Friday, October 23, 2015

Lesson Three

Have you done your samples? You should. One of the questions that new designers ask most often is, "How do I know how many stitches to use?" If you tat these samples you will have a collection of little bits all in the same thread size with different stitch counts. You can take these little bits of known stitch counts and arrange them in different configurations to actually see what they might look like worked into your design. Voilá! No guessing. You KNOW what you need. Now isn't that simple?

An experienced designer will have done a lot of tatting so they have a pretty good idea of what they need just because they will have tatted a lot of projects and they know what the projects looked like when they were finished. As a novice designer you may not have as many finished projects to refer to, but with these small samples you'll have your own repertoire. See why it's important to tat your samples?

I've structured the lesson so that each one builds on what you've already done so let's look at the last lesson where you were instructed to tat another series of edgings with different numbers of picots.

Here's a sample with 1 decorative picot and it looks like you would expect it to look. In fact it looks more or less like the samples from the first lesson. The side picots of the rings are used for joining and all that shows is the picot at the top of the ring and the one at the bottom of the chain. It has nice clean lines that have clear definition without anything to distract from the shape of the lace.

Now here's one with 3 decorative picots on the rings and chains. It's not a whole lot different from the the first edging but the extra picots give the design more interest and the sharp clean lines are a little softened by the presence of the picots.

This next edging also has 3 decorative picots on the rings and chains but the decorative picots are grouped together on the rings instead of spread out evenly, and the middle picot is taller. In all 3 examples the total stitch count is the same, 20 on the rings and 10 on the chains, so structurally they are the same, but the appearance is different.

Let's look at what you get with 5 decorative picots. The first sample has 5 decorative picots on the rings and 1 on the chain so the chain has clean lines but the rings are surrounded with a froth of picots that make the rings look fuller and bigger.

When there are 5 decorative picots on the rings and the chains, both are visually thicker lines of lace and the picots give the lace more depth and more weight.

In a larger project with several rows of lace, using fewer picots on the chains that separate the rows can give you an interesting contrast. Or you could use fewer picots on the rings and more on the chains depending on what you want the viewer's eye drawn to.

There are 9 decorative picots on the rings and chains of this sample. Compare it to the first sample and look how much fuller it looks. Imagine a piece of lace with rows of minimal picots and then add a row like this. It will draw the eye and make you sit up and take notice.

All of these samples use the same stitch count of 20 stitches on the rings and 10 on the chains, but they are all different. Notice that they're all the same size. Adding or removing decorative picots doesn't change the structural size of the lace, it just changes it's appearance.

Did you notice that our examples called for 1, 3 and 5 decorative picots which are all odd numbers? That wasn't an accident. You'll notice in most designs things are almost always grouped in odd numbers because odd numbers are more visually appealing. Just imagine the edging with 2 decorative picots. The 2 picots on the rings would look like horns on a bull without the face in between, incomplete and lacking.

To recap, take a look at this strip of tatting which uses an assortment of picots and clearly illustrates the different appearance to the lace based solely on the number of picots used. It begins with minimal picots and increasing until both rings and chains are filled with picots, and ends with alternate size picots for decoration. I used a single decorative picot on the ring and on the following chain between the variations.

Notice that at the beginning, on the left, the rings and chains have clean sleek out lines so that the tatting really stands out. The next section has 3 equally spaced decorative picots, in addition to the joining picots on the rings and on the following chains. The lines of the rings and chains are still evident, but they are softened by the picots which tends to blur the lines somewhat. The next section with 5 decorative picots on the rings and 3 on the chains has softened the outline even more. The following section has a picot after every stitch. You can barely see the tatting for the picots and the outline has become much thicker looking. The rings are the same size as those at the beginning of the edging but they have much more visual impact. The final section  has 3 decorative picots on the rings just like the second section, but these are altogether and graduated in size which makes the ring appear to have a pointed tip.

Minimal picots give you clean lines of lace that make a bold statement. Lots of picots give you a light airy effect. Staggered length of picots can help define a shape, or make whiskers on a critter.  In a design comprised of several rows of lace like this doily, alternating rows of tatting with minimal picots and rows with maximum picots creates variety in the design. Lots of picots can also make the row of tatting seem thicker and stand out more.

So while you are thinking about what size ring you want to use, you also have to keep in mind how many picots you will use and where you want to place them. Will you spread them out or group them together? Will you make your picots all the same size or graduate them. You can use graduated picots to fill out a design like the wings on an angel or hummingbird.

See this little 5 stitch butterfly? The one on the left has same size picots while the one on the right has 2 large picots and 2 small picots. The variation in the picot size gives more of a suggestion of a butterfly. It's a tiny variation, but it makes a huge difference.

Even if you don't care for doilies, they can give you a lot of things to think about as far as designing is concerned, so they're good research material. Look at the tatting designs that you like and look at the use of decorative picots. Do you like designs with lots of picots? Do you prefer the tailored look of minimal picots? Or maybe you like something in between. What makes a design appeal to you?

Do you like something for it's -DESIGN- or are you just attracted to the colour it's done in? I like using white for designs because if it works in plain old white, any colour added to it, is just going to make it that much better. You might find that the design that you simply loved in the picture didn't look that great done in different colours. As a designer you have to start looking at things with a critical eye. Do I love this piece I'm creating because I love the colours I'm using, or do I love it because my DESIGN is beautiful. As a designer you have to mentally strip away things like colour and focus on structure.

Now that we have looked at what picots do to your tatting, the next exercise looks at where you join in a ring and how it affects the overall shape of the lace. In the drawing I have only shown one ring with 7 picots and 2 of the picots are red. Tat 3 more edgings with joins where the red picots are marked. For the first one, the join is at the waist (in the middle) exactly like your first sample. Note: You don’t need to keep re-tatting the first sample and you don’t need to tat all 7 picots, they are just on the drawing for reference points. In the second one, the join is above the waist and on the last one, the join is below the waist. You can make the chains however you want with as many or as few picots as you want.

As always, if you have questions you can ask them in the comments and I will answer them.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thinking about designing

When I do this class online one part is lessons and one part is discussion. It's very difficult to have a discussion as part of a blog, but the discussion is mostly to get you thinking about what you tat in different ways.

Before I asked the question how small a ring can you tat, you'd probably never had reason to think about that before. Before you actually tried to make a ring as small as possible, you probably had an idea of how big the ring would be. If you are an experienced tatter you would have come closer to the right answer than a novice tatter. That's what experience does. It gives you a greater sampling of projects to work out your answers from. Even when you have the experience, sometimes actually sitting down and tatting gives you some surprises.

Some of what this course does is make you THINK. If you want to learn to design, it's not usually just a whim. Most people who want to design have a specific purpose in mind. When I began designing, I wanted some lace for the neckline of a dress. It was a plain round neck and it needed something to make a statement. At the time, pre-internet, I had few books and none of them had anything like what I wanted.

I started looking at edgings and most of them weren't wide enough for what I imagined. In retrospect, I was probably looking for a collar, but my tatting experience wasn't up to tackling a collar. I finally selected the widest pattern edging I had from the Dover publication, Tatting Doilies & Edgings edited by Rita Weiss Figure #3 which you can see here:

With the straight edge along the neck, I ended up with an edging of points which wasn't what I wanted. So I tatted a row of ring and chain around the points and a cloverleaf in between the pattern repeats which gave me a nice scalloped edge. The skinny little chain along the bottom wasn't going to leave me much to attach to the neckline, so I followed the profile with a border of cloverleaves, small ring, large ring, small ring to finish it off and added a couple of rows of crochet to give a nice straight edge for sewing it to the dress, which you can see in the picture below.

If it looks a little rumpled it's because it's old and has been through dozens of washings while still on the dress. It isn't great, but it isn't horrible either. Can you see the original edging? For perspective, the original edging was about 1.75 inches deep and the final collar is about 3 inches deep at it's widest point.

Did I consider myself a designer when I tatted this? No, no way, not even close. It did give me the experience of making something without a pattern. It let me start with something I knew would work, the original edging, then I could add on to it to get the kind of lace I wanted.

You have your own reasons for wanting to design. It might be that you have an idea you want to turn into lace. It might be that like me, you want lace that fits an idea you have in your head, but you don't see any pattern for it already made. Maybe you just want to challenge yourself to see it you can make your own original piece of lace.

One of the first questions I usually ask is, what's your problem with designing. What is it that keeps you from just sitting down and creating lace? Most of the time that question gets one of two answers. The first one is, I don't know what stitch count to use. The second one is, I don't know where to start. By the time you finish this course, both of those issues will no longer be a problem.

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.