the right tatting thread. It’s called Cordonnet. The reason you shouldn’t use crochet thread is because it’s only a 3-ply thread and the loops will go limp after it’s laundered. Cordonnet is a 6-ply thread so the loops will stay strong when you wash it. =) There’s a teacher there (a man whose name I can’t remember) who helped me quite a lot. He also teaches a different way to hide the ends so you don’t have to use Fray Check. It will discolor later.

    • Kiyoko Ball says:

      Thank you for the great information, Sue! It sounds like you have some good experience with tatting.

      I did some hunting and found Lizbeth premium thread you mentioned in Logan, although it’s more expensive and the store has an extremely small selection of colors and thread sizes. But I also discovered a website who carries the entire line –

      I will keep trying different ways to hide ends, because tatting is so enjoyable.

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