Genealogy, Quebec

A Story of Tatting

My mother always tatted. She learned from her neighbour when she was 10 years old. If she would sit and tat for an hour on a Saturday, with Miss Proudfoot and her sister, she could then bring the funny papers home to her brothers.

Mom was never without a shuttle and thread. She tatted watching TV, waiting in line at the bank, in a doctors’s waiting room and even sat tatting with some fishermen in Portugal, as they fixed their nets.

Tatting is handcrafted lace made of knots, rings and chains using a shuttle. Shuttles are small oval objects that thread is wrapped around and they fit easily in your hand. Tatting is la frivolité in French and the shuttle is a navette. It was very popular in the late 1800s when shuttles were almost jewellery. It used to be considered a dying art but the internet has reintroduced tatting to many people.

Shuttles come in many forms and materials. They have been made of silver, bone, ivory, carved from wood and moulded from plastic. Celluloid, one of the first plastics, was used for shuttles. Some of the newer ones have bobbins making winding the thread much easier. Some have pics on one end, some little metal hooks and some smooth ends. The hooks are needed to join rings but this can also be done with a separate crochet hook.

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The Aqua Celluloid Shuttle

Much of Mom’s tatting was for note cards she and Doris Ward made or the Catherine Booth Hospital. For almost 30 years, Mom tatted yards of little flowers and Doris drew, cut and pasted the cards. Mom was spotted tatting a lace edging for a hanky at an auxiliary meeting and the Brigadier thought tatted cards would be very salable items. When Doris retired at 93 other ladies volunteered to take her place. They weren’t as prolific or exact, still, many more cards were made. Mom kept count and made over 75,000. She also tatted many snowflakes. These dainty items hung on Christmas trees and in windows of many friends and family.

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Some of the Hasty Notes

My mother tried many times to teach us how to tat but without much success. She even learned to tat left handed to show me but I still couldn’t get it. Then one summer, at a Flea Market in Sutton Junction, I spied a box with a plastic shuttle, tatting thread and some other sewing stuff. The box was $5 but as I didn’t want everything she sold me the shuttle and the thread for just $2. My thought was to give it to my mother but my husband said, “You should keep it.” So with my own shuttle, I asked my mother to show me again and “Bingo” I got it!

If I was going to tat, I figured I would collect tatting things. In a booth at the St Lambert Antique Show, an aqua celluloid shuttle caught my eye and as it only cost 50 cents, I bought it. It had thread in it, no removable bobbin and no hook but a pretty colour and it felt good in my hand.

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Snowflakes Mom Tatted

I put it in my pocket. We visited a few antique stores on our way to our cottage. When we got to Sutton I looked for the shuttle but it wasn’t in my pocket and I didn’t remember putting it anywhere else. I finally decided it had fallen out when I took out my car keys. My husband wanted to go and look for it but driving 20 km for a bit of plastic was silly. Still, I felt bad about losing it.

The next morning we were going to play golf at Cowansville and did retraced our steps. At Le Relais, the owner didn’t know what it was but would keep her eyes open. At the next stop, nothing in the parking lot or in the store. The last place wasn’t open but we looked around the ground and there in the grass was my shuttle.

In her last few years, my mother didn’t tat much. In the year before she died at 95, I took one of her shuttles downstairs to her. She took it and made one little flower, then handed the shuttle back to me and said, “That’s enough, you do it.

 

Notes:

My mother Dorothy Raguin Sutherland told me stories about learning to tat.

The Catherine Booth Hospital in Montreal sold the cards in their hospitality shop for almost fifty years. They were a very good money maker. After Doris Ward retired from card making Moira Reynolds and Eileen Rhead took it up.

Mom visited the Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec and in the craft sections didn’t see a tatting shuttle so she donated one complete with tatting

It used to be very difficult for my mother to find tatting thread. Thin 80 weight thread makes much finer lace. Everywhere we went we would looked for thread hoping to find new colours. Now one can find many, many colours of plain and variegated threads online.

I can make little flowers and I have made a number of snowflakes but mistakes are hard to fix as the thread is thin and the knots are tight. I don’t quite have my mother’s patience.

During my tatting item collecting I found this tatted christening dress in an antique store in Bromont, Quebec. I had never seen anything with so much tatting, so I had to have it.

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The tatted christening dress

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Genealogy, Ontario

Great Grandmother’s Quilt: Eliza Jane Eagle

I have a sampler made by Susan Dodds Bailey, my two times great-grandmother, but much more has survived made by her daughter Eliza Jane. My favourite item is a wool quilt.

The quilt is a traditional bow tie pattern, made from scraps of suiting and other old clothes. Reds, blues and greens in plains, plaids and a few polka dots march across the front. It was all hand stitched. For many years, it was put away in a closet but now summer has it spread out on the day bed, on the verandah of our country cottage. Many an afternoon nap has been taken on it. The quilt had begun to show wear, especially the disintegration of the black dyed fabric but it was being used and loved. Last fall, before Thanksgiving, the quilt was left on the bed. Mice climbed under the tarpaulin protecting it, decided wool would make a great nest and chewed the fabric. It needed to be repaired. Great grandmother would not be happy.

Eliza Jane wasn’t just a quilter, she also knit and made a finely worked afghan. This was a work of love made from off white wool purchased especially for the project. It was given to her daughter Minnie. Elisa Jane was very upset to see that her daughter used it folded up under a mattress, to raise the head of a bed. It was the only time her granddaughter Beth remembered seeing her grandmother cry. The afghan then went to Beth and later her great-granddaughter Dorothy, who proudly displayed it on her guest bed. Great grandmother would be happy.

Eliza Jane also did a lot of fancy needlework. Needlepoint book marks, crocheted towels and lace, crossed stitched sayings on paper and tatted edging have all been preserved. She loved listening to the radio,“Wilson came over on Wed evening and looked over our machine it needs a new long battery but I heard a fine concert in Masonic Hall last night the best yet after the shaking up he gave the old battery.” I can picture her sitting listening in the evening, her hands never idle.

Eliza married William Eagle in 1881, when they were both considered “older”. He had been looking after his mother and didn’t want his wife to become a nurse. They did marry before Martha McClelland Eagle died, as they couldn’t wait forever. Eliza’s wedding dress was a burgundy silk because she thought cream or white wasn’t suitable for a woman then 36 years of age. I don’t know if she made the dress but it was kept for many years and worn for dress up by her daughters and granddaughters.

Neither her daughters nor her granddaughters were much for sewing or handiwork. My grandmother, Minnie could do some mending and darn her stockings but she was never into fine sewing. She had a dressmaker come to her house twice a year to make her clothes. Her sister Amy tried to do some sewing but for her it was a task, not something she enjoyed. So, I think Eliza Jane would be pleased to know that some of her great granddaughters do a lot of needle work and appreciate her craft.

With some old fabric saved from my mother’s hall closet, I repaired the major holes in the wool quilt. This summer it was back on the day bed. I think Great Grandmother would be happy.

Bibliography:

Personal communication with Beth Sutherland Van Loben Sels in 2000.

Notes written by Minnie Eagle Sutherland,“Mother made these fancy articles” and Amy Eagle.

Letters from Eliza Jane Eagle to Minnie Eagle Sutherland -1920’s.

Letter Feb 8 1924 from Eliza Jane to Minnie. Wilson was her daughter Minnie’s brother -in-law.

Articles in the possession of the author