Thursday, June 27, 2013

Struggling with the Shuttle

I don't understand why anyone would tat with a shuttle.

No offense. Truly.

But seriously, in my opinion, shuttle tatting is the absolute most confusing and frustrating thing ever, and needle tatting is so beautifully easy!

I get the theory behind shuttle tatting. I can make the stitches "flip" with no problem. I can even make a decent looking chain and/or ring, whichever I start with...and then I RW and suddenly I'm in shuttle tatting hell.

With the needle, I can see every stitch I make, right there on the needle. Before I commit myself to a ring or chain I can think:

Did I add or leave out a double stitch? Is one picot larger or smaller than the rest? No problem! Just slip the stitches off the needle and start again.
Oops! I made a mistake! Lucky for me it's SO easy to see/fix them!

Did I leave a small space between the ring and chain when I reverse worked my motif? No I did not, because I can actually see what I am tatting! (If you are tatting to the point you are pinching between thumb and forefinger, how can you see what you are doing?!)
The beginning of a picot in needle tatting. You can see everything.
This is actually the second half of a picot from the shuttle...can you tell? Of course not! All the tatting I've done is hidden behind my fat thumbs!
Even after I have committed myself, and, sometimes even two or three rings/chains beyond, if I suddenly notice a mistake, all I have to do is take the end of the thread off the needle, undo the half knot at the end, and everything just slides back out. When I shuttle tat and make a mistake? Forget it, I have to cut it out and start over. You can't un-tat with a shuttle because there is no thread "end"!
Just find the middle thread and...
...slide off the mistake!
To be fair, I learned how to needle tat first, and have been regularly practicing since 2009. I only learned how to shuttle tat last August, and I have barely practiced at all since then, mostly because I find shuttle tatting to be so frustrating and hard.

Ok so far...
Where did my ring go? I can't see it!
Ooh, a ring AND a chain...amazing. Except the double-stiches are backwards, so I have no idea how I'm going to join to that picot. GAH!
Why, if I'm having such a trouble with this, am I torturing myself, do you ask?

Well, shuttle tatting seems to lend itself to two-color tatting much more easily than needle tatting does. And I haven't been able to figure out all those two+ shuttle patterns for the needle yet, and I'd like to stop automatically skipping those patterns in all my books.

But seriously. Grr. I have a mountain of "mess-ups" around my chair and I'm pretty sure my blood pressure is severely elevated right now.

I wonder if part of the problem is that I shuttle tat left handed. I discovered last summer that shuttle tatting with the right hand (the hand I write and throw with) didn't work for me, because with needle tatting I'm used to most of the movement coming from the left hand, not the when I tried to use my left hand to build the lace and my right hand to manipulate the shuttle, it was a knotty disaster...

So I tried left hand tatting and, voila, I could actually make a decent double-stitch.

Trouble is, now everything is backwards and confusing.

SO, I think I'm probably going to stick with the needle. Some people say there is a big difference between the two, but I don't really see it...

Do you? Which is which?
(Can you even tell? The picture quality isn't all that wonderful)

Also, any pointers you shuttlers out there have for a poor struggling needle tatter trying to crack the shuttle code?



  1. Depending on the size and type of thread and the size of the needle you use, you may not notice much difference between needle and shuttle tatted pieces. Shuttle tatting with size 80 thread, the only thing inside the stitches is the thread. Since the needle is inside the needle tatted stitches, the tatting is as thick as the needle. The finest needle is still thicker than the thread and the space left behind when you draw the needle through is bigger, unless you shuttle tat very loosely.

    I'm right handed, but I can tat left handed when necessary, the issue is, as you have discovered, that you need to go through mental gymnastics to convert the patterns when you tat them. I try to discourage lefties from tatting left handed, because they will find the whole, "convert the pattern in the head" issue a pain in the butt.

    One of the advantages to shuttle tatting is that the average shuttle will hold 9 yards of size 20 thread, which means that you can tat a lot before you need to add more thread. In needle tatting you can only put so much thread on the needle before it tangles, or becomes frayed from being pulled through the stitches.

    Learning shuttle tatting is easier starting with chains using 2 contrasting colours of thread. The big thing is relaxing as you do it. Most of the flipping action is done with the left hand, so lefties are actually at an advantage. All the right hand does is push the shuttle back and forth. See the demo here:
    and here:

    1. Thanks Sharon. Both your comments and links were very helpful, and I really appreciated them! I'll keep plugging away at it!

  2. I learned to shuttle tat first and I find needle tatting very cumbersome. Getting the stitches off the needle without the stitches twisting is hard and I find the stitches loose on the core thread compared to the shuttle. I agree that needle tatting is much easier when you first learn but in the long run shuttle tatting is more versitle. I think you should give shuttle tatting a good chance. It took me a year of tatting before I felt my projects were good enough to give away. And I've just started a blog after three years of tatting, again because it took that long for me to feel that my work was "blog-worthy." Shuttle tatting takes a long time to master (and I am a long way from mastering it even now).

    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement! It's tough to keep up with the shuttle when I know it would look so much better off the needle, but I suppose it won't hurt to be proficient in both! I enjoy your blog, keep it up. :)

    2. i want to know how to use two colors in needle tatting. i need a visual can you help me.?

    3. Hello! Here is a link to a really good video that will hopefully help you out:

      And here is a link to another page that offers a different way to use two colors:

      I hope those are helpful...if not, respond again and I'll see what else I can find! :)