The Challenges of Stiffening Tatting

Tatting evolves through several stages between the conception of the project and its completion. Selecting shuttles or needle, choosing thread and other materials such as beads, findings and so on are all part of the process. Once completed, the loose ends have to be dealt with and if it is to be used as part of clothing, sewn to the garment. But that brings up thoughts about stiffening for doilies, jewelry, ornaments and in some cases cuffs for blouses or shirts.

Creating the stars for this year’s Deck the Trees proved to hold an additional challenge because some of the ornaments that came our way had been made of older more pliant threads than modern Lisbeth or even Flora threads. So for these, we turned to putting them onto felt that had been trimmed into a round shape or star shape. Most of them were glued to the fabric, but stitching them down was also an option.

That started a search to review the various sorts of methods for stiffening tatted objects. The Experts were summoned! Jane Eboral looks at stiffening tatting this way:

And while this was written in 2013, it is still an appropriate look at stiffening tatted ornaments. With the Lizbeth threads, especially in sizes of 20, 40 or smaller, stiffening may not be needed at all because the work is created with thread that is firm and of a consistent nature. Considering that not everyone uses these threads or sizes of threads I decided to look on. That being said, I found several other ways to accomplish the same outcome:

In this presentation, Lou Woo, presenting for the Craft Corner is using a specific product SuperstÓ“rke that appears to be a European product (you can see the name on the container at about 42 seconds into the video with a price given in Pounds not Euros). Here, Lou gives a thorough explanation of the technique she proposes although it is applied to bobbin lace rather than tatting. The outcome should be the same, however and some special considerations about the brush she uses are important.

Looking on, Sharon Briggs gives an excellent rundown on Blocking, Stiffening and Storing Tatting in an article of the same name. The first section of the article is about blocking and is quite thorough. About halfway down the page is the information about stiffening and while she begins with the old sugar method, that method is not one that goes highly recommended. Sugar will dissolve out when it becomes wet and can attract unwanted vermin into stored threads.

There are other videos and blog posts out there as well, but the ones cited here were the most specific to lacers and tatters. And then I went to the director of our local museum who had this to say: “Glues and commercial products will yellow your tatting and other fine laces. Archivists don’t use these sorts of products, but rather prefer pure wheat, rice or cornstarch” such as what is described in Sharon Briggs’s article.

The Archivist gave these directions for use of cornstarch: 1) Mix 1 cup cornstarch with 1 cup of cold water. 2) Heat slowly, stirring constantly until evenly dissolved. 3) Add a quart of water and heat until it becomes lightly translucent. 4) Immerse the lace, allow it to soak in the starch until saturated, squeeze out the excell then pin it out to dry. Repeat until the desired stiffness is achieved.

Another archival method is the Wax Method. The Archivist recommends pure paraffin white wax or bees wax. (Bees wax can be a bit yellow, so white paraffin is better). Avoid candle wax or even white manufactured candles as they contain chemicals that can dull the piece. And especially avoid candles that have been scented.

The steps are as follows: 1) Lay the piece out on waxed paper. 2) Grate pure white paraffin wax on top of the piece. If the piece has beads, be sure to dust the grated wax off the beads. 3) Place a second piece of waxed paper over the piece. 4) Using an iron set to low, pass the appliance over the piece until the wax has melted.

There has been only 1 website that addressed this method of stiffening tatting and that is this one. The first thing that I noticed was that the author advocated using candle wax which is discouraged in the guidelines for archival handling of laces as described above. It seemed there was nothing to do but try this out using the archival technique. More in another article that will follow!

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