Friday, March 1, 2019

Trinkets, made by hand with lov- sleepiness

It's that time of the year again... Today is the 1st of March, the day when people in Romania celebrate the start of spring. It is customary on this day for girls and women to receive flowers and small trinkets that symbolize spring or luck.

It is also a day when I finally rest after toiling for a week, much like God after creating the world. I have been making trinkets for the important ladies in our lives: our moms, our wedding godmother and this year my husband's godmother, who lives in Belgium.

I have lost quite a bit of sleep this week, working well into the night several times. My colleagues at work asked me why I don't just buy the trinkets, like everyone else. It would be easier, less stressful and would keep my IQ above sea level (I get quite stupid when I am severely sleep deprived or very hungry). I am however stubborn and I also have a reputation to uphold.

Almost every year now ever since I learned tatting, I have made trinkets by hand to give to our family and friends. I only missed one year, when for some reason I had been on a longer break from tatting. Our mothers and godmother already know that I will make them trinkets every year, each time of a different design (so they can't say "oh, but I already have one of those"). Even if usually the men give out these trinkets, in our family this is my job (self-employed).

I usually start to look for ideas during the winter, trying to find the perfect one. Most of the time I am still looking for ideas well into February and run out of time, scrambling to have them ready on time. Because you usually only wear your trinket on the 1st day of March. Getting it on the 2nd or 3rd is just unacceptable.

I finally settled on a very pretty pattern that I used to make with a needle: Rose and Crown by Frivole. It has overlapping rings, so I learned how to make them with a shuttle and the first 3 trinkets were done. I sent them away by post and courier to their destinations and started on the 4th one. Unfortunately, my thread broke just when closing the final ring and, upset to no end, I just threw it away and started anew with another pattern. This one was a flower medallion by Nancy Tracy.

It was late last night and I was starting on the 3rd row when I realized that, even with my thin thread, it would still be quite big. It took me all my willpower not to set it aside and look for something else. I eventually finished it at around 3 am. It did turn out bigger than all my other trinkets (about 4-5cm in diameter), but mom would just have to pretend it is a statement piece. I met up with her this morning and she oohed and aahed at it as usual. I hope she actually liked it... it is so hard to tell with loved ones, they always say it is pretty. At least I can count on my husband to be honest in his opinions about my tatting. He doesn't actually have to wear it.

I remembered to take a photo of the last trinket this morning before leaving, something I had forgotten to do with the other three. I usually do that, unfortunately. I give them away and then remember I would have liked to have kept the picture. For bragging on my blog heh.

Sorry, it is a bit out of focus
I could ask my mother-in-law to take a photo for me and send it over. Hmm, now that I think about it, I don't know if she has actually received hers from the courier. I actually should have called her to check... I should have also called her to tell her good wishes. Oopsie... those are also not welcome the second day if you forget to call on the 1st. See, I told you I get stupid when I lose sleep. I should go to bed now. Good night!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

What are you doing?

"What are you doing?" I get asked that a lot when I am out tatting in public.

Lace making is quite rare in Romania these days and tatting is even more rare.

Very few people still work thread and yarn by hand, compared to a couple of generations back. My grandmother from my father's side used to knit (her wool booties were the warmest) and weave (she made kitchen towels and I think some wall carpets too). My other grandmother died before I was born but my mom told me she used to crochet. She or my great-grandmother (I forgot who exactly) made a gorgeous bed spread that was used on my bed. I will definitely take a picture when I find it again. In fact, I will take the whole thing with me, why leave it in some old wardrobe? The house is also strewn with doilies of all sizes, which to my amateur eye look like Romanian point lace. I will need to rescue those too, even if just for storing and not displaying.

At some point during the last few decades, doilies were extremely popular in homes in my country. They eventually became a kitsch symbol, along with the porcelain statuettes that were usually placed on them. None of the modern households display doilies anymore, even if mothers and grandmothers worked on them with care and talent.

Apart from this phenomenon, the most popular arts were knitting, crochet and cross stitch (framed cross stitch works are also considered kitsch here now). A lot of people didn't really know much about other forms of lace making. They knew about embroidery, because of our beautiful traditional blouse (called "ie" in Romanian) that was embroidered by hand with geometric motifs. Of course, if you take your time to look up the various techniques for making lace and clothing (and more!) using thread and yarn, you will realise there are a lot more than these three.

There are of course artisans in Romania who work using these less known techniques and some of them (yes, still only a few) also tat. I'm sure a lot of these people get asked "what are you doing?" a lot. Sometimes, they also hear the generic "ah, you are crocheting again", even if they are not in fact crocheting, but doing something else entirely. I have a friend who crochets who was asked by someone "what are you knitting there?"

It is normal for the majority of the people to not know off hand what you are doing and to just assume you are crocheting or knitting and you can of course try to educate them. I do that as well, every time I get asked what I am doing. There is unfortunately a big problem for me, because I haven't been able to find a Romanian term for tatting, no matter how hard I looked. So I just use the English or French term and I explain that I am "making lace" or "knotting" or simply "making a flying piggie". Some leave it at that and shrug, others insist that I am crocheting.

A friend (who insists he studied linguistics in school) tried to tell me that it is normal for people not in the know to just use the general term in the language. We eventually agreed that this would be "making lace" (he was also convinced I crochet)  but he is right in one thing. Unfortunately, this is the natural mentality of the person who simply doesn't really care to understand what you do... but asks nonetheless.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Introducing the flying pig!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it is the tatted flying pig!

I have had Jane Eborall's flying pig on my wish list ever since I found out it existed. Which was shortly after learning how to needle tat, a few years ago. It was such a whimsical thing to make!

I kept putting it off though, wanting to learn and get more experience first. Some of the techniques were almost daunting. Split ring? Lock join? Reverse work? Oh wait, that one I knew. There is also a version with onion rings. I didn't even open that one, the title alone stopped me.

After getting a bit more comfortable with shuttle tatting and some of the intermediate techniques, I decided to give it a go. I didn't like onion rings much, so I chose the alternative pattern.

Let me make a little aside here. I am truly amazed by Jane's patterns and I'm sure I will make more in the future. So far I have made the turtle (as a pair of earrings).

I also tweaked the piggie a little to my own taste. I only used Catherine wheel joins (because I seem to have a lock join phobia), made the ear as a thrown ring (with a turned side, like the turtle flippers), used self-closing mock rings for the legs instead of split rings and added or removed a double stitch here and there. And I tried to make a dead-end chain for the tail without proper instructions (my phone was running out of battery, no time for research). I also completely remade the wings...

The leg as self-closing mock ring with a thrown ring off it. The loop is formed by the core shuttle.
Looks a bit naked... Let's give it some wings

I'm quite happy with the way it turned out. I even had the perfect shade of baby pink. I asked my friends what they thought it was and they guessed it was a pig, so pig accomplished!

I then designed the wings. They are very simple. I will put the instructions at the end of the post if anyone cares to try them.

After it was all done, of course we had to take photos. And since it was supposed to be a flying piggie, we tried to make it look like it was flying. We ended up filming it... while it was flying downwards. Here it is in slow motion, with extra sound effects (sadly, the pig is not in focus):

We really had a blast taking photos of the piggie and tossing it around. It was a flying pig, after all!

The piggie in the grass photographed by my husband.
In the end, I gave the piggie away to one of my friends. They said they would make another video starring the little flying oinker. I will make another one for myself. I definitely need one somewhere on my desk at work.

PS. Here are the notes for one wing. This is for the right wing. For making the left wing, work everything backwards.

Two shuttles wound continuously.
Start SCMR
R1 3-2-1
R2 1+(join to p2 of R1)3-3-3
R3 1+(join to p3 of R2)5-6

I connected the wings together by passing the two threads through picots in the pig's body instead of cutting and hiding the ends. I had enough thread left to make the second wing.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Tools of the trade

I was going to show you a little pictorial of how I make the adjustable closure for the wheat bracelet, but then I realised that most of my photos were fuzzy and not even worth trying to sharpen. Hmm, another reason for my husband and friends to try and convince me to change my phone. A 360 view of the bracelet, now that's an idea!

I will instead talk a bit about the various tools that are basic for me and also some that I really can't work with.


I love my bobbin shuttles. I have four of them (I don't feel I need any more) and each came with two bobbins. I cut off the crochet hook because it was too big for my usual thread and decorated them with tissue paper.

The one on the left has a traditional Romanian motif on it.
I have recently bought a pair of post shuttles but I simply can't work with them. The tips needed to be coerced to stay together (that is actually a design flaw) and the point is too thick to poke through my VSPs (very small picots heh). I am also not used to not being able to adjust the thread position and length quickly. Even if I do find better quality post shuttles, I'm pretty sure I won't get any... they're not for me. Maybe a flat shuttle at most.

Trying to join that picot... Where is the crochet hook?

Crochet hooks

Since I neutered my shuttles, the only way to join would be using a crochet hook. My first one is actually a lot older than me and was used by my grandmother. It looks like the wooden handle was once broken, then attached to an empty pen case with a heat shrink tube. Pretty ingenious, and it also has a cap that way! I feel honoured to use a tool that has produced a lot of lovely items.

The old crochet hook is being put to good use again.
I have since bought myself another crochet hook in a larger size, to work with thicker yarn.

Good even needles

Back when I was needle tatting, I accumulated a real collection of even needles with narrow eyes. I don't use them all anymore, but I keep two sets of short darners in my working "basket" (it is actually a bag) for hiding ends. Having good needles really helps not distort the tatting too much. Here in Romania, Milward is the best brand I could find.


You might wonder what I need pliers for while tatting. I got into the habit of using them ever since my needle tatting days. Sometimes, my knots would be so tight on the needle, that they wouldn't slide past the eye anymore, so I would hold onto the needle with the pliers to get a good grip on it while sliding the knots. Before that, I was the bride with the most worn fingers, but that is a story for another time.

Now I use the pliers when hiding ends (I use the whip stitch method). My tatting is quite tight, so I grab the needle with the pliers to pull it through the little knot caps when it gets stuck.

A real finger saver.

The big eye needle

I use a lot of seed beads for making tatted jewellery and the big eye needle is invaluable for stringing beads. You open it, secure the thread end to one tip and rummage in the bead bag with the other end, letting beads catch on the pointy end. The principle is the same as for a needle threader.

It is 10cm long. Lots of beads can fit on that.

I won't even mention the pair of scissors (actually nail scissors, with very narrow and sharp tips), measuring tape and other doodads that are really quite common. If I haven't bored you already, next time I hope to share my limited experience with a few types of thread.

PS. I do a lot of my tatting at home on top of my laptop keyboard, so that is why you see so much of it. It is useful for keeping the tatting dog hair free but it's no fun when seed beads fall between the keys!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Broken butterfly wing

A few days ago, Muskaan (who is an awesome tatter whom I have learned a lot from) created a little butterfly pattern and asked us to decorate it however we wanted to.

I tried a couple of ideas, including Victorian sets and adjusting the stitch counts, but I had a lot of bad starts and eventually gave up.

I promised her I would try again and on my latest outing to the forest, I decided to use up a shuttle full of silk thread. I added some blue seed beads and only a couple of extra stitches in the chains to balance out the beads in the rings.

It was going very well and I was at the last ring when I realised the wings were not symmetric. I checked the pattern again and, sure enough, I had taken a wrong turn after the first ring, so instead of the top rings facing away from each other, they both faced the same way. I didn't take any pictures but I think you can imagine it.

I blame it all on my lack of skill with applied spacial perception (I also get lost easily in places I have been before, but coming from a different road). I was following the diagram but the upside down image played tricks on my eyes.

I was ready to cut it up, recover my beads and make another try. I laughed about my lapse in concentration with my husband and a friend and showed them the crooked butterfly. When I told them I was going to perform major surgery and recover the pieces of my Frankenstein monster, our friend said he would like to try to fix it. He would just need needle, thread and a pair of scissors. I told him it would come apart if he tried to cut the join, but he insisted that I would have nothing to lose so I gave him the tools.

He cut the join, then split the thread in 6 and connected the two rings in the correct place with a 6th of the thread. I guess my tatting was tight enough to withstand the cut and maybe the beads helped too, but it stayed together.

You can see the broken thread in the top left ring.

I will keep it and try to hold it together with glue and will probably use it as a decoration. I will most definitely make another butterfly, but will learn from my mistakes and do it properly this time. I also encourage you to try the pattern out and bring your own artistic touch to the butterfly.