The Everyday Lore Project

26 July 2020 – St Anne’s Day

26 July 2020 – St Anne’s Day

Up until today, I had no idea what this was, beyond some kind of spool:

It’s a tatting shuttle. I inherited it from my step-grandmother when I was ten and she left me her sewing kit. While I never knew what it was, I kept it in her tin and transferred it over to my sewing bag when the tin started groaning under the weight of thread and fasteners. And there it sat until I decided to do some tatting, and realised I already had a shuttle. 

It’s St Anne’s Day, and while she’s mostly known in the UK for being Jesus’s grandmother, and for a slew of eponymous curative wells, she is also the patron saint of lace makers (as well as broommakers, miners, and equestrians, to name a few). I’m a teeny tiny bit behind with my project planning so woke up this morning, not really knowing what I was going to do today. This is evidenced by the fact I made an apple tart this morning:

not realising that apple tarts are traditional fare for St Anne’s Day. Anyhow, on closer Anne inspection, the lace thing came up. Only I didn’t have any lace making equipment. So I thought about tatting, only knowing it’s a kind of lace making and thinking I might be able to cobble something together, much like on Bastille Day. Only I didn’t have to, as I had Alice’s shuttle all along. 

Tatting is a series of knots made by using your hand as the loom to produce a decorative pattern. Think doily. It could be an extension of knotting, an embroidery skill, or netting, a fisherman/sailor skill, or something else entirely as nobody really knows. Either way, my Nick O’Thungs tongue twister is aging well. 

With little time to learn (Other Life and apple tart taking up much of today), I gave myself an hour to learn the basic knot called the Lark’s Head, or double stitch, consisting of two half hitches. With only very thin cotton on my shuttle, I loaded it up with some embroidery thread and turned to YouTube. 

I found a video of a woman with a wonderfully calm voice who slowly and carefully took me through the process. My first knot slided. So satisfying. My second didn’t. So I cut and started again. This went on for a while. I think the most I managed to chain before my knot didn’t slide was five. But I kept going, the twick of the thread as it pinged out of the shuttle and the weaving motion relaxing me after a rather full on weekend. And then my hour was up and I had to stop tatting and start writing. 

I’m not surprised I couldn’t quite get the hang of this basic manoeuvre given it took me days to conquer crochet’s magical ring. But I definitely like the idea of trying it again. 

Before I settled on doing something St Anne related today, I was reading about Mary Frith, a 16th century cross dressing, thieving hoyden Fag Ash Lil, who hated needlework, loved dares, once jumped off a ship bound for the Americas, played the lute onstage, and had her epitaph written by Milton, and whose birthday it is today. Now there’s a script begging to be written. 


Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

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