tatting Newsletter


August 21 2012 Tatting Newsletter

Shuttles, Mother of Pearl and Clam Shell Buttons

Recently I had cause to visit Muscatine, Iowa, once the Pearl Button Capital of the World. Or so said the member organizations of Pearl Button Industries, Inc. (American Pearl Button Co., Automatic Button Co., Hawkeye Pearl Button Co., Iowa Pearl Button Co., McKee Button Co., Muscatine Pearl Works, U.S. Button Co., and Weber & Sons Pearl Button Co.) My husband's mother, aunts and many cousins worked at some of the original pearl button companies and continued working when the buttons were replaced by plastic. He was asked to see if the old McKee building still stood and we found it still in use. We also found that Muscatine had established The Pearl Button Museum.

I was excited to visit the museum, thinking that any place that manufactured pearl buttons was likely to have made tatting shuttles as well. In the past tatting shuttles have been made from true Mother of Pearl (imported and domestic) as well as the highly prized abalone shell, too. I was sure that there would be shuttles which had been made from the pearl of these clam shells, too.

I was wrong.

The Museum's informative movie told how the true mother of pearl buttons became so expensive that they were banned from import. It is known that local indigenous personnel such as the Potawatomi, Ojibwe (Chippewa), Odawa (Ottawa), Meskwaki (Fox), Miami, Sauk, Wea, Kickapoo, Mahouea, Lenni Lenape (Delaware), tribes, as well as the Mascouten after whom Muscatine may have been named, all used clam shell beads and fresh water pearls in the old days. However, just who made the first clam shell button was not mentioned. And such a variety of clam shells were used, Pimpleback, Pigtoes, Monkey Face, sic Nigger Heads, Muckets, Sand Shells, Sheep's Nose and others.

The clam shells were harvested when a three point hook was dragged along the bottom and the clam's natural reaction to close its shell "captures" it. They were then cooked in boiling water for some time. The shell was drilled with different size holes to create the button blanks. Tumbled to remove the rough edges the discs were then sized, eyes were drilled and then soaked in fresh water to soften them for preparation for shaping and polishing with pumice, acid bath and sawdust. Sorted by size the buttons were sewn to cards and distributed for sale.

But nary a tatting shuttle was made from the clam shells.
Here's the latest article from the Tatting site at BellaOnline.com.

Needle Tatting by Alicja Kwartnik
Both of Alicja Kwartnik's needle tatting books are printed in Italian. However, the patterns are presented with full color detailed photos and numbered diagrams. Although intended as a needle tatting book, all the patterns may be tatted with the tatting shuttle as well.


Please visit tatting.bellaonline.com for even more great content about Tatting. To participate in free, fun online discussions, this site has a community forum all about Tatting located here -


I hope to hear from you sometime soon, either in the forum or in response to this email message. I thrive on your feedback! Have fun passing this message along to family and friends, because we all love free knowledge!

Georgia Seitz, Tatting Editor

One of hundreds of sites at BellaOnline.com

Unsubscribe from the Tatting Newsletter

Online Newsletter Archive for Tatting Site

Master List of BellaOnline Newsletters

Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Previous Features
Site Map