Welcome to the best part of tatting: making actual projects! By the end of this tutorial you will have your very own daisy, butterfly, and a simple edging. This is going to be a much longer post than normal, but I promise it’ll be worth it. So get your shuttle and thread, make a cup of tea, and get comfortable.
Before we begin tatting an intentional project, we’ll need to go over some basics of reading tatting patterns. This lesson will focus on ring-only patterns. We’ll add a second thread (to make chains) in the next lesson, and then include chains in our pattern repertoire.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF PATTERNS
Just like ice cream, tatting patterns come in different flavors, and just as vanilla ice cream tastes different from different brands, tatting patterns will vary slightly between each author or publisher. However, once you understand their general look and feel, you can navigate your way between all those minor variations pretty easily, and I’ll give you come tips later for doing just that.
There are three basic types of patterns: written, abbreviated, and diagrammatic. Let’s go over each.
As the name suggests, written patterns have all the instructions, every last bit, written out in full. It will probably use abbreviations (not to be confused with abbreviated patterns), but they’ll all be there. A written pattern for a simple ring might look like this:
R 3ds, p, 3ds, p, 3 ds, p, 3ds, cl r. Cut and tie.
Using what you know about tatting so far, try to guess what it all means before going on.
Ready? Okay, let’s go over each element together. We know we’re making a ring because the pattern starts with R. This tells us that we’ll use only one shuttle and will wrap the working thread around our hand to make the stitches. Now that we know we’re making a ring, we need to know how many double stitches to make. Fortunately that comes next. 3ds stands for three double stitches.
Notice that the pattern includes lots of “#ds” bits, separated by a p. What tatting element comes between double stitches? Picots. So we’ll make a picot between each set of 3ds. The last part just says what to do when you finish making any ring; you cl r, close the ring (sometimes just cl). If the element you are making is at the end of a motif or a section of a pattern, then you’ll often see the instruction to Cut and tie. That is, cut the thread off from the shuttle and tie a knot or hide the ends as appropriate. Sometimes the author assumes you know to do this and will leave it off.
A common variation on written patterns aims to simplify repetitive chunks of the pattern. Instead of “R 3ds, p, 3ds, p, 3ds, p, 3ds, cl r,” you might seeR (3ds, p) 3 times, 3ds, cl r. Or R *3ds, p * rep from * 2 times, 3 ds, cl r. Or R 3ds sep by 3 p, 3ds, cl r.
All of these clump the “3ds, p” part into three chunks that you will repeat. Then after you have done three sets of three double stitches separated (sep) by a picot—notice that the set ends with a picot—you’ll need to do three more double stitches to finish the ring.
What are the most common abbreviations? While you will see some minor variations in the abbreviations used in these types of patterns, there will be a lot of consistency, too. Here are the most common that you’ll encounter with ring-only patterns:r(s) = ring(s) ch(s) = chain(s) p(s) = picot(s) sp or sm p = small picot lp or lg p = large (or long) picot ds = double stitch j = join sep or sep by = separated by beg = beginning prev = previous * = repeat instructions after an asterisk the number of times specified ( ) = repeat instructions between parentheses the number of times specified
If you encounter a pattern and cannot tell what the abbreviations mean, check to see if there is a legend. Most authors include a key to their abbreviations, usually near the beginning of the instructions.
Abbreviated patterns include basically the same information as written patterns but are more consise. Here’s the same pattern as above, in abbreviated format:
R 3 – 3 – 3 – 3.
Much shorter, right? Abbreviated patterns are like the CliffsNotes version of patterns, and here’s the CliffsNotes version of their explanation. All numbers are numbers of double stitches, and dashes are picots. Substitute those in your mind, and you get back to the same written pattern we just dissected above. Make sense?
Notice that the instructions do not specify to close the ring, cut the thread and tie or hide the ends. Sometimes abbreviated patterns will include this, but often the author assumes that if you are making a ring, you will know to close it. Usually there will simply be a period to show that the ring’s instructions are complete.
Two more things. If you see more than one dash indicated for a picot, that is the equivalent of a lp, or large picot. The more dashes, the larger the picot. Also, a + indicates a join—instead of making a picot, join to an existing picot.
Diagrammatic patterns are a radical departure from the written format. These are great for visual learners, and many modern patterns are presented this way.
We know we’re making a ring, and this picture is, conveniently enough, in the shape of a ring. Plus, our pattern above includes four sets of three double stitches separated by a picot, and in this pattern the ring is divided by a little line into four segments with a number 3 in each.
In all diagrammatic patterns, rings are show by little circles, with numbers representing the number of stitches and little lines that stick out representing picots. Why didn’t I just say so instead of going through that tedious process of figuring it out? I’m not trying to treat you like a third grader. Even though this one is a very easy pattern, you will find plenty of diagrammatic patterns where you have to study the picture in this manner to figure it out.
The edging pattern we will tat later on in this lesson will provide more opportunities for looking at the features of diagrammatic patterns.
THREE SIMPLE TATTING PATTERNS
Are you ready to tat a daisy? Try this pattern:
R (1ds, p) 12 times, 1ds, cl r. Leave about 1″ thread. R 20ds, cl r. R 25ds, cl r, cut thread close to the r.
Don’t worry if your picots aren’t even, or if they are twisted, as you will get better at this with practice. I’ll have a lesson on evening out picots, too.
Ready to try something a bit harder? How about a butterfly? Try this:
To do this pattern you will need to join to a picot. Each join will be to the last picot of the previous ring.Leave about 2″ tail before beginning. R 12-2-2-8-4. R 4+6-6-4. R 4+6-6-4. R 4+8-2-2-12.
Tie ends together closely, leave about 2″ tail and cut. Knot close to ends for antennae.
Here is one more pattern to wrap up this lesson; a simple hen and chicks style edging. Before getting on with it, there is one more technique you need to know about called reverse work, or turn. I’ll go over this more in another post, but for now all you need to know is that reverse work basically means to turn the project over. So after you finish each ring in this edging, you will turn your work over and continue tatting from the new “top.”
That sounds pretty simple, and it is, but here’s the tricky part. Written and abbreviated patterns will tell you when to reverse work, but diagrammatic patterns usually do not (unless there is a spot where it would not be expected). These diagrammed patterns expect you to know when to reverse, or turn, your work over, and with just a little experience it will not be that hard to figure out.
On to the pattern. The above tiny motifs are my own patterns (though both are fairly standard doodles) but this hen and chicks edging comes from a book published in 1916, “Tatting Designs with Instructions Book No Five” by Adeline Cordet. Price 10 Cents. Nice price. Here are both Cordet’s original pattern and my diagrammed version.
*R. 5 d. s., p, * 3 times, 5 d. s., close; leave 1-4th-in. thread, tn., make a small r. of 5 d. s., p., 5 d. s. close, tn.; leave 1-4th in. thread as before; make a 2nd r. like 1st and j. to last p. of 1st r., tn.; leave sp. as before and make a large r. of 4 d. s., j. to p. of small r., *2 d. s., p., * 8 times, 4 d. s., close. Rep.
Notice a few things about this pattern:
You already know that the little lines sticking out from rings are picots, the same as in the single ring pattern above, but this pattern also shows several of those lines connecting two rings together. When the picot lines connect, that indicates a join between two rings. Make a picot on the first ring you make, then when you get to the second ring make the join.
Each ring includes a letter inside to indicate the sequence in which you will make them. Patterns often use this handy tool, but not always, so before beginning a pattern it is a good idea to trace through it and make sure you are clear on the order of steps.
Also, not every ring includes the numbers of double stitches. If an element is repeated, it will often include instructions only once and you will need to extrapolate like elements.
Look at the lines connecting the rings. These are extra thread that gives space between the rings—if these lines had numbers they would be chains, with the numbers indicating double stitches. We’ll look at patterns with chains in another tutorial. Beware: the length of the connecting lines is not an indication of the amount of thread you should leave. In general you will leave the minimum amount that is appropriate to make the pattern.
Give this pattern a try, and let me know in the comments or by email if you have any difficulties. Remember, as it is an edging, you can make it as long or as short as you wish. If you like what you make you can sew it to something. Decorate. Get frilly. Have fun tatting!
We’ve covered a lot in this tutorial, and hopefully you now have a daisy, a butterfly, an edging and the confidence to try some more on your own. What questions do you still have? What isn’t clear? Let me know in the comments or by email and I’ll try to answer every question. Stay tuned for the next lesson when we add a second thread, and a second shuttle to your tatting skill set.
This post continues with Reading Patterns and Making Projects, Part Two.
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