Because it's a lesser known craft, there's often some confusion around what tatting actually is. Is it micro crochet? Is it a catchall phrase for any kind of handmade lace? Is it even actually lace? What the heck is it?
In the simplest terms, tatting (sometimes called frivolite) is a specific technique for making knotted lacework. It has a unique structure where one thread is tied in a specific knot (called a double stitch in tatting, but also known as a lark's head knot) around a core thread. This can be accomplished with one single thread (making closed loops, or rings) or with two threads (making an open ended structure called a chain).
While tatting can be made with either a shuttle (where stitches are formed by tying them onto the thread itself)) or a long needle (where stitches are first tied around the needle and the core thread is then pulled through), the tool that is used to construct it is less important to defining tatting than the actual structure.
Compared to other types of lacemaking (like bobbin lace or needle lace), which often require a pillow form or some kind of loom to work on until the piece become stable, tatting is more freeform, being worked only with the shuttle or needle and your hands, and therefore a lot more stable during the process (and easier to travel with!) It's also, in my opinion, one of the easiest lacemaking techniques to learn, despite modern misconceptions about its difficulty. After all, unlike most other fiber crafts, there's only one stitch to learn!
So why should you learn tatting?
- It's the perfect travel craft! Even the most well stocked of kits can fit easily into a jacket pocket or small pouch.
- It doesn't require expensive tools to start, and the basic supplies can be obtained for around $20 or less. You probably even already have most of the supplies you need in your craft stash!
- It's an excellent fidget craft! If you're like me and you need to have your hands busy to make your brain focus, tatting is the perfect thing! Some places I have taken my tatting shuttles include on a plane, to the movie theater, to in person classes and seminars, and restaurants (especially if there's a long wait for a table!)
- It can't be reproduced by machine. While there are some ways to mimic the look of tatting, true tatting cannot be made by a machine. That means that any time you see a piece of tatting anywhere, it was made by hand. And while I don't buy into the myth that tatting is a dying art, it is up to us to continue passing the knowledge along.