All About Lace | Part 2

15th April 2022

In All Stitched Up! issue #324, we wrote a short introduction to the fine art of bobbin lace. Bobbin lace is usually what people think of when you mention handmade lace, but as we alluded to in that article, the term ‘lace’ covers several techniques. Needlelace is another technique we discussed, but it doesn’t end there.

A further technique that produces beautiful lace is the vintage art of tatting.

Tatting is actually a form of knotwork predominantly worked using a shuttle. However, tatting can also be done with a needle or even a small crochet hook.

Tatting has been practiced for hundreds of years. It is likely that it originated from sailors who would work different knots to create their nets, however the actual genesis is unknown. There is not much evidence of tatting, as we know it today, existing before 1800 however the line between knotting and tatting is not always clear.

Shuttle for tatting (source)

Shuttle tatting is the earliest method of creating this form of lace. The shuttle is a small, leaf-shaped tool that holds the length of thread and is then guided through loops of thread to form the requisite knots. Shuttles were originally made of metal or even ivory, with historic shuttles now sought after as collectors’ items.

Tatting step-by-step

Successful shuttle tatting requires the correct hand position, tension and the perfect flick of the wrist to form the knot. It can take a bit of practise, but if you ever get the pleasure of watching an experienced tatter at work, it is magnificent to see.

The movement is so elegant, and the resulting lace is so intricate, it is amazing to believe that it is just knotted thread.

Tatting can also be done using a needle. This form of tatting probably originated in the early 20th century. It requires a long needle that doesn’t change thickness from tip to eye. A doll needle would work, but there are also specialist tatting needles available. Although the actual movement is slightly different to the shuttle, the resulting lace is virtually the same.

Tatting, like other forms of handmade lace, enjoyed popularity right up until manufactured lace became the norm in the 1950s. Since then, practitioners of the art have remained passionate about tatting, but it has slowly fallen out of common practice. However, like so many other handmade techniques, there are still plenty of people who tat for pleasure, enjoying the meditative repetition and the beautiful results that arise from this form of lace making.

Tatted bookmark ‘Filigree’ by Lynne Winter from Inspirations #47

This finally brings us to crochet. Although nowadays the word crochet conjures up images of blankets made of granny squares or cute amigurumi animals and characters, it is another legitimate way of making lace. Irish crochet lace is one of the finest techniques, although there are others. A collar or shawl made of Irish crochet can be just as lacy and beautiful as its bobbin-made or needle-made cousins.

As the name suggests, Irish crochet lace originated in Ireland, with centres devoted to the art emerging in many parts of the country from the 18th century onwards. It was often taught to girls to allow them to earn money for their families, with the practice seeing a huge increase during the Great Famine in the mid-1840s.

This form of lace is characterised by separate motifs joined by either filigree mesh or crocheted bars.

The position and selection of motifs is determined by the artist, which makes this technique quite unique in its form. During the height of production, there was a division in the labour required to produce items. The most skilled crocheters would produce the fine motifs, and children or the less experienced workers would crochet the stems and leaves. The motifs were usually then taken to a lace-making centre, where they would be arranged and crocheted together to form everything from collars and cuffs to full garments.

Nowadays, Irish crochet lace, like other forms of lace, has shifted from an income source to a pleasurable hobby. Patterns are available for complete garments or shawls, so the practitioner makes the entire piece rather than just elements of it. However, once you gain experience, you too can start to work freeform, crocheting your favourite motifs and putting them together in your own unique way. 

Lace is an exquisite fabric. Whether it is formed using bobbins, a needle, a tatting shuttle or a crochet hook, the stunning results that arise from this art are wonderful to see and even more fantastic to create.

We hope we’ve inspired some of you to try making your own lace using one or even all of these techniques. In a world dominated by manufactured goods and factory-made textiles, handmade lace, however it is created, stands out above all.

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