Personal fashion is that right blend of unique personality and social convention. You want to stand out and blend in, and you want to do it with grace—and affordably. A few weeks ago, I came across the perfect accessory: tatted jewelry. Without a second thought, I ordered a set of earrings shaped like tiny pink roses with green leaves, made from fine thread and the finest beads. I have never seen such unique, delicate, outstandingly pretty jewelry. I was amazed to find that people still tat. When I was a child, I had seen someone tat, but I had never known anyone since then who actually tatted doilies or lace. I began reading about tatting and asking questions of the talented artist who made my earrings.
Elizabeth Zipay has been designing and making tatted jewelry for eighteen years, since her grandmother taught her to tat. Although she had learned many other crafts, tatting caught her full attention because it is a dying art, and yet it is not difficult to learn and its products are simply beautiful. It’s portable, too. I used to carry knitting with me, but I have to admit it required a large bag and a certain amount of fuss. Tatting can fit into a Ziploc baggie in your purse. Most tatters carry the thread wound on a shuttle; its pointed ends have openings to allow the thread to slip out as needed. The lace may use one or two shuttles (each a few inches long), and there is no other equipment.
Tatted lace, like macramé, is made from a series of knots along a thread. The art lies in arranging the types of knots and loops of thread so that it forms rings, arches, and tiny “picot” loops like dew drops. Pieces can be small and simple, like the earrings, or large and complicated. Tatting was developed in the 19th century, perhaps as an offshoot of the sailors’ art of knot-tying. It quickly caught on with Victorians who needed lace to line their handkerchiefs, sleeves, and baby bonnets. In the century between the Civil War and World War II, American ladies turned out miles of tatted lace. Mass-market patterns in the 20s and 30s often featured tatted doilies and edgings. But as machine-production replaced all kinds of handmade lace, tatting lost its popularity. Although many girls still learned to crochet and knit, few learned to tat, and the art appeared to be dying. Enter the internet. Tatters like Elizabeth, taught by their grandmothers, created networks to share photos and patterns, and discuss how to improve the craft. You can find videos showing basic tatting technique on YouTube, and there are blogs that outline beginning lessons.
Elizabeth’s skill and speed allow her to make the simplest earrings in under an hour, while longer pieces like necklaces or cameos take days. The patterns are adapted from antique magazines, and she also designs her own images using the basic tatting figures. She has designed a butterfly and hummingbird, for example. My rose earrings could be matched with a large rose pendant or an entire necklace in which the chain, too, is tatted.
I am itching to try out a few simple tatting moves, since it’s one of the few thread-crafts I’ve never learned. But for now, I am going to enjoy dressing up even the plainest outfits with earrings that always seem special. If you want to see more of Elizabeth’s work, you can check out her 1000 Markets listing or her own website.