Prior to the industrialization of clothing manufacture, people had to rely on ingenuity and hard work to embellish their clothing. Needlework in its various forms developed as a way to create both functional and decorative clothing items. Today, needlework is considered a hobby, craft or pastime that is engaged in for leisure or enjoyment. Needle tatting is a purely decorative form of needlework used to create intricate bits of lace trim and appliqués by hand.
Tatting involves making designs out of thread and uses one of two tools: a needle or a shuttle. Both needle tatting and shuttle tatting techniques utilize the same knots and joining methods; only the tool differs. A tatting needle resembles a regular sewing needle but is longer. Some tatting needles have a hook on the end in order to grab thread or join pieces of individual tatting together.
Tatting is used to form decorative edgings on pillowcases, garments and apparel, handkerchiefs and other housewares. Needle tatting can also be used to form standalone decorative objects such as holiday ornaments, bookmarks or doilies. Some tatters engage in the craft simply for the enjoyment of making something with their hands while others are more focused on the finished object and derive enjoyment from the product rather than the process.
Tatting can be performed with any thread, yarn or cord although most tatters prefer tatting thread. Traditional tatting threads were available in shades of white or off-white but modern needle tatters can work in all the colors of the rainbow. Cotton thread is the most popular choice available, although polyester, nylon and blended threads are also available to needleworkers. A needle and thread are the only necessary tatting supplies, although a variety of extras are available to those involved in the hobby. Pattern books, thread organizers, needle sizers and tools to make the craft easier and more enjoyable are available from many tatting supply companies and needlework stores.
The designs produced in needle tatting range from basic to incredibly intricate. Regardless of the intricacy, tatting utilizes only one knot: the lark's head knot. All of the stitches used in this form of needlework are derived from that knot. This knot is referred to as a double stitch in the tatting lexicon. A single stitch is half of a double stitch. Chain stitching links pieces of tatting together and picot stitching forms a decorative edge on the tatting work.