On Tuesday when I saw my mum, she handed over something that’s been in our possession for about twenty seven years. It’s not fancy. It’s not particularly special. You could pick one up today if you wanted one. Like all objects of personal significance, it’s got a story. The object is a simple, plastic tatting shuttle, and here’s the story.
In Eden, the small coastal town where I lived from 1980 – 1988, the local library was housed in an original log cabin which I’ve been researching and have learned was based on a traditional Canadian log cabin design. I found this photo on Flickr courtesy of the Bega Valley Shire. This must be quite an old photo because I recall the garden being more established, with large ferns and shrubs.
Being the bookish kid I was, I spent a lot of time there and in fact used to help out after school most days and on weekends. I loved that library so much. It was a small, single room and I can even now recall vividly the shelves where certain favourite books sat. I must have explored those shelves for hours and hours, often borrowing the same books again and again.
The Librarian, Mrs Kramp, was a lovely woman who gave me my first taste of employment. As an eleven year old, after school I stamped books in and out, put books back on the shelves and had the all important task of taking money to shops to buy chocolate biscuits for afternoon tea.
In winter, when the fireplace roared and the library was a quiet hub of gentle activity, an elderly woman used to come and sit by the fire and talk to us. Her name was Collie. It was a pet name derived from her surname, which was Collette. Collie was very old, small and bent. She had lived in Eden her whole life and in fact her daughter had been childhood friends with a great aunt of mine who lived in Eden as a child, so there was a family connection.
I never had a grandmother, so I’m sure that I must have been drawn to Collie as a grandmotherly figure.
We used to talk and talk but I don’t remember much of what was said. What I do remember is her crochet and her tatting. She always brought a basket of work with her and would while away the hours with cups of tea I made for her and with great big zig-zig blankets, granny squares and garments for her grandchildren. I already knew how to crochet when I met Collie, but I learned new things from her, like the zig-zag stitch for blankets that to this day still makes me think of her when I see it.
Sometimes she made delicate lace with a tatting shuttle. I’d never heard of tatting and was fascinated so Collie tried to teach me. She gave me the shuttle and we had some lessons but it never quite sank in for me, despite the fact that I was already adept with a crochet hook.
The tatting shuttle went into my mum’s sewing box and in a few years, Collie passed away and we moved to another town. The shuttle has stayed in my mum’s sewing box ever since. I knew it was there and sometimes, when looking for something I would see it and think of Collie and her pretty knot work. It just seemed too hard and so I never revisited it. It’s a tiny thing and the fact that it’s an old English brand makes me feel even more nostaligic, like it was something my Grandmother, who I never knew, might have had if she’d been able to tat.
Recently my mum and I were talking about the shuttle – I don’t even remember how it came up now – and Mum said she would give it to me next time we caught up. On Tuesday in Cooma she handed it over and I was so happy to have it in my possession (even though I dropped it on the ground in the park and almost missed seeing it there!).
As you can see, it really isn’t anything amazing. Check online and you’ll find intricate, delicate shuttles made of wood or metal, decorated with engravings or colours. This flimsy little thing is worth nothing, and yet its valuable to us.
I think I’d like to learn. I think, even if it’s not a skill I’ll ever use a lot, I would like to remember Collie through tatting and how inspirational she was for me.
Remind me of that when I’m cursing because the tiny knots won’t form and I want to throw it across the room. You can only try.