Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tatting in the woods: the backpacking fiber craft

I learned to tat in the late 90s from a wonderful woman named Barbara. Tatting is one of those "dying fiber arts" and Barbara was keen to pass it on to a young soul (I was fresh out of graduate school, not even thirty). I hear people tell me tapestry is a dying art all the time (I choose to think they said dyeing art), but I don't believe them. [I'm] Not Dead Yet!
The story goes something like this. My boyfriend had left me in our house 50 miles north of Reno, NV (yeah, I know--40 acres, 11 miles from the pavement, pack rats big as my dog, no neighbors to speak of) while he went to New York to visit his mother for Christmas. Being new to the area, new to my rehab hospital job, and fairly pissed that I was alone very far from anyone else with just a dog and a neurotic cat to keep me company (well, there were the pack rats), I volunteered to spend Christmas at the hospital visiting with the patients. Barbara was one of my patients during the week. She was in her 90s, lived independently, and had broken her hip. On Christmas there was no therapy so all I did was sit in her room and talk. Turns out we had a lot in common and she taught me how to tat.

Barbara's tatting
 We had quite a few conversations about fiber during her stay at the hospital and after she went home she invited me to visit her in Carson City. I drove down to see her and she sent me home with more tatting patterns. Over the next few years I left my boyfriend and got a dog of my own. I visited her a few times, and to her eternal 90-pound-soaking-wet credit, she loved my huge clumsy shedding labrador who must have been a rambunctious puppy at that time. Her vision decreased quickly due to macular degeneration and she asked me to visit so she could give me some of her fiber art supplies. I did and she showed me her new vision toys which helped her read but didn't allow her to knit or tat any more.
Not long after that I received a letter from her niece that Barbara had died and had wanted to give me all of her remaining fiber and yarn. I was happy for her collection but mostly sad that my friend had passed on.
I recently saw some beautiful tatting being sold on Etsy. Tatting is not a dead craft, though I'd say it might be struggling more even than tapestry. The tiny shuttles and thin thread require good eyesight and a lot of time. But the results can be beautiful. I like to take tatting on backpacking trips. There isn't a lighter smaller project to be had. I took my tatting along on a day-hike last weekend. Here is a little video in case you've never seen someone tatting.

Thank you Barbara for your generous gifts of teaching and love.


  1. I love your story about Barbara, and that you are tatting. My late mother in law tatted most of her life and many years ago, taught me. Somewhere over the years, I put it down and haven't gotten back to it. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Fun video, Rebecca. I was taken with the movements of your hand holding the tatting shuttle as it interacted with your other hand... it was so graceful but it seemed to be almost like two birds having "conversation" as they pecked at food!

    I was introduced to tatting many years ago but only did a little bit. I don't think I could remember how at this point. It's a fine thing that you're continuing with it occasionally and that you think of your friend as you do. A lovely tribute.

  3. Wonderful to see and read. Tatting was always in my pack when I was backpacking many years ago. I just made sure I used darker threads. Today tatting is almost a daily activity for me. Keep on enjoying tatting and sweet memories of Barbara. Karen in OR

    1. Thanks Karen! It is good to know that other people took tatting backpacking. And yes, keeping it clean is always an issue... thus the dark colors!

  4. Is tatting the same as the contemporary lace making in this short film? Even though I watched it for Margot Selby, I found the shuttles of the lace maker fascinating! (my partner even said to me 'no, you're not taking that up too!!!')

    1. That is bobbin lace. It is way sexier than tatting... but not nearly as portable! I've never tried it.

    2. It looks fun though ... no, I didn't say that, heh heh :P


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