Pattern Surfer
Shuttle vs. Needle
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© 1996 Christiane Eichler
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The Needletatting Messages

as they appeared on the Arachne mailing list.

Date: 16-Mar-97 00:08 LCL
MgTo: Arachne Lace list >Internet:lace@dont.panix.com
Subj: Needle vs. shuttle tatting (Outbox)

Hi, all tatters,

Some time ago a friend gave me a set of tatting needles, which were accompanied by some meagre instructions. Of course I tried the needles out, and found the instructions more than difficult to follow, and the outcome using normal crochet cotton was everything but what I loved.

On the other hand I thought there must be a reason for the technique to exist, so I decided to give it another try. I ordered the two needle tatting books by Barbara Foster from Nordic Needle, which arrived today.

I first took the thread size guide at the back of the book to choose my thread, and tried out pearl cotton no. 8 with a no. 5 needle. I got about the same result as when I tried out the thread earlier. Then I used pearl cotton 5 with the same needle and I liked what I saw some more.

This got me into experimenting mode. I tatted the medallion from book 2 first with a needle and no. 5 pearl cotton. Then I tatted the same medallion with the same thread, but using a shuttle. I compared the two: medallion 1 was only slightly bigger than no. 2. The stitches themselves are chunkier on the needle tatting. This is because the needle does not give, and has to be slightly larger than the thread you use. So you don't have the same tightness in knots as when using the shuttle. The whole appearence is much crisper when using the shuttle. The medallion feels much softer when tatted with the needle.

The second experiment followed, because I had formed the theory (even before I got the Foster books) that needle tatting might be better suited for yarn than for thread. (There are many knitters doing needle tatting with yarn to embellish their knitting, and they are very happy with the outcome.) So I took the largest needle (no. 3) and the finest yarn I had (recommended for knitting needles 2 1/2 (metric)) and again tatted the same medallion in two versions - one with the needle and one with the shuttle. The needle version was not as chunky as when I used thread. It felt nice working with it. It felt very smooth, bendable and fluffy when it was ready.

The shuttle version was much more difficult. Wool (I used a wool/acrylics blend) is much more stretchable and squeezable than cotton thread. You have to watch your tension very close. I'm not someone who tats tightly, but I had trouble closing the rings. The yarn stretched so much that I feared it would break. I was very surprised when I compared both medallions: The shuttle medallion was considerably smaller than the needle tatted one (1 1/2 cm difference in diameter). The shuttle tatted one felt like cardboard rather than wool, and there was not much fluff seen. The shuttle tatted one was almost as small as the ones done with the smaller needle and with pearl cotton.

Other differences between the two techniques:

I *don't* agree with Barbara Foster when she says that needle tatting is faster than shuttle tatting. I consider myself an intermediate tatter when it comes to speed (I know several who are much faster than me), and I'm sure the really fast tatters will always be faster than the needle can ever be.

I *don't* agree with her that there is no difference between the outcome of both methods. Needle tatted items are softer than shuttle tatted ones. Depending of the thread/yarn and the use of the lace this can be an advantage or a disadvantage.

I *do* agree with her however that needle tatting is very fast to learn. You can learn to be a speedier tatter in less time. I was almost as fast with the needle as I am with my shuttle after doing the medallions. The Foster books are very good to learn from, and for the basics there are even left handed instructions. The photos are very clear. The books are sure worth their money. I'm sure that knowing shuttle tatting already helped a lot in learning this so fast, but it takes considerable more time to get the basics of shuttle tatting down.

Joins are very easy to do in needle tatting, especially that last one closing a round (which can be really a nuisance to do). You can use the needle (although Foster's instructions tell you to use a crochet hook) to do the join.

Tension is not as crucial in needle tatting as in shuttle tatting. This is because you have the needle to form the stitches on, which is always somewhat bigger than the thread you use (otherwise you wouldn't be able to thread the needle).

Some of the techniques seem somewhat awkward for a shuttle tatter. When you do rings and chains the rings are more like mock rings in that they are worked like a chain but then looped together. The other thing that seems strange is that when doing a ring and chain pattern you have to tye half a square knot for each reverse work.

There is another drawback to needle tatting: You have to tye on a new thread much more often than in shuttle tatting. This is especially evident when working rings-only patterns. One (recommended) length is just enough to do a couple of rings. But even when you do rings/chains you have only a short length to put into your rings and chains. You can't leave the thread longer because you always have to pull the whole length through the stitches, which frays the thread if done too often.

If you want to work with a needle make sure you use the biggest thread/yarn you can for the needle you are using. This is especially important when working with cotton.

What I haven't found out yet whether the equivalent to a shuttle join is possible in needle tatting. A technique which I really doubt is possible with the needle is split rings, and of course using normal and reverse stitches on the same chain (like in lock stitch).

I know this is a really lenthy message, but I hope it will be of use for some of you. I'm sure I'm still favouring shuttle tatting, but for yarn I'd always prefer the needle.

Happy tatting

Chris 8-)

Date: 18-Mar-97 21:25 LCL
MgTo: Arachne Lace list >Internet:lace@dont.panix.com
Subj: needle vs shuttle tatting part 2 (Outbox)

Hi, fellow Arachnians,

First of all let me say thanks for all your kind emails concerning my first message about needletatting, and for the additional tips I got.

I did some more experimenting with needle tatting, and found some more out about it. I got some more tips from needle tatters, so I even found out how to do split rings - thanks Wilda E. Moore!

As for length of thread - as Karin Bovard mentioned in a message to me only Japanese hook tatting has the advantage of really tatting directly from the ball. Since I don't have more info about that I can't tell you anything about it.

I found that Barbara Foster recommends using "3 to 5 yards" as the long end of the thread when working rings only patterns (she recommends 40 inches for learning). You cut that length of thread from the ball, thread one end, and begin the stitches at the other end working your way towards the needle. In that case stitches as well as the thread inside the stitches come from the needle. I tried out using 5 yards of Anchor tatting cotton, and I found it very awkward having to draw as much thread through the stitches (not to mention the difficulty of keeping the children out of such a long piece of thread ). Depending on the thread used you will have much twisting when pulling the thread through the stitches. I tatted the whole length and got 29 rings of a simple 5+5-5-5 pattern. I want to try out whether I get more rings out of 5 yards of thread by shuttle tatting, but from what I know about needle tatting up till now there should be a difference.

When working rings and chains patterns the situation completely changes. All your stitches come from the ball thread in that case, and the thread from the needle is only used for the carrier thread (the thread inside the stitches, shuttle thread in shuttle tatting). So if you have only one or two yards this will last for quite a while, and things get much easier to handle. When the needle thread gets too short to work you have to cut both threads, thread the needle again, and work on after knotting the thread some distance away from the needle. I hope my description is good enough for you to get an idea why this is not an "endless" method.

At the beginning it is not easy to estimate the amount of thread you will need for the needle. I often took too much when doing small things and had odd ends. If it is embroidery thread (like pearl cotton) you can still use it for stitching .

There are some more things that are easier in needle tatting than in shuttle tatting. First it is easier to undo. You can just slide the stitches off the needle, or unthread the needle and pull the carrier thread out of the stitches. This definitely is not possible in shuttle tatting. As you know undoing a ring can be a real pita, and you have to pick out every single stitch.

Second is that you can join picots by just sticking the needle through the picot and working on. What a nice elegant way to do it. I think I mentioned I didn't know whether the equivalent of a shuttle join is possible, but it is just as easy to do as a normal join - finish the chain as usual with a knot, then just stick the needle through the picot, and there you are.

Third is that it is easier to hide the thread ends in needle tatting. If there is enough thread left just use the needle and tuck the ends in parralel to the carrier thread (which is not possible in shuttle tatting, because the stitches are too tight).

The fourth thing that is easier to do with the neede than with a shuttle is split ring tatting. I got the tip from Arachne Member Wilda E. Moore. You have some threading and unthreading to do, but this is not a problem for me. You do your normal stitches, then you unthread the needle, turn it round and work the stitches from the end with the eye, rethread your needle and close the ring in the normal way.

After singing the praise of needle tatting so much I have to tell about some drawbacks: The picots are easy to stretch out. This can be good when you have a very short one, but usually you don't want this to happen. I can imagine that you have to be careful when blocking your work. This is due to the stitches being not as tight as in shuttle tatting.

I had problems using the no. 3 needle, because it is comparatively short. I got hand cramps after a while. The longer needles (no. 5 and 7) are much easier to use.

I also tried out how to do a pattern (Vida Sundermans's Trefoil Snowflake from the book Tatted Snowflakes, p. 10) where you'd use two shuttles in shuttle tatting, that is, where you have rings on *both* sides of the chain. This was a little awkward to do, and in the end I did it differently from Barbara Foster in that I didn't tye a knot after the first part of the chain, nor after the ring that would have been worked with shuttle 2 in shuttle tatting. This kind of pattern definitely looks different from shuttle tatting when done with the needle. It looks more like when you try to do a 2-shuttle pattern with one shuttle (which is possible). The chain on which the ring rests is broken rather than forming a continuous arch. Depending on the pattern this can be either good or bad. I had an idea for a way of working this kind of pattern with the needle without it looking different, but I still have to try it out.

What I also tried out was doing a series of small flowers made usually with one shuttle only. You know that normally you'd have to work every flower seperately, and then sew in lots of ends. But there is a continuous method where you use split rings. I explained this on my web page. This can be emulated on the needle as well, I tried it out. You will have to use either two needles or keep unthreading and rethreading with one needle. But I'm not sure that it is worth even bothering to do so when you tat with a needle, since hiding thread ends is so much easier to do with needle tatting.

I also want to try out some of Tery Dusenbury's heart patterns with a needle, because these are really a challenge (she uses split rings a lot and introduces a third shuttle in some cases even!). Another thing that I'd like to try out is a ring on a ring, which is possible with split ring tatting done with the shuttle.

After all my trying out I think that all important possibilities that you can do with shuttle tatting can be done with the needle as well. Also I don't think the difference in the finished product is very striking (provided your thread and needle match well).

I think that needle tatting is a good alternative giving good results. That I still prefer the shuttle over the needle is just my choice. I think however that shuttle tatters should not consider needle tatting as inferior in any way, it is just different. Both techniques have advantages and disadvantages, and it depends on the thread you use and the effect you want to get which one you will choose.

I'm very happy I gave this a try, because I will have an alternative for teaching plus this gives me the possibility to easily tat with yarn.

I've been rambling again, thanks for your patience, and I hope these notes are of use for some people.

I think I'm going to put all those thoughts on my webpage. I'm going to upload the first part today, together with a photo of my first 4 tryouts mentioned in the first message. In the meantime I'll keep you posted on my experiments (boy did that needle bring out the scientist in me ).

Bye for now, and happy tatting

Chris 8-)

Date: 06-Apr-97 18:34 LCL
MgTo: Arachne Lace list >Internet:lace@dont.panix.com
Subj: Needle vs. Shuttle tatting part 3 (Outbox)

Warning, this is a long message!

I made some more experiments, and thought a bit about what I did.

First I want to tell you that I'm going to scan some of the tryout pieces I did. I'm sure these will be better than the photo which is now on my page, which was taken with a digital camera without makro lens. I'm going to compile all of the scans together with commentaries and thoughts about needle tatting into a document for my page.

But I wanted to share with you my newest experience:

I made a small doily (13 cm diameter) from no. 30 Coats Opera thread and the no. 7 needle. These match wonderful, and the thread is not as crisp as crochet cotton. You almost can't tell difference from shuttle tatting in the stitches.

On speed: I'm not sure it is easy to compare speed in needle or shuttle tatting. Doing the stitches is sure faster to do with a shuttle. But considering faster joins and no winding of shuttles I'm sure both can be fast. I think it would really need a competition of a fast needle tatter and a fast shuttle tatter to see who is faster .

While doing the doily I saw that the tension of the needle thread in needle tatting is crucial. The eveness of rings and chains depend a lot on it. This is more so than in shuttle tatting because the stitches are looser and can be janked together more closely than when working with the shuttle.

There is another difference in the way the change between ring and chain looks like - it is somehow more cramped in needle tatting, tending to twist either chain or ring slightly. The change between ring and chain is flatter and smoother in shuttle tatting.

Another experiment was trying to find out a way of making a ring on a ring. This is an andvanced split ring technique.

I used the following pattern as a basis: all big rings 5 ds, p, 5 ds, p, 5 ds, p, 5 ds; all small rings 5 ds, p, 5 ds cl.

I started out with a normal big ring, closed ring and made a half square knot like usual. RW. Now I worked a split ring: 5 ds, p, 5 ds in the usual manner, then I unthreaded the needle, turned it round so I used the end with the eye as if it was the tip. I used the needle thread to make the following stitches: 5 ds, p. 5 ds. Now I rethreaded the needle, turned it round so as to work in the usual way, closed the ring and tyed a knot.

If you have never done split rings before it will be better to work some more split rings in the same manner as described.

I now tried to substitute a small ring for one of the picots, and succeeded in the following manner: work 5 ds in the normal way. Unthread the needle and turn it around to work the second half of the split ring: 5 ds, p, 5 ds. Now rethread the needle, and draw the needle thread through the stitches. Do so until the loop you normally put the needle through to close the ring is rather small. Insert a safety pin into the loop, and close the pin to secure the loop. Now tug the needle thread tight, so that the stitches curve slightly. You'll have to adjust the tension so that it will make a nice ring in the end.

Now you work a small ring (5 ds, p, 5 ds) making the stitches with the ball thread, and close it in the usual manner (it depends on your choice whether to tye a knot in this case or not, I don't). Now you make five more stitches, and pull the needle through them (*don't knot this time, don't work them into a ring). You now release the loop you secured with the safety pin and put the needle through it to close the big ring. Tye a knot, work the next big ring in the same way.

I hope that my description makes some sense. I'm not sure this has been described before, if anybody *has* already seen this somewhere, please tell me the source (like a class by some needle tatting teacher, handouts, or books) if possible. I found out this method on my own, since the only documents about needle tatting I own are the Barbara Foster books and the needle tatting messages from Arachne.

As I mentioned in my second Needle Tatting message, I made a small edging of rings only (5-5-5-5) from a 5 yards lenth of no. 80 tatting cotton (as described in book 1 of the needle tatting book set by B. Foster. I made 29 rings, which made 21 cm of edging. Then I wound 5 yards of the same thread onto a shuttle. I got 38 rings from it, which made 22.5 cm of edging. The comparatively small difference in lenth comes from the longer picots I did in needle tatting.

Sandy from Arachne told me that she works shuttle only patterns with the ball thread. I tried it out and saw that this only works when there is no unworked space of thread between the rings (small flowers of rings)

The third experiment I made was trying to find a way to make the Vida Sundermann's Trefoil Snowflake (Tatted Snowflakes, p. 10) look like the shuttle tatted version. It is possible to do so with some tricking. You work the normal way until you come to the small ring (on the "wrong" side of the chain). Cut the Ball thread (long enough to allow you to work with it for a while), thread it into the needle and work the small ring as described in the Needle Tatting Book 1 by Foster. Don't make a knot after closing the ring. Unthread the needle and rethread with the other thread, work the chain after the ring in the normal fashion. Although this is possible to do I'm not sure it is worth bothering with. Because you cut the ball thread you will soon use it up by making stitches, and you will have to rethread often. I will have the snowflake versions scanned like all the other tryout pieces, so you can have a look, and decide for yourself.

It is a good idea to run the needle thread between your thump and forfinger before you start out working. It will knot and twist less when being drawn through the stitches. This is especially true for threads that match the needle well.

On Joins: Although I find it very comfortable to do the join by just sticking the needle through the picot, I don't like the outcome. One side looks ok, but the back side does not. There is always one thread of the picot visibly lying over the stitches. Any idea how to prevent this?

Well, I know this is a lengthy message again, and perhaps more than anyone wants to know about needle tatting . But I found it intersting enough to share with you any way.

Thanks for bearing with me (I'm not sure this was the last of needle tatting messages from me ).

Chris 8-)

Date: 16-Apr-97 00:29 LCL
MgTo: Arachne Lace list >Internet:lace@dont.panix.com
Subj: Needle vs. Shuttle tatting part 4 (long) (Outbox)

Hi, all,

I think this will be the last of my needletatting messages, at least for now. I enjoy needletatting, but I'm sure I'll not get stuck at it. That is because if you want it to look good using thread, you are very restricted as to thread size. I found that for the no. 7 needle no. 30 crochet cotton, and pearl cotton 12 work well. For the no. 5 needle pearl cotton no. 5 is good, or crochet cotton no. 10. Of course you can work with all other kinds of threads, but in my opinion the other weights don't work as well as the ones I mentioned. The stitches look thick, the chains get wobbly when you use other threads.

I hope that I can start out loading up scans of all my work to my homepage beginning next week.

I tried out two color tatting with a needle and think that it is not worth trying. You have to cut both threads, and that says all: You will have to tye on new thread rather often. This might work for small motifs, but if you intend to do a larger doily or even a hanky endging in two colors I'd highly recommend trying to learn shuttle tatting (if you can't already ). You have to use two needles for two colored tatting, btw. It is really awkward if you try to use lenths longer than about two yards, and even two yards aren't that easy to manage (they get shorter, yes, but you can't do more than a few chains or rings with them anyway). Barbara Foster recommends up to five yards, but I really had to fight the one time I tried this out. Now imagine using 2 lenths of five yards... . It is possible, but impractical, as Hari Seldon would say.

A tip on longer threads however: Run the lengths you use between thumb and forefinger, squeezing them. They will twist, but this is easier to control when you haven't started out yet than when you are closing a ring e.g. If normal squeezing isn't enough to prevent twisting then use your fingernail to help the thread untwist. Different threads will twist more or less. I think that this might have to do with a balanced thread or no. I found that the lower quality threads are more inclined to twist than high quality ones.

I tried out two other things: Tery Dusenbury's patterns (lots of split rings!) and reverse stitches.

As to the Dusenbury patterns. Since I love to test the limits of things I looked for the most complicated structure that Dusenbury has to offer. This is the half daisy where she introduces a third shuttle in shuttle tatting. I used the "My Fluttering Heart" pattern on page 15 in her book. It is possible to work this heart in needle tatting. You will need two needles, and when you do the half daisy you have to cut the ball thread and use the second needle. The first ring of the half daisy is done as a normal split ring, then you cut the ball thread and do the three "petal" rings using the second needle and the technique for rings only patterns (Foster book 1). You then work the center of the daisy. You work a split ring, but start out doing the stitches that are on the outside half of the ring, using the end of the needle with the eye. You then introduce a short piece of thread (no third needle necessary!) to work the stitches of the inner part of the split ring which joins to the middle petal. Then the last petal is worked (split ring), and you can work on in a normal manner. When you start out with the split ring border it is good to have the ball thread form the part of the split ring that faces the already worked center of the heart, and the needle thread be on the outside.

Since this pattern is rated "intermediate" I looked also at the patterns that are rated advanced. I think that when you needle tat these patterns, it would be a good idea to work *all* the flower/butterfly motifs seperately and not bother with working them in the joined way that Dusenbury describes.

I also thought about a way to do normal and reverse stitches on the same chain in needle tatting. Again you will need two needles, and cut both threads. Start out with one needle threaded in the normal way and work a ring (e. g. 20 stitches). This one is only for you to hold on when working the chain. Then start out a chain like this: 5 ds, p, 5 ds. Nothing exciting yet. Now you cut the ball thread and thread your second needle with it. I will still call the threads ball and needle thread resp., since the threads are easier to identify that way.

Tug the core thread of the stitches just made so that the chain curves slightly. Tug a little at the ball thread so the last hitch closes firm around the core thread and secures the curve of the chain until you work the next stitch. Now use the needle of the *ball thread* and make stitches using the needle thread (if you can't follow what I'm saying color the tip of the ball thread with felt pen, lets say use red. Now substitute red thread whenever I say ball thread. The other thread is then the needle thread of course). Work the following stitches: 5 ds, p, 5 ds. Tug at the ball thread to curve the chain slightly, make a knot as usual when ending a chain. When you make the second tug you will see that the chain will curve in the opposite direction of the first half of the chain. You will also see that the tug only extends unto the place where you introduced the second needle. This comes from the threads changing their job. In the first part of the chain the needle thread is the core thread, and the ball thread forms the stitches. In the second part of the chain the ball thread is the core thread, and the needle thread forms the stitches. You will also notice that the knots on the first stitches are on one side of the chain, in the second part they are on the other side.

So, I hope this was all I have to say on this topic for awhile, I hope you enjoyed reading all of it as much as I did trying this out!

Thanks for listening to all my rambling,

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