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Choosing between Needle Tatting and Shuttle Tatting

Choosing between Needle Tatting and Shuttle Tatting

Bridal Bracelet w Swarovski Crystals by Simply Collectible

For those of you subscribed to my blog, at one point, I'd decided to chronicle my tatting adventures. As a matter of fact, I first drafted this post 2 years ago- May 19, 2014 @ 08:51:49. Since then, a lot of life has happened, but there is some great information here so I thought I would go ahead and post.

This is my first completed piece needle tatting without a pattern. It was commissioned as a bridal piece which is what threw me in to the arms of tatting. Before this, I'd already known I would tat. The question was when.

(Honestly, I have a good sense of it, but I don't even really know how to read patterns entirely.)

My simple bridal piece is needle tat and I'm finding it super easy aside from one thing. That one thing is extremely frustrating. I'm ready to move forward and learn some techniques, but when I ask how to start, work, or complete something, most answers come back from shuttle tatters. The lack of answers for needle tat prompted me to ask these very questions in a group.

Here's the back side of my piece.

Bridal Bracelet w Swarovski Crystals by Simply Collectible

My mother had never seen this needle craft. Her family has worked every other needle craft and they originate from Mexico. My grandfather (mom's dad) was part Scandinavian and I think they had some pieces I saw as a child, but I could be mixing my memories. The embroidery my mother did was similar to tatting. She taught me when I was 5.

The out-pour of answers from my question was not quite what I expected, though the passion I read was everything I expected.

These are great explanations and examples that were pivotal for me, so let's get right to it.

Help! I must know because my brain hurts. Lol. I've started with needle tatting, but it seems everyone else uses a shuttle. Why? What is the difference for you? Did you learn both methods and choose? I feel like I need to start working with one or I will be isolated which will handicap my ability to learn. Your thoughts? Your opinions? Let ‘er rip!

Do I need to go get one tonight?

‘I shuttle tat but that is what I was taught. I would like to learn needle tatting but just not in a rush right now.'

‘I needle tat only because I cant figure out how to use a shuttle. haha- I think I gave up to quickly on the shuttle.'

‘I started with needle tatting because I had trouble with the “flip”. It was easier to learn some of the basics. Since moving to shuttle tatting I have no desire to go back.'

‘My mom taught me the shuttle when I was 12 and couldn't get the”flip” then I left it for a while and came back to it and it clicked.'

Me:  ‘The “flip” is the control of the knot, right? I get that. I didn't know it was a technique, but when I was a young girl, I did that tying my shoes to make my laces straight. I thought I made it up because nobody knew what I was talking about.'

‘Once you get the “flip” figured out the rest is easy.'

Me:  ‘What are the advantages and disadvantages of either?'

‘no sticking urself with needle lol'

Me:  ‘I've run out of thread a lot of times, working a project, and I wonder if that is a problem that is eliminated when using a shuttle? I run out on the end that is on the needle. Is that the core? If I do not run out, it gets tangled up when I'm pulling it through. That is time consuming and frustrating.

‘Tangling is less of a problem with the shuttle.'

‘I love the portability of shuttles and I teach newbies needle tatting (using a dull doll needle), because it gives my students an almost instant grasp of forming double stitches, rings & chains by successfully creating 2-3 inches of lace within the 2 hour class. After they understand the way the knot and elements are done, they seem to find it easier to switch over to shuttle.'

‘I had a hard time learn how to use a shuttle – I was able to do needle tatting and have for years, I watched others do various crafts with needle and thread – I think that is why the needle tatting was so easy.'

Me:  ‘Are there different sizes of shuttles?'

‘Shuttle tatter for 20 years, have dabbled with the needle, but like shuttle better. Holds lots of thread, tighter, firmer stitches, no need to use different sizes, and more portable.'

‘Celina, any size thread can be used in a shuttle.'

‘I've been a shuttle tatter for about 30 years. I bought needles and learned that method and just didn't like how much looser it was. I like the firmer, tighter feel of shuttle work.'

‘With needle tatting you can only get it so tight, the needle has to be able to go through the stitches. Shuttle makes stitches directly on thread and can be much tighter.'

‘I've had people show me how to shuttle tat but I prefer needle tatting. In fact, I don't ever intend to shuttle tat. My projects are portable, I like that I can stop at any point and my tension doesn't change because it is controlled by the needle. The biggest drawbacks: working with very long lengths of thread, and low quality needles. My best needles are stainless steel, and the very best for small threads are from Poland. A longer (not wider) eye makes them so much easier to thread.'

‘I think arthritis in my hands makes the needle harder for me, too. I don't use the traditional shuttle for that reason. I use a Lael wooden shuttle because it's easier for me to hold than the smaller ones. I think that was part of my troubles with the needles, too hard to hold thanks to Uncle Arthur.'

‘What I thought was a disadvantage with shuttle tatting is the tension control. If you are pulling a 20 thread very tightly, you'd have to add extra stiches to change the size of your project, With the needle, I change needle and thread size, and there is no need to add extra stitches to change my project size. A friend and I both tatted the same baby bootie pattern. She used a shuttle. Mine were 12 months size, hers were newborn size. I can use smaller thread to make smaller booties, She would have to add stitches to make hers larger.'

Me:  ‘I appreciate you all helping me understand the difference and preferences. I don't mind trial and error, but sometimes you just have to ask. Seems like the difference of shuttle vs. needle is like a dinner fork vs chop sticks.'

‘LOL, standard shift vs automatic. I'd say shuttle tatting is like standard shift. Hahahaha, something I've never gotten the hang of! I'll stick with an automatic.'

‘I'd say that shuttle tatting is the standard shift. It's the older (and maybe more difficult) way, but you have more control, better gas mileage (more thread, lol) and like stick shift cars the people who use it are passionate about it. I love my shuttles (and my stick shift car, lol) Shuttle might be harder to learn for some people, but it is worth it!'

Arumi Thio:  ‘shuttle-tatting is (as comments above) more portable, easier to “handle” the stitches but harder if you don't know how to “flip” your thread. Needle-tating is easier to learn. I shuttle-tat like a needle-tatter when I want beads on my tatting because I cannot cope with beads on my shuttle thread. There are so many ways to shuttle-tat, that you don't need to know how to flip the thread in order to shuttle-tat. Traditional shuttle-tatting uses the shuttle to form the stitches around a “core thread” when making rings and it is the core thread when making chains. Needle-tatting uses your fingers to form the stitches around a “core thread” that is you make stitches on the needle and push them onto core thread, and it either becomes the chain, or a ring (which is essentially SCMR to a shuttle-tatter).
People believe shuttle-tatting is harder because the traditional method requires you to do the flip. But if you can shuttle-tat “upside down”, that is don't flip the thread and use the shuttle to form the stitches around the core thread, you can still use a shuttle.'

Sherrill:  ‘Actually, early in your tatting experience may be a good time to try both ways. The longer you wait to try one after learning the other the harder it tends to be. I can needle tat, I rarely do. I have shuttle tatted so long that when I think tatting, visualize how to accomplish something it is shuttle techniques. I only learned needle tatting to teach someone who just couldn't get the shuttle/ flip.
Try both, only you can decide which works better for you.'

Aurora Lozada:  ‘I like shuttle tatting. I can load more thread in a shuttle than in a needle, shuttle is more portable that a needle. Love the click, click while tatting. A shuttle for any thread size, Beads can be string in the thread and carry them on the same shuttle. Everything fits in a 20 cigarrettes methallic box.'

Michelle Bolen Kosek:  ‘Needle tatting is not as tight as shuttle tatting. A project made by needle tatting and one made by shuttle tatting ARE different – the shuttle project can stand up to having a ring or chain broken and will stay together, whereas a needle tatted project would fall apart if the thread were broken at one place because the threads are not “locked”. I taught myself to shuttle tat first (with my deceased grandmother's metal Boye) and tried the needle tat later. I'm pretty much exclusively a shuttle tatter.'

Jane Eborall:  ‘Shuttle tatting is the traditional and original way to make this lace. Needle tatting only came about in the 1970's. Shuttle tatting may be ‘problematic' for some to learn but it gives a finer, tighter result. I like the fact too that I'm carrying on a very old tradition. Tried the needle both when it first came out and more recently but it hurt my hands trying to get a good tension and all that stupid thread hanging around drove me mad!'

I really enjoyed chatting with these helpful women. One day, I'll go back to tatting. There are even some unfinished pieces in a small bin with a couple of shuttles just within reach. Honestly, I love to pick it up and feel the knots from time to time. If I ever start drawing up some charts, you'll know.


Monday 13th of February 2023

How about shuttle tatting instructions for the left-handed! That's why I started with the needle I couldn't make any sense out of the shuttle. Everything was backwards for me.


Sunday 11th of September 2016

Thank you Celina! I have wanted to learn tatting. I love the look of this lace! I only learned how to knit (very basic) and crochet 2 years ago. I have been busy perfecting that craft but you have spurred me on to look into tatting again!


Sunday 11th of September 2016

You know, TanyaJoy67... I am so glad that you commented, first of all! I hesitated on whether or not to post this, but I know people do like tatting. I certainly hope you find it a good resource. That being said, welcome to the world of needlecrafting! There is so much to do. I see them all as beautiful puzzles. They are not too unlike jigsaw, crossword, paint by number and so on, in the way they work our synapses. I say continue on the path your mind craves and your heart loves. Tatting may be my freeform craft for a little while. Ha!