Elaine O'Donal is an award-winning lace artist. Under the name Tatted Webs, Elaine makes tatted lace ornaments, wearables, and lovely household pieces. I first caught up with Elaine at the Art on the Hill show last fall where she was busy tatting—and talking with customers!
To get started, could you tell me a bit about yourself.
I am originally from New Hampshire, and moved to Maine when I got married. I am a wife, mother of two daughters, and grandmother of two. I have always said that my business grew as my daughters did. When I’m not tatting, I have a number of other pursuits. I love music, reading, fencing, bike riding, and x-country skiing.
How did you learn to make lace? Is it a family tradition?
I didn't know anybody who tatted when I started. I like many other people, I thought I could teach myself. When that didn’t work, I was lucky enough to find Mrs. Libby, a retired school teacher, right in Gorham, Maine.
Was there a time it was just a hobby, how or why did you make it into a business?
When I started, I never had the idea that I would turn it into a business. I just kept making pieces and giving them away. Then people started making comments like, “Oh look, another piece of tatting.” In other words: what am I supposed to do with this?
That’s when I started to sell my work, and things just developed from there.
Could you explain what tatted lace is and how it’s different from other kinds of lace?
There are actually many different types of lace, they can be thinned out to two vast groups. One is a woven type of lace, such as bobbin lace, and then there is knotted lace, which what tatting is.
Almost every region in the world has it’s own type of lace.
Tatting is one that is universal, so much so that it’s history is very gray. Perhaps one reason for this is because it's portable, requiring only a shuttle (or needle) and thread. The needle tatting came first, it is actually easier to learn, but the results are not as intricate as tatting done with a shuttle.
What tools do you need to make lace? Do you follow patterns? Are there special threads?
Tatting is mainly done with thread, today there are many types to choose from. The fiber needs to smooth and strong. Also your choice of thread depends on what you wish to make. I like to use soft to the touch fibers such as bamboo or silk , when making an item that will be worn close to the skin. If I’m making something like an ornament - I’ll stick with the more traditional cotton or cotton blend.
When starting out, I started following patterns. There are books, both old and new available, and now thanks to the Internet there are patterns on-line. It didn’t take me long to go through those patterns and want to create pieces that where not in the pattern books, so I started to come up with my own designs. Once you start creating your own designs, it’s hard to go back and follow another.
When I saw you at the Art on the Hill show, you were working without looking at your hands, how do you do that? Do you count the stitches?
I always laugh when someone watches me tat and think that I’m not paying attention to what I’m doing. Of course I am. Like everything, the more you do, the better you get, and I do a lot. That is why my stitches are so even as well as the tension of the thread.
I do keep count of my stitches and usually when I tat in “public” I work on a pattern that is easy for me and I can tell how many stitches I have just by looking, if I happen to lose count.
On your website I saw you have classes, are they for beginners, advanced?
I do teach, not often, maybe a class or two a year. Classes are very time consuming for me and can be difficult to work in my schedule. I often hear of people wanting to learn, but have a hard time to finding the “time.”
It does take time to learn and master the art of tatting, and unfortunately most people give up before they even really start.
Have you heard of the Steampunk movement? They would love your work, especially the gloves.
I learned of Steampunk through a customer a few years ago. I find it very interesting and have a few customers that are really into it.
What’s coming up in 2016?
Right now, I am preparing new pieces for this year and working on show applications, once I have that ready I’ll be updating the website.
I am very excited about a new ornament for this year, it came about because I was asked to contribute to a lace display in Europe, representing the United States. I was so pleased with the design, I’m offering it to my customers.
You can purchase and see more Elaine's work at Tatted Webs.
This is a Calendar of Days post: Today is Lace Day