The Nicolaides Tatting Shuttles

Many of us treasure special needlework tools that have come down to us from our ancestors, perhaps an unusual bone crochet hook that our mother used or handcrafted knitting needles inherited from a great-aunt. In my case, they are wooden tatting shuttles that my grandfather Anastasius “Tom” Nicolaides (1890–1966) made for my grandmother Charlotte Sedwick Nicolaides (1901–1984).

The lacemaking technique of tatting began in the sixteenth century as an elaboration of simple knotting, and it evolved over the next three centuries. At its peak in the nineteenth century, tatting embellished the edges of cuffs, collars, and undergarments, as well as constituting the fabric itself of such three-dimensional textiles as baby bonnets, purses, and booties. Needlework publications were filled with patterns for this particularly feminine art—tatting was a graceful pastime, its swift, rhythmic movements resulting in yards of beautiful lace.

tatting shuttles

A tatted collar appliquéd to net made by Charlotte Sedwick Nicolaides from a pattern in Priscilla Tatting Patterns #2, 1916, and tatting shuttles made by her husband, Anastasius “Tom” Nicolaides. All objects from the collection of the author. Photo by Joe Coca.

Grandma learned to tat in the 1920s. Fifty years later, she tatted like a machine. Without looking at her work, fingers flying, she turned out yards of edgings that she rolled into a ball in her lap, securing her work with a giant safety pin. Her favorite wooden shuttles, crafted by Grandpa, ticked rhythmically in a soothing, hypnotic tempo.

She tatted sweet, simple, blue-and-white edgings to adorn my nightgowns; she also tatted vivid, variegated aqua and hot pink antimacassars for her 1940s-era overstuffed chairs. I find the bold colors and three-dimensional designs of the latter pieces particularly fascinating and amusing.

—Mary Nicolaides

Mary Nicolaides is a second-generation lacemaker who has been active in the Rocky Mountain Lace Guild (RMLG) and the International Organization of Lace (IOLI). She has served as president of the RMLG and was cochairman of the 2005 IOLI convention in Denver. She is particularly interested in tatting, needle lace, lace history, and collections.

To read the rest of Mary’s article, “The Nicolaides Shuttles,” download the May/June 2008 issue of PieceWork. Plus, make sure to get a copy of our newest issue devoted to lace, May/June 2018. On sale now!

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