What I learned while tatting a doily

Guess what everyone? (anyone who already follows me on twitter knows this one already)

The Doily is finished!

start of doily

I started this doily back in november 2012. I can’t remember exactly why this started but I do remember how. I have probably mentioned before that I am not the only person who knows how to tat in my family; my gran was my inspiration to learn although she lives too far away to have taught me. I had been talking to her on the phone about how I really felt that tatting was becoming a passion and few days later an envelope arrived with all of her pattern booklets in it. She had gone through and ticked the patterns she had done and beside a couple had written comments. Beside this pattern she had written “did


this one often”. I never pictured myself being a doily maker but if I was ever going to make a doily, it had to be that one.


I put it down to make items for Christmas presents and it got picked up and worked on sporadically over the next few months. Much of the work on this was done in breaks at work, or while my student was doing practical work. It became quite the conversation starter.

But a couple of days ago I was finally finished, and it has taught me a few things. I’d like to share them with you.

1. Life is too short for bad thread

Never, ever, jump into to any kind of large project with tools or materials you are not completely in love with. I grew to hate this thread with a passion. It was a splitty, twisty, difficult to unpick, the colour not as fully saturated in some places as in others… It wasn’t even a colour I was drawn to. You are probably asking yourself why I used it in the first place then, right? I had it to hand and it was a free gift with an order of a completely different thread. This leads me nicely on to lesson two.

2. Sometimes things are free for a reason

I love free things. I love a bargain. This thread was free. It was free quite probably because once someone had worked with it once they never wanted to go near it again! It is lovely to the touch, silky and smooth. It only reveals its true nature when you’re too far in to turn back. leading to lesson three.

tatting progress

3. Swatches are not for gauge alone

Many people who read this blog are crafty people, especially yarn based crafties. Those of you in that world will most likely fall into one of two camps: “gauge swatches are a necessary evil” & “gauge swatches are for wusses, I laugh in the face of gauge swatches!”. I was closer to the latter. I though a swatch was something that you only needed to do if you were making an item designed to fit a specific person. Even then, I’ve been told that gauge swatches lie so why bother? If only someone had mentioned I had listened when people told me that swatches had other functions. They are for practicing new techniques. They are to see what properties the fabric you are making will have. Lastly, they are for showing you that you hate the thread you are about to trap yourself into using for a project that will take hours out of your life over a span of time with a fiery passion! if I had played with this thread a bit I’d have known, I possibly could have finished much sooner because I would not have procrastinated so much out of fear of the frustrations brought on by bad thread.

4. When dealing with any tatting pattern, make sure it is in your preferred format.

This one is quite specific. I was using a vintage pattern in this instance. The older the pattern the more verbose the instructions become. The instructions are written out in full. Great! Erm… nope. In about a size 8 font all of these repeated words swim together for me and mistakes get made. Some tatters work will with this kind of instruction. Not me. On about round four I decided enough was enough. I transposed the instructions into a format better suited to me, I used the short hand. Numbers, dashes and abbreviations, and each separate step on a new line. That is what worked best for me. Had I been born with a better functioning spacial awareness I may have chosen to diagram it based on the written instructions and photograph.

Tatting close up

5. Some mistakes are meant to be there

Ok, they aren’t meant to be there per se, but if I was to un-pick back every time I spotted a missed join or an incorrect count I may never finish. I can see a few mistakes, I’m not going to point them out to you, that would be silly. I discovered something about myself doing this. There was a funny moment, I realised I was going to have to cut back to the mistake I could see. I got the scissors and started to shake a little holding them so decided it was a step too far for me that day. The mistake was there to stay. When I stopped unpicking back to mistakes beyond one join, the mistakes slowed right down. Resigned to a lack of perfection, I relaxed and got a little closer this time.

6. Never underestimate the power of a deadline

I decided half way through that this doily would make a good present for my gran (ok grandpa, message for you here, you are the tech-savvy one, so if you are reading this DON’T TELL HER!!). In March, April, even May August felt a very long way away. In June and July? Not so much. Deadline, however arbitrary, motivated me to get the monster done.

7. Never underestimate how a shared passion can bring closeness across miles

I’ve always been closer to my grandpa than my gran. We always seemed to have more in common. Also, he is a big softy, it’s easier to just sit and be with him. Gran has always more energy than the rest of us. Gran is a busy bee. We didn’t know we had a shared passion in common until recently. In the last year and a half I have had more conversations with my gran than ever. We share stories about tatting. I tell her about new ways patterns are written now, the effect of the internet, the invention of needle tatting and all other areas in my craft life. Gran tells me about the patterns she liked, the fact that she has almost none of her tatting because she made it all and sold it in sales of work to raise money for charity. Although she doesn’t tat any more, although my grandparents live 400miles away, I’ve never felt closer to my gran.

So there you have it, a few mistakes I hope to not make again and hopefully a few land mines flagged for others to avoid too. Please leave your own long project discoveries in the comments. I’d love to read them.

KT :-)

Finished Tatted Doily
Finished Tatted Doily

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  1. The end result is just fantastic – the pictures don’t really do it justice. To be honest I haven’t really noticed the semi-solid nature of the colour, but that could arguably be part of that thread’s “charm”. Now what’s the next project???

  2. Very interesting read, with good lessons thrown in. But your doily is really nice. I’m sure your Grandma was pleased with the effort & thoughtfulness :-)
    I frequently write down notes about my own tatting journey – lessons learned, mistakes to be avoided, stuff to keep in mind, and so on….. sharing these on my blog.

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