LACE HAS BEEN highly prized for centuries, but like many ancient arts, lace making--including tatting--is a vanishing art.
The origins of tatted lace are unclear, but it was popular in the early 1700s in England, France and Italy. It is the strongest of all lace-making techniques, because each stitch is knotted independently; therefore, it will not ravel.
The thread used in tatting is very fine, not unlike sewing thread, and it is wound on a shuttle made of bone, steel or tortoise shell. The loose end of the thread is looped around one hand while the other hand pokes and weaves the shuttle in and out, making a series of tight little knots.
The finished product, viewed closely, looks a little like buttonhole stitches in the round. Viewed from a proper distance, tatted lace is a complex arrangement of geometric ingenuity.
Tatting is almost always used as a decoration, not as an entire piece; tatted lace is used as a border on collars and cuffs and as edgings and insets for table linens and fine garments.
While the movements of tatting are not difficult and the knots are no more complicated than those taught to Boy Scouts, the thread is so fine, the stitches so small, that time, patience and dexterity are essential.
Unlike knitted and woven laces, tatting cannot be easily duplicated by a machine.
Several books offer tatting instructions; most are out of print but available in libraries. Personal instruction is available at Lace and Needle Art in West Hills (formerly part of Canoga Park), Handweavers in Bellflower and Nettie's Needlecraft in Beverly Hills.