Vintage tatting patterns were lengthy and confusing. Today's tatting notation makes it easier to read, write and diagram patterns.
Let's examine the manner in which tatting patterns are written and how to interpret the directions. Which of these instructions is correct?
1. Make a ring of 12 double stitches evenly divided by three picots.
2. Make a ring of 3 double stitches, picot, 3 double stitches, picot, 3 double stitches, picot, 3 double stitches.
3. Make ring: [3 double stitches, picot (3x)], 3 double stitches.
4. Make ring 3 DS p 3 DS p 3 DS p 3 DS.
5. R 3 - 3 - 3 - 3.
All of the above instructions are correct and all ask you to tat the same ring.
Frustrating, isn't it? Unfortunately, over the decades tatting has not been standardized with one set of abbreviations, nor one style of writing instructions. As time passes, however, more and more of the patterns are relying on a diagram with numbers or on the simplified style of directions shown in example 5 above (also known as tatters' shorthand formula).
When reading a pattern for the first time, try drawing it before you try tatting it. If you can draw it, you can tat it. If you have the old-fashioned instructions where every single word and every single movement is written out for you, you many want to try reducing it to the tatters' shorthand formula.
Here are some commonly accepted abbreviations:
R = Ring
CH = Chain
P, or p, or - = picot
J, or + = to join
+ with a v below it = shuttle join
RW = reverse work; meaning to turn the work over from top to bottom in the vertical plane
TW = turn work; meaning to turn the work from right to left in the horizontal plane as if turning the page of a book
DS = double stitch
HS = half stitch
1HS = first half stitch
2HS = second half stitch
Numbers before DS, i.e., 3 DS = indicates the number of repetitions to be worked
CTM = continuous thread method; meaning to wind two shuttles with out a knot between them; i.e., wind first shuttle then roll enough thread off the ball to wind second shuttle from opposite direction
CL, or cl, close = close the ring
JR, or JK = Josephine Ring or Knot; meaning a small ring made of either half stitch repeated to form a twist in the ring.
SH1 = shuttle one; SH2 = shuttle two etc.
ss = switch shuttles
Split ring = 5 / 5 with the "/" mark indicating the two parts of a split ring, i.e., tat 5DS switch shuttles wrap 5 ds
set stitch = 4 . 4 with the "." indicating the number of repetitions of each half stitch
Every tatter who creates original designs will develop their own abbreviations to use peculiar to their work as well. For a partial list of tatting terms in French, German, Italian and Spanish, see Rebecca Jones' "The Complete Book of Tatting".
Diagramming Tatting Patterns
Hand drawn diagrams leave much to be desired. Using a drafter's template for circles is an improvement over that but with computer aided drawing programs available so easily and so cheaply these days there is no real excuse for not using them. The only disadvantage to a computer drawing program is that the circles and ovals available for use do not accurately represent the tatted ring. A tatted ring, with the exception of center rings deliberately made round for construction purposes, are OVOID in shape, i.e., egg-shaped. Not round, not oval. But that does occasionally lead to a variation in the pattern. Bear this in mind.
Here are two basic styles representing diagramming.
ds count overlaid on photo of lace
line drawing with ds counts
modern diagrams often include extra markings such as the red lines on this diagram which show split rings, mock picots and split chains which can aid the tatter in working the pattern from edge to edge or from center outwards without cutting the thread.