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Dr. Cantwell's How to Tat

Dr. Cantwell's Basic Instructions for Tatting.

Recently a vintage publication was brought to my attention by Barbara Grainger of the Online Tatting Class. This publication by Dr. George H. Cantwell, M.D. appeared in 1914 published by Crawford and Company Philadelphia, PA. It has an incredibly long title: "Dr. Cantwell's...Practical.. Receipt Book, Medical, Household, Mechanical Manufacturers and Farmer's Receipts of all things of Every-Day-Life, "You ask and I'll Tell," embracing Every one his Own Doctor--Every [sic] on his Own Surgeon--Every one his Own Druggist--Every one his Own Lawyer--Every one his Own Cook--Household Management--The Art of Carving--The Art of Dress-making--The Art of Fancy Needle and Wax Flower Work--Etiquette--Toilet--Home Amusements--Parlor and Out-Door Games--Diseases and Remedies of the Horse, Cattle, Sheep, Swine and Poultry--Foundry and Machine Shop Receipts--Valuable Mechanical Receipts for the Work Shop--Tanners and Curriers' Department and Manufacturers Recipes." The tatting section begins on page 436.

It is full of intriguing statements. The patterns not only used a tatting shuttle is but also employed a needle with thread to make stitches. First half stitch and second half stitch may not conform to today's usage. Double stitches, picots and joins are followed by buttonhole stitches on the "bar." This bar may indicate an attempt at making a chain. Faux chains, split chains and split rings may possibly be intended. All the actual patterns given are primitive compared to the other tatting being produced at the same time. (See the many tatting books published prior to 1914 on this list of free downloads for comparison. http://www.bellaonline.com/subjects/3137.asp) A few illustrations are added.

Dr. Cantwell pg 436 Tatting

"Instructions in Tatting, or Frivolité. -- The only necessary implements for tatting are a shuttle or short netting-needle, and a gilt pin and ring, united by a chain. The cotton used should be strong and soft. There are three available sizes, Nos. 1, 2, and 3. Attention should be paid to the manner of holding the hands, as on this depends the grace or awkwardness of the movement. Fill the shuttle with the cotton (or silk) required, in the same manner as a netting needle. Hold the shuttle between the thumb and the first and second fingers of the right hand, leaving about half a yard of cotton unwound. Take up the cotton, about three inches from the end, between the thumb and first finger of the left hand, and let the end fall in the palm of the hand; pass the cotton round the other fingers of the left hand (keeping them parted a little), and bring it again between the thumb and forefinger, thus making a circle round the extended fingers. There are only two stitches in tatting, and they are usually down alternately; this is therefore termed a double stitch.


Hooks on a chain with thumb ring for making joins and picots.
The First Half Stitch = French Stitch


The Second Half Stitch = English Stitch
Graphics by Mark Myers aka Tatman

The first stitch is called the English stitch, and made thus: -- Let the thread between the right and left hands fall towards you; slip the shuttle under the thread between the first and second fingers; draw it out rather quickly, keeping it in a horizontal line with the left hand. You will find a slipping loop is formed on this cotton with that which went round the fingers. Hold the shuttle steadily, with the cotton stretched tightly out, and with a second finger of the left hand slip the loop thus made under the thumb.

The other stitch is termed the French stitch; the only difference being, that instead of allowing the cotton to fall towards you, and passing the shuttle downwards, the cotton is thrown in a loop over the left hand, and the shuttle passed under the thread between the first and second fingers upwards. The knot must be invariably formed by the thread which passes round the fingers of the left hand. If the operation is reversed, and the knot formed by the cotton connected with the shuttle, the loop will not draw up. This is occasioned by letting the cotton from the shuttle hand loosely instead of drawing it out and holding it tightly stretched. When any given number of these double stitches are done, and drawn closely together, the stitches are held between the first finger and the thumb, and the other fingers are withdrawn from the circle of cotton, which is gradually diminished by drawing out the shuttle until the loop of tatting is nearly or entirely closed. The tatted loops should be quite close to each other, unless directions to the contrary are given.


The pin is used in making an ornamental edge, something like purl edging, thus: -- Slip the ring on the left hand thumb, that the pin attached may be ready for use. After making the required number of double stitches, twist the pin in the circle of cotton, and hold it between the forefinger and thumb, whilst making more double stitches; repeat. The little loops thus formed are termed picots.

Trefoil Tatting is done by drawing three loops up tightly, make closely together, and then leaving a short space before making more. The trefoil is sewed into shape afterwards with a needle.

To Join Loops. -- When two loops are to be connected, a picot is made in the first, wherever the join is required. Then you come to the corresponding part of the second loop, draw the thread which goes round the fingers of the left hand through the picot with a needle, pulling a loop large enough to admit the shuttle. Slip this through, then draw the thread tight again over the fingers, and continue the work. In many patterns a needle is used to work over, in buttonhole stitch, the thread which passes from one loop to another. A long needful of the same cotton or silk used for the tatting is left at the beginning of the work, and a common needle used to buttonhole over the bar wherever they occur.

Picots are also sometimes made with the needle and cotton in working over these bars."

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