The Secret to Shuttle Tatting: The Flip

by Cooper Young

I’m going to take a minute to rant about lace-making tutorials on YouTube, specifically those demonstrating shuttle tatting.

For the layman, shuttle tatting is a a technique for making lace by using two threads, one wrapped around the left hand and one connected to a shuttle manipulated by the right hand, to make a series of small, sliding knots.  It’s not the most common fiber art nowadays but it is, if I may say so, wicked super cool.  It’s also—and this is an important point to remember—almost impossible to learn without watching someone else do it first.

I learned from YouTube videos a while back, but I’ve not kept in practice.  Thus, when I decided to try a pattern I found, I ran into some trouble.  I couldn’t remember how to do something relatively simple: how to make a chain after a ring.  Either that makes no sense to you, or you’re too confused by my stupidity to even laugh.  Whichever.  Anyway, I turned back to YouTube for help.

Most of these videos follow the same format: how to thread the shuttle, how to make a knot, and then demonstrations of a ring (basic motif), chain (another such motif), a picot (little fiddly floofy bit), and sometimes a join (knot which brings motifs together). I was looking for one which showed a ring followed by a chain.  Simple enough, I thought.  I brought up the first video, watched for a few moments, and was surprised to see the tutor go through the hand motions of both halves of the knot and then straight on to the ring.  I stopped the video.

What the hell? She didn’t teach the flip! 

I was deeply confused.  Deciding not to trust someone who didn’t teach the most important part of the knot, I switched videos.  And then to another.  And another.  And another.

I went through about ten videos before I found one person teaching the flip.

Lemme splain: This is not some advanced, esoteric technique I’m talking about here; this is a tiny hand movement  without which absolutely nothing else will work ever. As I said before, the basis of the art is sliding knots.  In order to get the knots to slide, you have to slacken the tension in one thread and tense the other while tightening the knot, thus causing the knot to twist over to the other thread.  Thread A is looped around Thread B; you do the flip, and this reverses. If you don’t flip the knot, you can’t make a ring, or a chain, or a picot. You’ll never get far enough to even try a join.

I thought at first that maybe everyone else watching knew the flip like I did. The comments quickly dispelled this idea; for each video, probably half the comments were “but I can’t make it slide” and “what am I doing wrong”. My personal favorite was an individual complaining that they couldn’t get the knot to slide when it was on the “right” thread, but could when it was on the shuttle thread.  They had gotten it right, and thought they were doing it wrong.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are very few art forms where there is one simple trick that makes it all work.  Writing doesn’t have one, nor does painting or playing the guitar or knitting, though in the latter the Continental method is close.  Shuttle tatting does.  It’s one simple thing, and it is absolutely beyond me why anyone would fail to teach it, let alone 9 of 10 instructors.

For the love of heaven, if you can teach someone something that will make their life easier, do it. We only have so much time in our lives.

For your benefit, I present the one decent video. Whoever you are, lady, keep doing what you do.