It is generally agreed that tatting emerged in the first half of the 19th century, developing gradually from knotting, popular in the 18th century. The end product of knotting is embroidery, that of tatting is lace. But they do both involve making knots with a shuttle and thread.

Knotting produced a thread with a raised texture which could later be used for couched embroidery. A few surviving examples can be seen in some museums and stately homes, see below. Here is a modern copy of the technique made by Ring of Tatters member Rita Siddals.

Click here for more examples. If anyone else feels inspired to try knotting, do send us a picture.

"Tatting" by Rhoda Auld, published in 1974, has a chapter on the history of tatting, including a few pages on knotting, with a photograph of an armchair decorated with it. Also a modern sampler and some hints on knotting - which fits in with the creative approach of the rest of the book. It can often be obtained secondhand.

For knotting a fairly thick thread would be wound on to a large open-ended shuttle about 4" to 6" long and then the needleworker would make special knots at intervals thus producing a thread with a texture, rather like a string of beads or French knots by the yard. Later she would couch the knotted thread on to fabric, laying it down in a design of flowers and leaves or scrolls. Miles of knotting must have been produced as it was used on large scale household furnishings such as chair covers, bedspreads and curtains.

It was considered an elegant occupation for aristocratic ladies. Several 18th century portraits of ladies knotting illustrate this. There are many references to it in the delightful letters of Mrs Delany (1700-1788). On one occasion, seeing unexpected visitors approaching in a carriage, she said to her friend the Duchess, "Where's my knotting? What shall I do without my bag?" So it was clearly an acceptable pastime even when entertaining company, and no doubt a comforting one too if the visit was over long. We modern tatters can relate to that!

A superb example of her work survives in the form of the Delany Quilt in the Ulster Museum, Belfast. The design, worked in cream on cream, consists of a large central medallion of flowers surrounded by an all over trellis with more flowers. It measures 7' 11" by 8' 4". On one edge is written in ink: "This quilt was worked by Mrs Delany and presented by her to Thos. Sandford on the day of his birth 1765".

Further examples of 18th century knotting can be seen at:

  • The Victoria & Albert Museum, London
  • Ham House, (National Trust), Richmond, Surrey
  • The Embroiderers' Guild Collection, Hampton Court Palace, Surrey

(Please email if you know of others)

The shuttles used for knotting were larger than the ones used for tatting, typically 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) long and with open ends. They were often of great value, made of tortoise shell, silver and gold and inlaid with precious stones. In France Mme. de Pompadour had several of these and Mrs Delany herself was given a gold shuttle by King George III while she was living in the royal household.

  This 18th century knotting shuttle is made of tortoise-shell inlaid with silver. It measures 3.75" (9.5 cm) in length, and has the open ends required for knotting.

Pictures of knotting shuttles can be seen in:

"Tatting Shuttles: Related Tools and Accessories" by Pam Palmer.

"Tatting Shuttles" by Heidi Nakayama. This book focuses on American tatting shuttles and has pictures of 4 knotting shuttles.

The text of this article is © Sally Magill 2006. Others may use it free of charge, provided they acknowledge the copyright.

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