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Amazing lace

By: CAROL McGRAW THE GAZETTE
April 18, 2007
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photo - Tatting can create Christmas ornaments, doilies and pillowcase embellishments. Photo by
Tatting can create Christmas ornaments, doilies and pillowcase embellishments. Photo by  
Could fiber crafts be any more popular? Knitting is on a roll. Quilting is hot. And lots of people are hooked on crocheting. And then, there’s tatting, the centuries-old art of making fine lace.
It is not experiencing a big resurgence. It is not being picked up by A-list celebrities. But Julie Anne Sprinkle of Colorado Springs is doing her part to keep the craft from dying out. Her late great-grandmother and late greataunt were the last tatting experts in her family until she decided to take up the intricate, methodical, almost hypnotic craft of stringing knots together with delicate thread. Now, she’s teaching tatting to others in classes offered through Green Valley Weavers & Knitters. “I like it because it is so detailed and beautiful. It’s amazing,” says Ruth Brisk, who took tatting classes last year from Sprinkle. Tatting takes nimble fingers and patience. Sprinkle, who works for a sporting goods store and spends a lot of time rock climbing and flytying, has both. She also finds that her nearsightedness is a plus. She takes off her glasses so she can see the tiny handwork. “I find the infinite in the infinitesimal,” Sprinkle says. To tat, all that’s really needed is thread and a shuttle, a wood or plastic tool about three inches long that helps guide the thread while the knots are made. It looks complicated, but it isn’t, Sprinkle says. The trick is in controlling the tension and direction of the thread and learning to judge the length, spacing and shape of the many types of stitches. The biggest difficulty most students have is learning to “flip the knot” — that is, changing threads, which takes a bit of fancy maneuvering. And be warned that some complicated tatting patterns can require 1,000 ties in a 2-inch piece. But what you’ll end up with is an item made from a centuries-old craft. Tatting is thought to have evolved from the knotted designs in ancient Egyptian and Chinese clothing, and later, the knotted netting that sailors used for rope and moorings. Tatting is mentioned in “Canterbury Tales,” written in the 1300s, and was said be a pastime of Queen Mary and other court ladies, as well as cloistered nuns. It was fairly popular in the 1920s and ’30s in America, and has remained popular in Europe. Sprinkle has viewed pioneer tatting in museums, and was impressed by the copious amounts of lace the crafters were able to create. “I don’t know how they did it — work the farm and home all day, and tat at night.” Tatting fell out of favor partly because lace can easily be made by machines. And many of the items that were decorated with tatting — handkerchiefs, parasols, doilies and pillowcases — aren’t as stylish as they once were. Beth Garrison, a member of the Pikes Peak Weavers’ Guild, learned to tat from her grandmother and mother, who tatted lace to embellish collars, cuffs and pillowcases. But Garrison was too impatient to devote herself to tatting. A knitter, she now tats lace to embellish that work. She uses a big-eyed needle instead of a shuttle because she finds it easier. “There are a few women in the guild who tat. It’s something that is passed down woman to woman now by those that aren’t trend-conscious — who want to make sure it doesn’t disappear,” Garrison says. Because tatting is mostly done for embellishment, it hasn’t become as popular as other needle arts. Many women don’t have time for embellishment work “unless they are fiber fools like me,” Garrison laughs. Ruth Brisk had to learn from Sprinkle because she missed an opportunity to learn from her grandmother, who tatted the family’s clothes, hankies and pillowcases. “I had always regretted that she died before I was old enough to learn,” Brisk says. Sprinkle, 42, became fascinated with tatting almost 30 years ago when a favorite teacher gave her a tatted bookmark as a gift and encouraged her to learn the art. She studied its history and took tatting classes on the side while working on undergraduate and doctorate degrees. She thought she was going to make academia a career, but instead turned to fiber arts. Sprinkle creates a lot of contemporary items: necklaces, earrings and bracelets made of lace and beads, three-dimensional Christmas decorations, decorative medallions for clothing, heart-shaped keepsakes for newlyweds, bookmarks and even miniature bedspreads for dollhouses. She even tatted the lace accents and edging for her wedding dress — a feat that can be appreciated only by students who have labored to create a one-inch piece of tatted lace. Although needle-craft stores sell new shuttles and current books on tatting, Sprinkle prefers to use old patterns, some of which are 200 years old, and wood shuttles that she finds in antique stores. It fits with her lifestyle. She and her husband, Jeff Cooper, a city arborist, live in an 1893 house on a third of an acre on the old Sinton Dairy property near downtown. She heats her house with a wood stove and has a large vegetable garden. They don’t dine out, go to movies or watch TV. Instead she spends evenings doing her art, which also includes botanical illustrations. As a craft, she says, tatting has its advantages. It’s easy to transport — she always takes her shuttle and thread on ski trips. And it’s meditative, she says. “You lose yourself in the pattern you are creating.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0371 or carol.mcgraw@gazette.com NOW YOU CAN TAT, TOO . . . Julie Anne Sprinkle, a fiber artist, will teach a two-part tatting class from 2 to 4 p.m. April 24 and May 1 at Green Valley Weavers & Knitters, 2115 W. Colorado Ave. Cost is $40. To register, call 448-9963.
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