Saturday, July 14, 2007

Needle Tatting or Shuttle Tatting

One of the most frequently asked questions is, 'What is the difference between needle tatting and shuttle tatting.' I suppose the best answer is 'Everything and nothing' .

When the needle tatted piece is tatted very tightly on a fine needle, the end results look the same as a shuttle tatted piece which is worked in a somewhat loose manner, so that there is no apparent difference. The process of how the pieces are made is totally different and therefore the finished pieces may look the same, but they aren't usually.

With needle tatting the stitches are formed on a needle, similar to the way you 'cast on' stitches in knitting, doing knit one, purl one and then the threaded needle is pulled through the stitches. The finished lace however is only as fine as the needle you are using to make it. The typical method for doing this creates a "mock" ring. You can make a true ring, but most instructions you will see create a mock ring.

Mock rings are just chains formed in a loop and joined at the base. They are not as stable as true rings so they can lose shape after they've been washed a few times. If the work gets cut or torn the whole thing can unravel, so to stabilize it (make it keep it's shape) and prevent it from unravelling you have to tie a knot after every ring.

Needle tatting can be done making true rings which produces a sturdier lace that won't unravel if it gets cut. Remember that the thread has to be drawn through the stitches that are formed on the needle, so one of the drawbacks is that the thread can become worn from the friction of pulling it through the stitches and there is just so much thread that you can manage on a needle. Shorter lengths of thread are easier to handle, but result in more ends to hide.

Needle tatting is easier to learn, but the finished product is typically looser, floppier and more padded looking than the same piece shuttle tatted. The needle you work with has to have a big enough hole in it to put the thread through, but a big hole also means a fatter needle. Since the stitches are formed on the needle a fat needle makes fat stitches. Fat stitches aren't as tight or crisp looking as stitches formed directly on the thread.

Some designs can only be done with a needle because the design requires being able to get the thread into places where a shuttle won't fit. Stringing beads on a needle is certainly faster, so for making jewellery, people often choose to use a needle.

In shuttle tatting the stitches are formed directly on the thread so the work is as fine as the thread you are using and the finished piece generally looks crisper than a piece done with a needle. As mentioned a project which has been shuttle tatted loosely and one which has been needle tatted very tightly, will look the same. Rings are true rings that don't need anything to hold them in place. If shuttle tatting gets cut or torn it will only unravel back to the last whole ring. The thread you use is held on the shuttle and wrapped around the left hand then the shuttle is manoeuvred around the thread on your hand to form the stitch and by switching the tension between the right hand holding the shuttle and the left hand, the stitch is flipped or transferred to the thread on the left hand.

Co-ordinating both hands simultaneously to get the stitch to flip takes a bit of practice. So shuttle tatting is harder to learn, but the results are worth the effort. Using the same thread the needle tatted article will generally look puffier and more padded. Both finished items will look quite similar and the untrained eye would not see any difference.

Which method you use depends on your preference. People who do both use the method most appropriate for the project. You couldn't shuttle tat with yarn very well, but you could needle tat with it. Then again, with the size of holes you'd have in the rings a project made with yarn wouldn't be very warm ;-) People with arthritis who have a hard time flexing their fingers, find needle tatting easier on their joints. The same is true for any kind of hand/wrist/arm injuries. There is a place for both types and it's mostly just a matter of preference.


yarnplayer said...

An excellent and honest description of both types of tatting methods. A lady I know does needle tatting, enjoys it, and makes some nice things but they are as you said, "puffy looking".
I do a lot of tatted jewelry with beads but I always use shuttle tatting. It's what I enjoy. So, to each their own, or something like that.

***Jon**** said...

Great explanation Sharon. I have not done any needle tatting but I can understand what you are saying. I would like to try needle tatting someday, i.e. when I can get hold of some needles, just to experience the difference. Also, if someone asks me about it I can explain it better.

Anonymous said...

I needle tat and can tell you that it looks exactly the same as shuttle tatting. One point I would like to make is that there are special "needles" for needle tatting. The size of needle you use depends on the size of the thread you are using. You use the diameter of needle that is as close to the thickness of the thread you are using. So that when you make the stitches on the needle and then push them off the needle onto the thread, the stitches are not loose at all - they are the right size for the diameter of the thread. You can't use a regular sewing needle to tat - it must be a special "tatting needle". The eye of the needle is no bigger than the shaft of the needle (so that you can slide the stitches over it and onto the base thread). Great blog! Thanks!

玉芳 said...

Dear Sharon
Thank you for your advice! Huggs from a beginner. :) xxx

columbinebeader said...

Sharon, you are absolutely correct re the differences. I do both and when doing needle tatting (with actual tatting needles - not sewing needles) I do see the difference in the finished product even when using a finer are correct, you have to tie the knot or else it will unravel or will at least become looser once it is taken off the needle. A way to get around this would be to keep it pulled tight after taking it off the needle and then immediately start another chain or ring against the end...but, again, you are correct, should it ever be cut or the thread ever break in the future, it will all come unraveled up to any knots. Even when using a finer sized tatting needle, it still is a little less crisp looking compared to shuttle tatting :)

Chalia Jones said...

So are all tatted pattern books compatible for user groups either a needle or shuttle?

Lucien Alta said...

Sharon, I am 77 and have never tatted. I am a newbie great grandmother twice and am thinking number three won't be long in coming. I found a pattern for tatted baby booties I love (almost impossible to find a vintage pattern). I am not sure what size needle/thread to use. Would this be too hard a project to start with or do you have a suggestion on where to start? Thanks in advance, Lucie.