I taught myself to shuttle tat in 1986. I was determined and stubborn, and I wanted to learn immediately. So much so, that I didn’t go shopping for a good thread to learn with, I pulled out some buttonhole thread and just sat down to do it. It took me an hour to get the “flip”. I got frustrated, but I did it!
You can learn to shuttle tat, too, but I suggest you don’t use buttonhole thread to do it. A size 10 variegated thread, if you can find it, is good to use. The thread makes bigger and more visible stitches, and the differences in color make the stitches show up even further. You can use two different colors of thread if you can’t find variegated thread.
Any tatting shuttle will do, but my favorites are Clover shuttles and Aerlit shuttles because they fit so neatly into your hand and they’re easy to grasp. You can find them in the Be-stitched tatting store.
You will need:
1 tatting shuttle
Lesson 1: The Double-Stitch
Wind the shuttle
Thread the thread through the hole in the shuttle’s post and tie a knot. Hold the shuttle so you can see the post, and wind the thread onto it until it’s full. Don’t over-fill the shuttle since this can spread the points. Winding shuttles can be tedious and time-consuming. Fortunately, there are shuttle winders available that make quick work of it.
Thread the hand
I will describe here how I hold my tatting thread. This is a little unconventional because I grasp the thread with my middle finger instead of with my first finger. I crocheted before I tatted, and I found this grip more comfortable than the usual tatting grip. You can do it either way and still learn from these instructions.
The “shuttle thread” is the thread coming from the shuttle to your left hand (If you’re right-handed. If you’re left-handed, it will be your right hand.)
The “working thread” is the thread coming from your thumb over your hand.
Cross the shuttle thread and the working thread perpendicular to each other and grip it between your thumb and your middle finger. Pass the working thread over your left hand, starting over your index finger and going to your pinkie finger. Wrap it around your pinkie finger until it’s secure enough that you can get some tension in the thread.
How to hold the shuttle
Grasp the shuttle so that the point of it points toward the tip of your fingers and the thread exits the shuttle toward your pinkie. Hold it lightly between your fingers.
First half of double stitch
Roll your right hand toward you so that the thread exits on the side of your hand away from you, then passes over your hand. Pull the working thread taught by raising your index finger on your left hand. Pass the shuttle under the working thread, letting the thread slip between the shuttle and your fingers. Then pass the shuttle over the working thread, letting the thread slip between the shuttle and your thumb. Relax your first finger of your left hand enough to let the working thread go slack. Pull the shuttle thread taut. When you do this, the loop in the thread will “flip” from the shuttle thread to the working thread. Keep the shuttle thread taut while you raise the finger on the left hand to pull the working thread taut. The knot will move toward your thumb and middle finger and tighten. Once it’s snug on the shuttle thread, grab onto it with the thumb and middle finger.
Second half of double stitch
This time, without rolling your hand, pass the shuttle over the working thread, letting the thread slip between the shuttle and your thumb. Pass the shuttle under the working thread, letting the thread slip between the shuttle and your fingers. Then repeat the motions as for the first half of the double stitch to tighten the knot.
When you are done, you should be able to slide the knot along the shuttle thread. If not, you probably didn’t get the thread to “flip”. This is the hardest part of tatting, and can be very frustrating to learn. It seems to be one of those things that is confusing at first, until the “light goes on”, so to speak.
If you didn’t get it the first time, keep trying until you do! You can do it! Once you get it, keep practicing it until you’re fairly comfortable with it. Then you can move on to Lesson 2: Chains, Rings, Picots, and Joins.