The pictures of shuttles on this page are reproduced with the permission of Neyrella Taunton, author of the best of needlework tools book: Antique Needlework Tools and Embroideries. Neryella passed away about a year ago, but before she died she allowed me to photograph much of her small tool collection. Some of her shuttles are here reproduced. Her encouragement, support, kindness and generosity will always be gratefully remembered by myself. A lovely lady.
The history of tatting shuttles is inextricably linked to that of the art of knotting which was an art from which it would appear that tatting was derived.
I must start by saying that knotting is not tatting. Knotting was designed to stop fraying of woven cloth and then developed into its own art form as an applied decoration. Whilst it was known in Europe from medieval times it really came into its own in Britain in the 17 the century.
The shuttles used were often large (say even 5 inches) and the points were open, as opposed to the closed points of tatting shuttles. Though to be fair, I am sure that knotting shuttles were first used for tatting, but as the annoying characteristic of open points on these shuttles when used for tatting was recognized, the closed point shuttles were quickly adopted.
Both early knotting shuttles and tatting shuttles were very decorative. Unfortunately some of the more decorative shuttles made in china (for example) were virtually unusable, but how we would all love to own one of those delicately carved ivory and bone shuttles.
If we are to venture a date for the commencement of tatting, it would appear that the early 19th century could be put forward with reasonable good faith, but as regards to proof then we would have to stick with the middle of that century.
Tatting shuttles became smaller as the result of the change from knotting and the use of finer threads. They were around the 3 inches or less as a general rule, but there are of course exceptions to that rule.
They were made from a variety of materials, wood, bone, ivory, mother of pearl, silver and as the manufacturing businesses took over the making of these shuttles, they appeared in steel, bakelite and other various early "plastics", until the present day when plastic comprises the main material for commercial shuttles.
When we look at the shuttles of the early 1900s (and even before) we see a great variety in the decoration, particularly of the wooden shuttles. These decorative styles followed the fashions of wood decoration of the time and mosaic, Tunbridgeware, painted pictures etc. all followed the general fashion. By that I mean that at the time, say Tunbridgeware shuttles were in fashion, you would be able to by Tunbridgeware boxes, egg cups and all manner of treen.
I hope to get permission to add links to pages that have these various shuttles illustrated as I do not have very much of a collection of antique shuttles (unfortunately) But if you have nice pictures of antique shuttles that you would like to send me to illustrate this page, then I would be so pleased to have them and publish them. (beg, beg, grovel, grovel!!! :) :) )
I am one of a comparatively few modern shuttle makers, though most geographical areas have their favorite makers that look after their local needs. Basically that is what I do. First and foremost I enjoy making various needle work tools. But when I make a batch of shuttles I put them on my web page or send them to a local club to sell. I am afraid that I do not take orders. I make first and then try and sell them. (Poor business I know, but not half as stressful as having to make to order. In my working life I have had plenty of stress, and in retirement I am trying to reduce that element of modern life)
Shuttles can be made from many materials but I have to say that wooden shuttles are my favorite. Sure I would like to have a silver shuttle, but wood is a great material and works well for shuttles.
How are shuttles made?
We start with extremely thin slivers of wood. Sometimes I cut them from the solid or else I use veneers. Usually these are not thin enough so I then sand them down to about 15 thousandth of an inch. (approximately) I am now laminating four of these thin layers together (I used to laminate three but I think that I am getting better shuttles with four laminations). These laminations are set in molds to the curve of the shell that I want to produce.
The two shells come out after 24 to 48 hours and are cleaned up, cut to length and paired up. I then make the post, each post being individually thicknessed and shaped for the pair of shells.
The completed post is then glued to one of the shells until it is fairly well stuck, then the second shell is glued on and the pair are kept together by G cramps until the glue has reached its maximum strength. ( use this two step process to avoid "shell slip" which is when the shells slip in the cramps and come out misaligned)
When released from the cramp, I clean up the shuttle, trace the shape on to the shell and then I use a sander to achieve the shape that I want.
I then clean up the shuttle, sand in the delicate curves near the point so that the cotton will not be cut when you wind it on and set the initial "click" for the points. This is done with sandpaper, and done carefully as the difference between one pass of the sand paper and two passes can mean the difference between click and "no click" :(
I then use thinned down lacquer (70% approx.) and apply two coats... rub down with 600 wet and dry carborundum paper, .....two coats and rub down with 0000 steel wool...then a minimum of two cots and rub down with rottenstone, which is a very fine abrasive powder. At that stage I look at the finish and may well add more coats up to about ten coats.
I also make shuttle from solid wood of various types. These are shaped via a scroll saw and sandpaper. The finish is the same as the other shuttles.
My specialty is that of shuttles made from Ebony with a pewter rivet. I only make a few of these, but I do like to call them "mine".
I have been developing my shuttle making skills for some years, starting with solid types, graduating to those made from Laminex samples and then I met David Reed Smith on the net.
You could not wish for a more generous and selfless teacher than David. He literally taught me how to make his style of shuttles over the net. A great example of what the internet is all about. He is a great guy. I have just one of his shuttles that I use for quality control when I have completed mine. He is still the "king" and I am one of his subjects.
Do visit his web site and do buy one of his shuttles for your collection... on the whole I think they are better than mine!
Here is a great link for those interested in tatting. He has a great page on shuttles.
( Dan Rusch-Fischer) http://www.tribbler.com/tatman/victoria2_frameset.html