The Shuttle and the Log Cabin

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.

The Shuttle

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.



25 thoughts on “The Shuttle and the Log Cabin

  1. That’s a lovely story. I’d like to learn tatting, but it definitely seems the sort of thing where it would be better to have someone show me, rather than trying to work it out from instructions in a book or website!

  2. What a wonderful story! I am so envious about knitting camp and love the shawl (and the red shoes!)

    I ahve been knitting, but not photographing and uni is eating my time – and my brain)

    Must email you soon!

  3. It is indeed a lovely story.

    Did you see “Collectors” last night? Gordon went to the Powerhouse Museum to see the lace collection. Some ladies were tatting! Others were making bobbin lace. I so want to do both but not before I retire! I just can’t squeeze anymore in!

  4. Tears are running down my cheeks Helen as I read your memories of a little shuttle that has been in my sewing box for years and years. Fiona and I saw Collie’s little house yesterday and wondered who now lives there. Helen I have said it before and I will keep on saying it, write, write, write. There are so many stories inside of you and if this little object can produce such a lovely little story and evoke such feelings and memories, then please write more.

  5. Tatting, yay!

    Yes, we must suck you in. I tatted nearly exclusively of other fiber arts for about a dozen years before knitting sucked me in. I have so many, I could do Shoes-day type posts with my tatting shuttles!

    It is much easier to learn these days, with YouTube videos and websites, than back when I learned.

    And here is the advice I always give would-be tatters: You’re not a real tatter until you’ve flung the shuttle into the corner and sworn at it.

  6. I love that story! And I love the tea and biscuits and the fact that the librarian was named Mrs Kramp and all about Collie and her lace. So perfect. Sounds like they all need to be in a children’s book….

    don’t you think?

    I also think it’s funny that your favorite cardigan comes from Boston – here, a few miles from me – and you’re all the way across the ocean!

  7. Bells, that’s marvelous. What a lovely way to remember someone. I can feel Collie smiling as she watches you learn. I’ve never seen a shuttle like that before. I thought tatting was done on small crochet hooks. It looks interesting.

  8. I started reading this post yesterday and realized I wasn’t going to be able to give it the time it needed, so rather than rush through, decided to save it for later. So glad I did; what a sweet, sweet story.

  9. I love that objects of little or no material value can have such sentimental value. Thanks for the image of you as a young reader. Libraries can be such magical places.

  10. I taught myself to tat with my greatgrandmother’s shuttle. I can’t tell if it’s ivory or celluloid and I never saw her use it, but it came to me with a box of crochet hooks for doilies and fine lace.

    I was also a book hound when I was young and lived across the street from the library.

  11. Such a lovely history, I adore the way these handcrafts link us back to past generations. You can only try to learn indeed and I think it would do us all good to learn a skill that we don’t think we’ll use much – I think it takes the focus to the learning rather than thinking about the end product – I hope you get on well with it

  12. that shuttle with its layers of meaning is so much more valuable than an exquisite antique with no provenance. even a museum would agree, so much more meaningful to know the stories attached to the object, and your story is so beautifully told. tatting seems like a bit of a lost art to me. even though my family was crafty, i never saw anyone tatting. just think of the lovely lace trims you could make!

  13. Love, love, love hearing about this. I wish you well with taking up tatting (I’m sure I’d be full-on bonkers in under an hour). It’s funny you mention trying to learn it as a tribute to Collie. That’s exactly why I want to learn to spin — carding my own cotton using my grandmother’s cards and spinning it up on my great-grandmother’s wheel. Although I never knew either of them, it seems as if I’ll be able to touch some small part of who they were through recreating a task I know they performed again and again throughout their lives. That shuttle is very special indeed.

  14. That is a very cool library Bells! You’ve mentioned it before but I am glad to see a photo. My grandmother tats (and the other one used to as well). She usually brings tatting rather than knitting when she travels, in order to travel light. She still wonders what happened to her grandmother’s tatting shuttles made from bone, and wishes she had managed to aquire them. A few years ago, I had a look for antique ones for her, but instead I bought her a wooden one made by Peter Filmer at the Bus Depot Markets. She loved it and we ended up going back there to have two more custom-made. I never though about learning it myself, but I think I will ask her to show me a little, next time I see her.

  15. I also love the power of material objects to evoke not only memories but a whole way of life. My daughter is an anthropologist of material culture – ie she studies what you can tell about the way people and cultures are from their use (often labelled ‘consumption’) of goods and objects. So interesting.

  16. What a lovely story! It made me feel all cozy and warm 🙂

    The best I can say about learning to tat is, persevere. One day things will click and the knot will just “pop” from the shuttle thread to the ring thread and you’ll wonder how you ever thought it was difficult. That was my experience anyway. Book to look out for: The Complete Book of Tatting by Rebecca Jones, this book was my bible. I also used a number of 60s/70s-era how-to leaflets that really helped (one called Learn Tatting, I think it was published by Coats…)

  17. My Australian grandmother was an amazing tatter – she died when I was 6, but she had already taught me how to crochet… That’s a lovely story Bells, I do hope that you get it working.

  18. its such a shame that that amazing tradition of passing skills down is being lost within families (thank goodness for snbs, huh?!). i was grandmotherless in that department too and i know theres so much i missed out on. you know im not big on the must-learn-many-crafts thing but i saw some tatting recently and thought it was just beautiful, i think you would be good at it if you gave it another go. fantastic story bells.

  19. This story really painted a lovely misty picture of you as a child in the Eden library. (I adore the far south coast – I’d more there tomorrow if the kids were older).

    Good luck with the tatting, so lovely to still have something of Collie’s to remember her by.

  20. My first employment (other than looking after younger brothers and sisters, that is) was in a Library too!!! Not as picturesque as yours, but I was lost in the books anyway. Lots of cups of coffee were made for me and the librarian, without milk as no fridge.
    Good luck with the tatting. Always grabs my attention, but I have never sat down and watched anyone do it to know how it is worked

  21. That is a great story! I can just imagine you helping out in the library and buying the chocolate biscuits!!

    I’m glad you had a lady like Collie in your life – I only knew one of my grandmothers, and she died when I was 12, so I always felt a bit of a gap too – but I was lucky for the first 12 years anyway. And it was because of her that I learnt to crochet. I hope you do learn to tatt, it would be a lovely way to remember her.

  22. Oh, but this is a lovely story. Goes to show that it is everyday objects that are endowed with meaning and not huge, impressive pieces of bling.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s