Reviving the ancient art of tatting

Posted by | October 6, 2015

If you’re anywhere near Knoxville, TN this weekend, head on over to the Museum of Appalachia for the Tennessee Fall Homecoming. Crafts and demonstrations include weaving, pottery making, grist milling, wood crafting, basket weaving, broom making, quilting, and tatting.


Tatting is the centuries-old art of making fine lace. The lace form consists of circles and curved lines which are created by looping and tying knots which slide on a core thread. This fine thread is fed into a cat-eye-shaped shuttle. The tatting shuttle consists of two oval blades of either bone, ivory, mother of pearl or tortoise-shell, pointed at both ends, and joined together in the middle.

Tatting manual by Anne OrrA good shuttle contributes materially to the rapid and perfect execution of the work. In the eighteenth century, when tatting was in great vogue, much larger shuttles than today’s were used, because of the voluminous materials they had to carry, silk cord being one.

The English name of tatting is said to be derived from ‘tatters’ and to denote the frail disconnected character of the fabric. The Italians called it ‘occhi,’ while in the Orient it still bears the name of ‘makouk,’ from the shuttle used in making it. The term tatting can encompass a variety of lace-making styles, as well as social aspects of gatherings.

In the early 20th century, Anne Orr emerged as a champion of the needlework arts. Her magazine pieces published in Southern Woman’s Magazine, Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens made tatting patterns available to all.

Anne Champe Orr (1875-1946) was endlessly fascinated with needlework and designed and sold hundreds of thousands of patterns for cross stitch, quilting, crochet, filet crochet and tatting. Orr began her career as art editor for the Nashville-based Southern Woman’s Magazine in 1913-14. She quickly became widely known at home and abroad for the published needlework patterns she began producing in 1915.

Even though she was not a needleworker herself, she created easy-to-follow charted designs for cross-stitch, embroidery, and crochet, later doing the same for knitting, lacemaking (particularly tatting) and rugmaking.

Tatting at Museum of Appalachia Tennessee Fall Homecoming 2011.

Tatting at Museum of Appalachia Tennessee Fall Homecoming.

Orr’s designs were innovative to boot. Teri Dusenbury, in Tatting Hearts, says of Orr’s contribution to the craft: “Through the genius of one designer, Anne Orr, tatting evolved one step further with one of the most innovative techniques to be discovered since the true chain was established in 1862—split ring tatting. The technique first appeared in 1923 in a J&P Coats publication entitled Crochet, Cross Stitch and Tatting, Book No. 14. Of the thirteen edgings shown, twelve utilized the new technique.”

Anne Orr provided employment for women throughout the Appalachians, who thanks to her skilled guides could make such things as appliqued quilts and delicate tablecloths for sale.

“Encyclopedia of Needlework” Therese de Dillmont, 1906, DMC, Dornach, Alsance

“Tatting Hearts” Teri Dusenbury, 1994, Courier Dover Publications

related post: “Winter’s the Quilting Season”

Home+Craft+Days Big+Stone+Gap+VA Tatting Anne+Champe+Orr appalachia appalachia+history appalachian+culture appalachian+mountains+history

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