My sister Marion Dale and I share many wonderful childhood memories. One of our favourites is the summers we spent with our Great Auntie Kate. In her 70’s when we visited she raised sheep on a family farm near Renfrew, Ontario. No inside plumbing, no electricity, our days were spent exploring the sheep pasture and bringing bouquets of brown eyed Susans home for the table centrepiece.
We walked a quarter of a mile to the highway to catch the bus to Ottawa. Auntie Kate would flag down the bus with her hankie.
The summer Marion turned 10 years old we visited Aunt Edna in Ottawa and Marion learned a craft that has coloured her hand work ever since.
The parlour in Aunt Edna’s home came directly out of Victorian times. A brick fireplace and heavy brocade furniture created a sense of past times. Marion remembers a ferocious thunderstorm on the fateful craft evening.
Now Marion was a wild rose. In fact the train man on our trip east that year had picked a rose while the train waited at a rail siding. He presented the wild rose to the “little wild rose” travelling with her mum and sister. So when Marion sat down to learn tatting, the patient, attention to detail work was out of character.
Tatting is an ancient form of lacemaking. Girls and handmaidens were taught the craft. However, Queen Victoria from England and Archduchess Marie Theresa from Austria were also said to enjoy tatting. Originally fishermen used a large shuttle to weave heavy cord into fishing nets. They used the Bolin knot as the anchor – this is a slip knot. The idea was handed down to weavers who used finer thread and a smaller shuttle. This form of lace making became very popular in Europe and was used to add elegance and charm to bed linens, camisoles and tablecloths.
Tatting is known as knotting in England and frivolet in France. When the craft came across the ocean, it was called tatting in early North American history.
Marion begins each lace work with the Bolin knot and winds the thread around her left hand. Her right hand moves the shuttle under over and then over under the thread on her left hand. Her favourite weight of modern cotton thread is #30. I watch Marion’s hands – there is a calming rhythm to the work as the lace comes alive.
Marion remembers Aunt Edna’s advice: once you can do 10 knot series in a row you will never forget the sequence! Marion has a number of books to use as inspiration. One of her favourites is the Encyclopedia of Needlework by Therese de Dillmont, Editor. The T. Eaton Co. Limited published this book. Unfortunately there is no date in the book but it looks like an early 19th century publication.
Marion has taken tatting to a new level. At her home in Dawson City, she uses her elegant handcrafted lace on original dolls as well as on her own clothing. One of my favourite items is a vest – wearable art, to be sure. Marion used treasured crocheted doilies, antique lace and her own tatting to create this beautiful piece of clothing.
Our family’s little wild rose! Aunt Edna and her teaching. Cotton thread transformed into lace. Really remarkable hand work.