Information On Threads

There are many different types of thread that can be used for tatting, but the best thread is a six cord, tight twist, highly polished, mercerized thread. Mercerized threads have undergone a patented process which removes most of the excess thread fibres which make a thread look fuzzy. Those fuzzy little bits bind against one another while tatting, causing your thread to stick and preventing your rings from sliding closed. Polishing the thread makes the excess fibres lie flat so that the thread doesnít look as fuzzy and slides smoothly. A six cord thread has 3 pairs of threads, tightly twisted together and in use, the threads wonít separate, nor will they look ragged if you need to undo part of your work.

The following is a list of commonly available threads with relative size comparison. Thread sizes follow an old weaverís trick. Take the size 10 thread and wrap it around a dowel or pencil until you have ten strands side by side. If 10 strands cover a quarter inch of the dowel, then a thread that takes 20 wraps to cover a quarter inch is size 20 or if it takes 30 wraps itís size 30 etc. What can cause difficulty is that different manufacturers, and even the same manufacturer in a different product line start with a different base thread size. For example DMC size 8 perle cotton is a similar size to 20 DMC crochet cotton.

Crochet Cotton - generally available in 10, 20 and 30 although there are some imports available in finer sizes 40, 50, 60 and 70. This is a six cord, mercerized, tight twist, polished thread, great for tatting, making a nice crisp finished product and perfect for doilies and tablecloths. It doesnít wind in use and doesnít fray if it has to be undone. The colour choice is usually limited to white, black and ecru, but other colours are sometimes available by mail order.

South Maid - the size isnít marked on the ball, but itís about size 10 sometimes called bedspread weight. Itís a matte finish, coarse, medium twist thread. It can be used for tatting, but doesnít slide well and breaks if pulled too hard.

Coats Opera - comes in sizes 5, 8, 10, 20 and 30, with a greater range of colours in the larger sizes 5 and 8. Itís mercerized, highly polished, 3 cord, medium twist good for tatting. Size 8 is comparable to a size 10. It can be a little fuzzy, and doesnít stand up well to un-tatting and re-tatting mistakes. It requires frequent unwinding in use, but is good for collars and baby bonnets because it is softer on the skin.

DMC Special dentelles - this is labelled crochet cotton, size 80 and is the same size thread as Star tatting thread which is no longer produced. Usually if an old pattern calls for tatting thread it means size 80 thread like this. Perfect for tatting.

DMC and Anchor Perle Cotton - both companies produce a similar product in sizes 8 and 12, which compare to crochet cotton sizes 20 and 30 respectively. These are available by either ball or skein a wide range of colours. They are 2 ply, medium twist, highly polished thread good for tatting. The thread can look ragged if you need to re-tat your work.

Embroidery Floss - Cotton embroidery thread comes in six strands and you can use anything from one to six strands for tatting. Each strand is a 2 ply soft twist highly polished thread. It is widely available in a large range of colours and size is determined by the number of strands used. One strand is not very strong and may break when you are closing a ring, but for small projects where a large variety of colours are needed, embroidery threads are usable.

Rayon Embroidery Floss - Luscious colours of slick threads that are both strong and slippery make sliding rings a breeze, but the knots donít want to stay where you put them. As soon as you let go they want to undo. This is a slippery thread to work with, but usable with a nice sheen. Not for large projects.

Sewing Thread - There are numerous manufacturers of different types of 100% cotton sewing threads that can be used for tatting. They range in approximate size from 50 to 100. Some break easily when pulling rings closed, some have a fuzzy appearance. Those which are made for hand quilting are usually good for tatting. Rayon sewing thread can also be used, but like the rayon embroidery thread, it is difficult to handle. Polyester sewing thread is very difficult to work with since the thread binds making it impossible to close rings.

Storing thread

If you've ever had to go through a jumble of thread looking for a particular colour or size, you'll know the importance of labelling your spools and balls for future reference. You can purchase small labels or use tape that you can write on to attach a label inside the core of a ball of thread.

When you start to accumulate large quantities of thread it is often useful to purchase a container such as a fishing tackle box, tool box, or one of the many organizing and storing products available used for things like nuts and bolts. These products have many small compartments just the right size for small balls and spools and help you to keep your threads neat and organized.

Adding New Thread

When you run out of thread on your shuttle and have to add in new thread, you have two ends that will need to be dealt with. There are two ways of hiding these ends as you go. You can tat over the thread which will make the tatting slightly thicker at that point, or you can weave the end in and out between your doublestitches tucking it in under the thread that forms the "cap" of your doublestitch. When you pull the end tight it almost disappears under the caps of the stitches. This makes for a very secure end, but can't be used if the end you are hiding is a different colour.

Since you have two ends to hide; the old, and the new, it is best done at a point where you are switching from ring to chain. This makes it possible to hide one end in the ring and the other end in the chain. In this way neither the ring, nor the chain is made appreciably thicker. If two ends have to be hidden in the same ring or chain it is best to tat over one end and weave the other in. If the ends are not the same colour as the tatting and you have to tat over both ends, then stagger the length of the ends. For example, tat 5 doublestitches over both ends, then pull one out of the way and tat 5 more doublestitches over the remaining thread, and cut the ends close, being careful not to cut the tatting. This will make the spot where the ends are hidden less noticeable.

Hiding Ends

Can you just tie your ends securely and then cut them close to the lace? Yes, but knots can come undone and ruin your work. Even if they don't come undone, the short ends will unravel and fray leaving fuzzy little spots on your lace. If you want the security of a knot go ahead and tie the thread, but then take the ends and hide them. Use the Magic Thread Trick on thicker threads, or if you didn't think far enough ahead to use them, then weave your ends in.

Cut your ends leaving 8-10 inches or enough for sewing. Use a needle the same thickness as the thread or finer, and insert it between two doublestitches and draw it through (it will appear to be coming out in the middle of a doublestitch, under the bar, on the other side. Turn the needle around and repeat, inserting it between this stitch and the one beside it.

Opening A Ring

We've all had the experience of having to open a closed ring and while it isn't easy, it is possible. First, find a picot, and slide the double stitches apart under the picot. Use a crochet hook to pull on the carrier, or core thread. If there are several picots in the ring, slide any slack thread you've pulled through under the one nearest the beginning (if you can't do it easily try a mid point picot first).

You'll need to do this a little bit at a time, but eventually you'll be able to separate the first and last stitches enough to grasp the core thread and open up the ring. I have found that tweezers or needle nose pliers can make this job easier since you can get a firm grasp of with only about a quarter inch of thread. Just make sure that the gripping surface of the pliers is smooth, not ridged since the ridged pliers just cut the thread, and likewise make sure the edges of the tweezers aren't sharp

Once you have the ring open, the last double stitch is usually really tight but pulling on the shuttle thread will help loosen it. Size 80 is a stinker to open without breaking the thread but smaller sizes aren't usually that difficult.

Picot Size

What's the right size for your picot? Any size you like unless the pattern tells you specifically. The most important thing is to maintain the SAME size unless directed otherwise. Large picots will give a daintier, lacier effect, but small picots will stay in place without having to pin out every picot after washing. So if your doing a doily that will sit untouched on a table long picots will look gorgeous, but if you're doing and edging for a T-shirt you wear all the time, save yourself hours of work and make them smaller, it will look just as nice.

To Count It Or Not

When you make a join, do you count the join as the first half of the stitch or not? Whatever you like, unless the pattern tells you otherwise. Just be consistent, whether you count the join as the first half of the stitch or not, do the same thing throughout the whole project.


You have to keep your hands clean especially when working with white thread, so wash frequently, but use a soap that won't dry out your skin too much. Orvus is often recommended since it cleans without additives. When tatting on the run, a package of baby wipes or moist towelettes will help you to keep your tatting clean.

Frequent washing will dry out your skin so look for a good hand cream. Some
hand creams contain alcohol which can dry out the skin, so watch the label and select something without it. One of the preparations used on cattle called udder cream, has no additives, preservatives or perfumes and is very mild.

How To Select A Shuttle

Shuttles, like people come in a variety of shapes and sizes and there is no single shuttle that suits everyone's needs. A shuttle is just something to hold thread and let you work with it effectively. A spool of thread can be used as a shuttle although it's shape isn't very aerodynamic and it catches on your work as often as not. Shuttles are generally oval in shape and they usually come to a point front and back. They can be made of a single flat piece or 2 shaped pieces curved together like a clam shell. They can be made of plastic, wood, ivory, bone, horn, ordinary or precious metals, they can be very simple or quite ornate, have engraving or be inlaid with precious stones. They usually have a centre post or a bobbin for winding thread on. Some shuttles also have a handy pick or hook on the front for ease in joining.

So what are the good and bad points about different shuttles?

1. The Lady Hoare shuttle- Named after Lady Hoare who was an avid tatter and designed an easily wound shuttle for her elderly mother. The shuttle is a simple flat oval with C shaped notches cut top and bottom to hold the thread.

The simple design means that it can be made cheaply and easily out of any flat material that you can cut to the desired shape. It can be made small for people with tiny hands or big to hold lots of thread for big projects. The shuttle is quick and easy to wind and winding doesn't fray your thread. The major drawback is that your thread can easily become soiled and fuzzy from constant handling.

2. Centre post shuttles have the clam shell shape that protects your thread from both dirt and friction. The top and bottom parts come to a point at the front and back and your thread is wound onto the centre post by sliding it through the points. If you are using a thick thread the points may fray the thread as it passes between them and once they've been "stretched" to accommodate thick thread, fine threads will slip through too easily so that your work gets tangled back into the shuttle as you are working. Since the points of this kind of shuttle are close together it takes a little more time and patience to wind it. With either this type of shuttle or the flat shuttle you need to unwind and re-wind your thread as you are working. The advantage is that the centre post helps keep your tension while at the same time keeping your thread from unwinding more than you need.

3. Bobbin shuttles have the same clam shell shape but they also have a removable bobbin. There are two advantages to this, first you can often wind the bobbin on your sewing machine, and second, you can wind more than one bobbin at a time so that when you run out of thread you just pop in a new bobbin. Another feature of the bobbin is that rather than unwinding the shuttle to get more thread, you just have to pull on the thread and the bobbin unwinds, re-winding excess thread can be done by spinning the bobbin between forefinger and thumb. The disadvantage of this is that if the tension on the bobbin isn't tight, then the thread will unwind every time you close a ring. Metal shuttles with a bobbin can have the tension adjusted by just pinching the ends, plastic ones rely on the ratcheting effect of the notched bobbins and once they're worn down the shuttle is no longer effective.

4. Point, pick or hook. It's pretty much whatever you like. You need to use something for joins and most often people use the finest crochet hook they can find. Some shuttles have a tiny hook embed in the front of the shuttle for this purpose. The attached hook means that you don't have to carry around a separate hook which can become lost, but it also means that you need to learn how to manoeuver the shuttle so that it doesn't get caught in your work. An alternative to the hook is a pick or narrowed part at the front of the shuttle which is sometimes curved up to make it easier to pull up a loop of thread for a join. The pick is almost as effective as a hook and for some people it doesn't get caught in their work like a hook can. If the hook keeps getting caught in your work and you can't master doing a join with a pick, then you can use a shuttle without either device.

Note: There are a couple of other items to be considered with regard to metal shuttles. I have observed that metal bobbin shuttles can mark your thread particularly when over wound. Overwinding can cause the thread to come off the bobbin and slip in between the shuttle and the bobbin. Metal can oxidize and where the bobbin rubs on the inside of the shuttle the thread can get pinched in and come out with black marks on it. The other thing to pay attention to is the weight. Metal shuttles are heavier and when working with very fine threads, if you drop your shuttle you run the risk of knotting your work.

My personal preference is a plastic Aero shuttle with a bobbin and a hook. I find that I can give it a pull to unwind enough thread to work with and then give the bobbin a few flicks as I reverse work to pick up the slack. The attached hook means I don't have to stop and grab a hook to make joins so the work goes faster. The light weight of the plastic doesn't make my work turn to knots when I let go of the shuttle to untwist my thread.


Most tatting is done with cotton thread and you can treat it much like any other cotton textile, UNLESS you wish to preserve it for posterity. Some threads "bleed" and the only way to know for sure is to get it wet, so if your concerned take a piece of thread and test it before wetting the whole article. I have a dress with a 2.5 inch edging tatted in 70 tatting cotton that just gets thrown in the washer with ordinary detergent and then into the dryer with everything else. The tatting will probably outlast the dress.

If the article is something like a christening gown intended to become an heirloom you'll want to take more care with it. Use cool water to avoid shrinkage and as pure a soap as you can find. Ivory soap flakes is a readily available product, Orvus is available at many seed and feed stores, both of these products are gentle and will clean without damaging the fabric. Block the tatting by pinning out on a flat board, (I have used a well padded ironing board covered with paper towel or linen tea cloth successfully) making sure you use stainless steel pins, to avoid any chance of rust. Let the article air dry.

I recently appliqued some tatting to a shirt and wanted to make sure that once the tatting was in place that neither it, nor the garment were going to shrink. I washed the garment in HOT water to shrink it. Then I placed the tatting in a bowl and covered it with boiling water then I squeezed out the excess water. I covered it with a paper towel and ironed it on a HIGH setting to shrink it as much as possible. Now that the two parts are together they won't shrink any more.


You can use numerous treatments to stiffen finished objects. Commercial preparations sold in craft stores, spray starch, sugar starch, or homemade organic starch all have their place and all have their drawbacks. Some commercial preparations will "plasticize" your piece, it will never be a textile again, and once it's in the fabric it can't be removed and over time the chemicals will often turn the thread yellow, leaving your piece dingy looking.

Spray starch or any other type of starch you would normally use on clothes works well and can be washed out, but due to the additives it may in time also yellow your tatting.

Sugar starch is effective, washes out and doesn't seem to yellow the threads. The one major drawback is that the sugar will attract insects who will eat through the thread to get the sugar.

Sugar Starch

  1. Mix 1/4 cup water and 3/4 cup sugar in a small pan. Stir the mixture over low heat (don't boil) until clear, not sugary. Shut off and let cool.

  2. Wet tatting; roll in a towel to remove excess moisture and dip it into the mixture. Squeeze out excess starch, then shape pinning out picots where necessary. Make sure you remove the excess starch from the picots or there will be hard little blobs of sugar where the picot should be when it dries.

  3. Allow to dry and iron on a warm setting.
Homemade organic starch stiffens, washes out, doesn't yellow the fibres and doesn't attract insects, however it is a time consuming process to make the starch which must be used almost immediately.


Make certain the item is very clean before mounting. Skin acids and oils can cause discoloration quite rapidly sometimes, even if they aren't apparent at first.

Use an ACID-FREE board, and a cloth to cover it. If the board needs a little padding, use polyester batting, which is stable, to pad it. Tatting can be mounted using carefully placed stitches with cotton thread (or use a product called HAIR SILK, a very fine, natural silk which is practically invisible), for the best weight distribution) on a natural fabric backing which has been placed over stretcher bars.

The wood frame or wood stretcher bars should never touch the needlework. Stretcher bars can be wrapped with fabric strips, prior to stretching with fabric, as an additional acid barrier.

Also, there should be an airspace (made with acid free spacers placed in the frame) between the needlework and the glass, as well as a material on the back of the frame that allows for air exchange. Either fabric or acid free paper can be used to make the back of the work look nicely finished and still provide some air exchange. Sealing it into anything airtight or against glass, can encourage condensation and moulding.

Framing companies that specialize in framing artwork are usually able to
supply acid-free frames, boards and other paraphernalia.

Anything plastic touching the needlework is also usually discouraged, since some plastics will react with fibres and cause permanent damage.