Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lesson Two

Some people have difficulty in turning the simple diagram given in Lesson 1 into lace, yet everyone can tat a row of ring and chain. In case you didn't realize it, that's all that the diagram is, just a representation of a row of ring and chain and everyone who tats, knows how to do that.

So, did you tat a sample from the first lesson? If you want to learn you really have to tat the examples given. Experienced designers build on what they KNOW and what the KNOW comes from tatting. A LOT of tatting. They get a feel for what works from experience and you can gain the same experience from a deliberate series of sample pieces, but you have to actually tat those samples. You can learn a little bit from seeing things, but the FEEL for what works comes from feeling the lace in your hands.

So now that you've tatted your sample, what stitch count did you use? Why did you choose that count? Could you have use something else? Chances are your first instinct was to work with the numbers from a recently tatted piece.

Most people will have used the same stitch count between the picots on the rings and the picots on the chains.

Here are some examples I tatted. In this first example there are 2 stitches between the picots on both the rings and the chains. It looks like the stitch count for the diagram given in Lesson 1 are rings of 2-2-2-2 and chains of 2-2.
(Note: where you see a numbers separated by a dash, the dash represents a picot and the number represents the number of stitches between the picots. So in this example 2-2-2-2   means you start with 2 stitches then a picot followed by 2 stitches and another picot. The whole 2-2-2-2 is a ring with 3 picots. When you see 2+2-2-2,  it tells you the the first picot is a join to the preceding lace.)

But wait a minute, look at this sample, it's rings of 3-3-3-3 and chains of 3-3. 

It looks like this one worked too. As a matter of fact, look at all of these examples. It looks like they all work.

So what's the right answer?

I don't know. You're the designer, what do you think it is??????

The CORRECT answer is whatever YOU, the designer, says it is.

Funny how that works. When you're on the side of the fence where you take a finished design and tat it, you have to follow the instructions if you want to end up with lace that looks like what the designer created. When you're on the side of the fence where you are creating the design, you call the shots and what you say goes.

You can have ring sizes from 3-3-3-3 and a similar range of chain sizes but one thing is consistent, when the ring is larger, so is the connecting chain. Typically if you have rings of 5-5-5-5 the joining chain is 5-5 and if you have rings of 4-4-4-4 the chains are 4-4 because the numbers work. 

If you use  rings and chains like the sample here you will discover that if  you have uniform rings like these, that are 5-5-5-5 then chains of 5-5 work well with them. Although, as you can see on the right, you can use a shorter chain, but the shorter you make it, the less of a curve the lace will have.

Is there a way to figure out the stitch count? In the sample shown above, the rings are 5-5-5-5 and a chain of 5-5 will generally fit together with it nicely. There is a bit of math that can help you to figure out numbers that work. First of all, in this edging the join is at the “waist” or middle of the ring. A waist join is very typical in tatting. Now take a look at the diagram below

You can see that from the base of the ring on the left to the join is 5 (marked in blue) and from the join to the base of the next ring (marked in red) is 5. The total of these 2 numbers is 10 which represents the length of chain required. So if the stitch count on the ring on the left was 4 and the one on the right was 8 the chain length would need to be a total of 12. These are approximate numbers based on lace that is in a straight line.

Using 75% of the total number will give you a chain with very little arc. In the example here the total is 10 and 75% of that is 7.5 so a stitch count of 7 gives the almost straight line shown in the picture. When the lace has to bend around a curve like going around a doily or the arch on a heart, the chains need to be longer. If the curve is inverted the chains can be shorter. Of course, this is based on rings joined at the waist. 

How does it affect the look if you keep the same ring size, but increase the length of your chain? What if you shorten the chain? What would it look like if you made the ring very large and the chain really short? While these are not things you think about when you’re just following a pattern, they can be real eye openers when you look at how they affect the overall appearance of something as simple as a ring and chain edging. 

Take a look at the examples above. In each instance the rings are a  consistent 5-5-5-5 but the chains are different. In the first edging the chains are 5-5 which gives you a straight edging. The slight normal curvature would disappear in a longer sample or if I had bothered to block the lace. In the second sample the chains are 10-10 which gives the lace a definite curve and in fact if you tried to straighten it out, the chains would overlap one another. The last sample  has chains of 2 which totally inverts the curvature of the lace. The last 2 samples both give you curves, but in different directions. 

Rings are what give your design structure. They don’t stretch, they don’t bend, they’re the framework that holds things together. So when you begin a design, you are generally going to begin with a ring. Chains can be bent and pulled into slightly different configurations, rings can’t.

No one told you what ring size to start with when you did your sample, you just picked a number and started. Chances are, the stitch number you chose was probably the same number as the last thing you tatted before you started the exercise. That’s because we tend to work with what is familiar. You can work with whatever stitch count you want, BUT, and here is where things get tricky, whatever size your first ring is, it will determine everything else

By the way, in your typical lace, you don't usually see rings larger than 6-6-6-6. That's just a generalization but rings that large tend to leave you with tatting that's more holes than lace. It doesn't mean that you can't have larger rings and in fact the seashell that I designed which uses itty bitty rings of 1-1 also uses rings of 8-16-8 which is huge. However, in the seashell pattern the rings are graduated so most of the lace uses much smaller rings. It's just something to keep in mind when you design your own works of art.

Virtually all tatting patterns begin with a ring and once that first ring is tatted it will put constraints on the length of the chains and the size of the other rings you use with it, in order for it all to be proportional and harmonious.

You can sit down with a shuttle in hand and just "doodle" to come up with something or you can purposefully set out to create a specific design. This is where you sit down with paper and pencil, or with a drawing program and sketch out something you think might work. The advantage of this approach is that you generally end up with something close to what you were aiming for, and although there is some testing of your design, you usually have fewer trial runs before you end up with a workable design. If you have never designed anything before you can start out with a vague idea, sketch it into something tangible and have a good chance that it will actually resemble something when you are finished.

Remember whatever size your first ring is, it will determine everything else. That’s why having a sketch is a good idea. Let’s say you start your sketch with a certain size oval, but in order to get the effect you want you use another smaller oval later on. For simplicity let’s say the small one is half the size of the larger ring. If you had just started tatting the larger ring without a sketch you might have begun with a ring that was too small to make one half the size. You can make a ring that is 1-1 like the sample we looked at earlier, but it’s so small that it can be hard to close and it will often look misshapen. So if you know ahead of time that you will be using different size rings, it’s not the size of the large ring that determines your stitch count it’s the size of the small one. 

So if you had planned to use a stitch count of 5-5-5-5 (20 total) for the large ring, that would make the smaller ring 2.5 (10 total), between picots which is very awkward, giving you rings that are either 2-3-3-2 (10) or 3-2-2-3 (10). A simple solution is to just change the stitch count of your big ring to a larger 6-6-6-6 (24) or smaller 4-4-4-4 (16) That way the smaller ring can be either half of 24 which is 12 or 3-3-3-3 or half of 16 which is 8 or 2-2-2-2.  It may seem like a lot of arithmetic just to tat lace, but it can help you in the beginning to figure out what you need to work with before you pick up your shuttles.

That brings us to our next exercise. For this one you will need to tat 3 different ring and chain samples. These samples are things that you can keep and refer to when you are doing future designs, so while they aren’t pretty lace, they are pretty useful, so add them to your bag of samples.

For the next samples tat at least 3 ring and chain edgings like you did in the first sample using different numbers of picots. All of the rings and chains should have the same total number of stitches so that it’s a good reference tool One sample should have the bare minimum of picots, like the top diagram. The second should have at least 3 decorative picots like the middle diagram, and the last should have at least 5 decorative picots. Decorative picots are the picots that aren’t used for joining. How many stitches should you use? Where should you place the decorative picots? That’s up to you, you’re the designer. 

All this tatting of little samples may seem like a waste of time, but you will be amazed at how different each of your samples will look. I was teaching a group of ladies to tat and one of them had a hard time understanding that the number of picots in made no difference at all to the size of the ring or the length of a chain. So, during class I tatted a row of ring and chain beginning with minimal picots on the first ring and with each ring and chain I increased them, until on the last one the picots were separated by a single stitch just to show her what I meant. I had intended the exercise for a student, but in the end my own sample was a visual reminder for ME that good use of decorative picots can change the appearance of  even a simple length of ring and chain edging.

As usual, if you have questions or comments you can add them to the comments on the blog. I'm trying to lay things out as simply and succinctly as possible, but if you have questions, other people probably do too and they may need the answers just like you do. The only bad question, is the one you didn't ask.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Lesson One

A new design is something that can happen by accident, or it can be something that is done in a purposeful manner. Anyone who tats can be a tatting designer, although like anything else, some people will be better at it than others. Before you start designing tatting you need to actively know some things about tatting. You already do know some things about tatted lace, but they're probably subconscious and you need to actively think about the lace and how it's constructed to get those bits of information lined up where you can use them.

I'm going to give you some tatting exercises to help get that information stuck in the back of your mind, out where you can use it. You don't have to do the exercises, but if you really want to learn, you'd be stupid not to. I learned some things about tatting and designing by making a lot of mistakes. You get to benefit from my mistakes so you can skip a lot of the cutting it off and trying again, but you only really get a feel for what works, by actually doing it.

Everyone has their favourite size of thread to work with and you can use anything you want, but for the purpose of these exercises I'd suggest size 20 for several reasons. Size 20 thread is large enough that you can easily count your stitches. You might remember what your stitch count was for various elements of the lace, but there will be times when you have to sit and count so make it easy and work with larger thread. If you plan on designing lace, usually it's because you plan to share the pattern with others. A scan of size 20 lace will give crisp clear definition to the stitches in a picture, where finer threads may not show as clearly. Size 10 thread is too fat and squishy, so that changes in your tension can change how many stitches you use. 

I also recommend that you use the same solid colour thread for your exercises. Variegated thread can add dimensions to your lace giving a boring design interest that it doesn't really have. It can also make it harder to pinpoint difficulties with a design, so to begin, play with solid colours. Also different dyes can add thickness to thread and mixing colours even in the same brand of thread can make a difference. For these little samples being consistent with your thread will give you the most benefit.

Tatting generally begins with a ring. So what do you know about a ring? What's the smallest ring you can make? Is it 4 ds? 2ds? 10? 

Give it a try. No, really, pick up a shuttle or needle and tat it. What did you get?

The answer is 2, one stitch on the right and one on the left. Anything smaller that 2 and you can't really close the ring, you just have a stitch and a bare thread where the ring doesn't close. You're not likely to ever see a ring with only 2 stitches unless you work on my seashell pattern, which is the only place I've ever seen a ring that small.

So if the smallest ring you can tat is 2 ds, then what is the largest ring? Know how to find out? That's right. TAT IT.

So, what did you get?

Here's my smallest ring on the top. No not the loop on the right, that's a picot. See that little blob at the base of the picot? That's it. 2 stitches. That big circle on the bottom is a ring of 100 stitches with a picot every 5 stitches. I could have made it bigger, but it got rather boring tatting it, and really, where would you ever use a ring that big? 

Here is my seashell design that pattern for which is on my web site. (See the link in the side bar) See how the rings get smaller in size as they go down and the itsy bitsy 2 ds rings are at the bottom where the joins are done between half stitches because the rings are so small.
Just so your know, I use my own designs here, not because they are the best examples, but because they're mine and I own the copyright. I also use my designs so that I can criticize them without hurting anyone else's feelings.

OK. So now that we know how small a ring can be and how big a ring can be, what kind of stitch count do you think you need for a simple edging like this?

There's only one way to find out. TAT IT. You don't need to tat a lot of lace, just 5 or 6 rings and chains to give a realistic idea of what it looks like.

Keep all of your little samples in a small plastic bag because you'll want to refer back to them again later.

There will be a new lesson every few weeks and if you have questions or comments, please post them in the comments and I'll address them in the next lesson.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Inside out Designing

A good way to get some insight into making your own designs is to look at what other people have done before. Take a look at this pattern called Anemone which is on the cover of the Dover publication Tatting Doilies and Edgings edited by Rita Weiss.

This doily obviously has some good negative space, but that's only one thing that makes this an interesting doily. What are the other features being used here to create this design? How do you think the designer was able to create a doily the perfect size to fit the surrounding motifs?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Here are pictures of 2 doilies, one from an older publication and one from a newer magazine.

What do you think of them?

Are they interesting designs?

What kind of details do they have?

What would you do differently?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

When ring size counts

Many of the designs we tat could be done with different size rings. In fact people have often viewed a piece of lace, and not having the pattern they have worked out an approximation to make the same design. At some time later they come across the original pattern and note that although the original and their copy don't use the same stitch count, they both work. Sometimes though, the ring size is integral to the design like the tatted sea shell below.
See the itty bitty rings? They're as small as you can go and still be able to call it a ring and do joins into it. Does the shell look flat? It isn't. It's curved just a bit like a real shell and although it was made years ago, it still hasn't flattened out, it retains it's 3D shape. The graduated ring size used in the design gives the shell it's shape.

Edited to add. The shell pattern is from the Tatted Lace Pattern Collection newsletter and is no longer available.