This post will be a hybrid pattern and tutorial designed to teach the basics of needle tatting. The pattern is for a decorative headband made of embroidery floss. If you are not a headbands kind of person, you can make a bookmark or similar instead. If you are a shuttle tatter not interested in needle tatting, the pattern should still work for you.
Difficulty: this post is designed to be the very basic level of tatting, but tatting is in my opinion somewhat inherently difficult to get the hang of (although very easy once you have). If you are a fiber crafter already who knows crochet or knitting or sewing or something similar, you should be fine; if you were ever any good at making those friendship bracelets that many camps teach, you will be fine; if you are just starting to dabble in fiber arts, you may want to start with something easier–crochet is, in my opinion, a great place to start.
You will need:
- 4 skeins of embroidery floss (2 would be plenty for a bookmark). Embroidery floss is very low-investment and comes in a huge range of colors; as you embark on larger projects you may prefer to use crochet threads, which come in a range of sizes, colors, and fiber contents. All four skeins of floss will show in your headband (see the four shades of blue above), so pick colors that go well together.
- 4 embroidery floss cards/spools/bobbins. These often come with variety packs of floss; if you don’t have any, you can use empty thread spools or bobbins, or make your own out of cardstock–cut out a 1″x2″ or so square, and cut slits in one end that will grip the floss. The goal is just to have the unused floss neatly wound out of the way.
- Tatting needles, sizes #5 and #3 (the #3 is not needed for a bookmark). I recommend getting a variety pack from your favorite craft store, or look for a pack like this online.
- If you have a small (size E or smaller) crochet hook, you may want to have it handy, but it is not required.
- If you have tiny hair clips, alligator clips, or something similar that is 3/8″ to 1/2″ wide, this may help, but you don’t need it.
- Decide what order you want your skeins of floss in; number them from 1 towards the front of your head to 4 towards the back.
- Take skeins 1 and 2 and unravel them–do this on a large flat surface so you don’t end up hopelessly tangled. Find the midpoints of both skeins and tie them together, doing your best to place the knot at the midpoint. I use a single overhand knot, holding both threads together.
- Wind both threads on one side of the knot onto a spool. On the other side of the knot, wind floss 1 onto another spool, starting from the end and winding towards the knot. Thread floss 2 onto your #5 needle and pull through a long tail–it’s easiest to manage the thread if the tail is almost half of the thread. In common tatting parlance, floss 1 is now your “ball thread” or “spool thread” and floss 2 is your “needle thread” or “working thread”.
Some basic theory/overview on tatting: At the large scale, almost all tatting patterns are composed of “rings” and “chains”, with some additional design elements like cluny leaves, Josephine knots, etc. at higher levels. Rings and chains are exactly what it says on the tin: rings are circle-ish shapes, where the thread enters and exits at the same point on the ring, and chains are lines/arcs that move the thread from point to point. So, virtually any design that you can draw on a piece of paper, without picking up your pen, and without crossing too many times (okay to make loops, not okay to make nested loops), you can make in tatting.
Tatted rings and chains are composed of repetitions of just one simple stitch, the double stitch or “ds”, which wraps one thread around another core thread. Some decoration and structure can be added using picots and joins; picots are simply loops of thread that poke out from the row of stitches, and joins let you attach a ring or chain to a picot that you made earlier. I use picots almost exclusively for joining, but there are lots of beautiful patterns available using picots of difference lengths or with beads attached for decoration. One goal to strive for when learning tatting is to make all your picots the same size; this takes a lot of practice (or using gauge tools).
Steps: First ring
- Hold your needle in your right hand. Hold the knot against the side of the needle with one finger, just to keep track of it. Hold your working thread in your left hand, about 6″ from the knot, with the knot end held between your thumb and middle finger and the trailing end (towards the needle) running through your pinky finger; keep your first finger free.
- Bring your first finger behind the working thread between your hand and the knot and up, bending the working thread(see photos). Bring the needle in front of the front strand of the thread, under it, and up between the two halves of the working thread. Slide your finger out of the working thread and pull with your left hand to slide the stitch just formed down the needle until it reaches the knot; pull snug. This should form a half-hitch, with the working thread caught behind a loop of thread that goes over the needle. This is your first single stitch. Hold it in place with the first finger of your right hand against the needle.
- Reverse the process: bring your first finger from in front of the working thread and bend it backwards. Bring the needle behind the back strand of the working thread, under, and up between the two halves of the thread. Remove your finger and pull the second stitch down snug against the first one. In knot terminology, this is a second half-hitch with the opposite handedness of the first one, making what you’ve made so far a cow hitch around the needle. In tatting terms, this is a double stitch, or “ds” in pattern shorthand.
Repeat steps 2 and 3 seven more times each, for a total of 8 ds on the needle (total of 16 single stitches).
- Time for your first picot–a picot, on the needle, is just a gap between stitches. Make your first single stitch, as in step 2, but don’t pull it snug against the previous stitch; use the first finger of your right hand to enforce a space of 3/8″ to 1/2″ between the two stitches. If you have a 3/8″ hair clip or similar, you can use it to enforce the gap, sliding it onto the needle before making the stitch and holding it teeth-side down (see photo) and then pulling the stitch snug against it. Leave it in place until you’ve made a couple more stitches to lock the picot in place, but make sure you can remove it by unclipping, i.e. without sliding any stitches off the needle.
- Finish the ds by making a single stitch as in step 3, then make 7 more ds.
Gripping the last few stitches you made in your left hand, slide the new 8ds along the needle until they are next tothe first 8ds; the thread making the picot should fold up into a loop that sticks out from the stitches.
- Continue to slide all the stitches along the needle towards the eye, being careful to keep all the stitches together. Gently slide the stitches off the needle onto the needle thread and pull the needle thread through until it naturally pulls the stitches into a loop with the picot and the bumpy parts of the stitches on the outside. Keep other threads, such asthe ball thread and the needle thread that you’ve already pulled through, out of the way in front of the closing loop.
- You have now made your first tatted ring. Because there are 8 double stitches on each side of a picot, this would be noted in a pattern as: “Ring: 8ds, picot, 8ds”, or “Ring 8-8” or “R8p8” depending on how terse the notation is.
Steps: Finish the motif
Turn the work so that the ring you just made is pointing up and the ball thread is pointing down, and again hold the starting knot against the needle with your right hand. Hold the ball thread in your left hand like you held the working thread before.
- With the ball thread, make 16 double stitches all in a row.
- Slide these stitches onto the needle thread and pull it through; this time it won’t close into a ring, but it will form a natural curve with the bumpy side of the stitches on the outside. This is your first chain, and would be noted in a pattern as “Chain: 16ds” or “Chain 16” or “C16”.
- Turn the work again so the ring is pointing down; hold the end of the chain you just made against the needle such that the ball thread is above the working thread, and hold the working thread in your left hand as for the previous ring.
- Make 8 double stitches.
Time to join the rings together: pull the first ring down and around so that the picot is just at the tip of the needle, and slide the stitches you’ve made forward on the needle so there’s only about 1/4″ of the tip of the needle before the stitches.
- Hold the working thread in front of the first ring. Pass the tip of the needle through the picot from back to front, right to left. Make a first single stitch and pull it snug against the previous stitches, with the picot still on the needle. With your fingernails or a small crochet hook, pull the picot up and over the stitch you just made and off the needle, without removing the stitch. This is way tricky to get the hang of; slide the stitches closer or farther from the needle tip as needed to make it easier. If you are having too much difficulty making joins, use a small crochet hook to pull a loop of thread through the picot, from front to back, and form this loop onto a stitch on the needle, instead of the whole inserting the needle through the picot procedure.
- Make the second single stitch and then another 7 double stitches, for a total of 16 ds on the needle, half of one of which is involved in the join.
- Slide the stitches onto the needle thread as before and pull into a ring. This is a “Ring: 8ds, join (to picot of previous ring), 8ds” or “R8j8”. The two rings should be the same size, and firmly connected at their centers via the picot/join.
Steps: Shrinking motifs
- Repeat all the steps above, but removing one ds from each group of 8. In other words, Ring: 7ds, picot, 7ds. Chain 14ds. Ring 7ds, join, 7ds. Call this a “7-motif”, where the first ring-chain-ring motif you did was an “8-motif”.
- Make another 7-motif: Ring 7ds, picot, 7ds; chain 14ds; ring 7ds, join, 7ds.
- Make two 6-motifs: (Ring 6ds, picot, 6ds; chain 12ds; ring 6ds, join, 6ds)*2.
- Make two 5-motifs: (Ring 5ds, picot, 5ds; chain 10ds; ring 5ds, join, 5ds)*2.
- Make two 4-motifs, or as many as you have thread for, leaving at least 8″ of floss 2 for the tie.
- Chain 6ds, and leave the loose ends hanging for now.
If you want to make a bookmark, go back to the starting knot and thread floss 2 on your needle. Chain 16ds with floss 1, pull tight, and make another knot if you like for symmetry. Skip to step 3 below, using floss 1 for floss 4 and floss 2 for floss 3, and after step 6 below tie all four thread ends together, trim the loose threads and you are done!
Steps: The rest of the lace
- Repeat all above steps on the other side of the starting knot: with floss 2 threaded on the needle and floss 1 on the spool, make one 8-motif, two 7-motifs, two 6-motifs, two 5-motifs, and two 4-motifs (or as many as you made on the other side), and finishing with a chain of 6ds.
- Unwind floss 3 and 4 and set up as you did to start; floss 4 will be your ball thread and floss 3 will be your working thread.
- With your working thread, start a ring with 8ds. Lining up the finished (floss 1&2) piece and the new work such that the knots are parallel, join this ring into the picot of an 8-motif (one that you have already used to join). You may wish to use your needle or crochet hook to make the picot more accessible–simply insert the needle into the picot, and pull the outer side of the picot out away from the motif, sliding the ring that’s already joined there up against the other one. Be careful not to twist things–when you have made the join it should lie flat. Finish the ring with 8ds, pull off the needle and tighten.
- Chain 15ds and ring 8ds, join into the same picot you just joined into, 8ds to finish a modified 8-motif joined to the other piece. Note that the chain is one ds shorter than it was on the other side; this is on purpose to accommodate the shape of the head. If you are making a bookmark, chain 16ds instead, and make all your motifs with the same number of stitches as before.
- Continue with two modified 7-motifs, joined to the 7-motifs in the first piece: (ring 7ds, join, 7ds; chain 13ds; ring 7ds, join, 7ds) twice.
- Continue with two modified 6-motifs, two modified 5-motifs, and two modified 4-motifs (or as many as you made before). The chains should be 11ds, 9ds, and 7ds respectively. Finish with a chain of 6ds.
- Repeat with floss 3&4 on the other side of the knot.
Steps: Finishing the headband with a tie end
- On one end of the headband, tie the ends of floss 2 and 3 together–a square knot is good. Get out your #3 needle and thread both ends together onto the needle.
- Working with both floss 1 and floss 4 as ball thread, alternate 1ds of floss 1 with 1ds of floss 4, rolling the needle 180 degrees between colors. You want the floss 1 bumpy part of the stitch to be across the needle from the floss 4 bumpy part, but be careful not to wrap the floss around the needle between stitches–roll the needle back and forth, not around and around and around. This is a little tricky to get the hang of; the goal is a flat band that doesn’t curve because it has an equal number of stitches on either side of the needle. It will have a zigzag pattern, with a raised ridge of floss 1 on one side and a raised ridge of floss 4 on the other.
- Continue with this alternating stitch until you are out of either floss 1 or 4, sliding the stitches gradually down the needle (and off it onto threads 2&3 as necessary) as you go. Pull the needle the rest of the way through, pull the stitches snug but not really tight, and hold all four threads together and tie an overhand knot in them. Trim the ends.
- Repeat on the other side of the headband.
Wear as a headband by tying around your head, with the starting knots centered up top. One downside of the embroidery floss is it’s pretty slick, so you may need to hold it in place with bobby pins.
If you have followed along through this whole post, you have everything you need to go forth and tat most patterns. If anything is baffling, please let me know in the comments and I will do my best to correct it.