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.


  1. Or perhaps they are just being "polite" when asking ;-P One must thank them for even asking :-D
    Nice to hear your take on lace making in Romania.
    In India, too, we do not have any indigenous tatting terms. Clearly it is an imported art. As are crochet & perhaps knitting. I believe we have a much longer history of hand embroidery (though that may have been brought in by the Mughals, etc). We are a Textile country historically. Handloom weaving and dyeing.

    1. I think they are just curious but if it takes too much thought process they will not try to understand.
      I will look up Indian textile arts, from what i have seen the fabric colours are beautifil.

  2. I’ve had similar experiences here in South Africa, even to the naming problem- there’s some argument about the correct Afrikaans word for tatting. Knoopwerk say some, which means knot work and is also applied to macrame etc.

    1. Thank you for sharing this, i didn't know about this term. It does sound a bit like a general term for knotting techniques, but i really am no linguist.


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