Sunday, July 10, 2016

Handwork for 18thc Ladies: A Beautiful Knotting Shuttle

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Isabella reporting,

As a habitual knitter and needleworker, I have great empathy for the 18thc ladies who chose to have their portraits painted doing the handwork of their choice, whether sewing, needlepoint, embroidery, knitting, tambour-work, netting, or knotting. Of course, in these paintings the handwork wasn't perceived in modern terms as a hobby or as creative self-expression, but as a symbol of feminine industry and domesticity. It was also considered an attractive way to display graceful hands and wrists (something I'll admit I don't begin to consider while I knit.)

Knotting was favored by aristocratic ladies of the French court, such as Madame Adélaïde, above left, the daughter of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska. (As always, please click on the image to enlarge it.) The thread was knotted at close intervals to create a decorative braid that could then be stitched onto clothing or other items. Silk thread or cord was wrapped around a shuttle, and unwound as needed.As handwork and needlework go, it's not complicated.

Elegantly industrious displays in the drawing room required decorative tools, too. I spotted this 18thc knotting shuttle, top and right, last week on Twitter, and it's a beauty. Knotting shuttles were often made of expensive materials such as tortoiseshell, crystal, mother-of-pearl, and silver. This one must have been top-of-the-line, for it's gold. Delicate enamel work adds further embellishment, with a rural scene as well as simulated stone inlay, detail lower left. This shuttle falls into the same category of luxurious small-goods pretending to be useful such as jeweled snuffboxes, gold boxes for rouge, and enameled nécessaires - costly little indulgences that the skilled tradespeople of 18thc Paris were so talented at creating.

Still, it's easy to imagine an indulged, aristocratic Parisienne, dressed in silk and lace with her hair perfectly powdered, making witty, flirtatious conversation along with her silk knots as her golden shuttle flashes back and forth....

Above: Shuttle, mid-18thc, French, Wallace Collection.
Left: Madame Adélaïde de France Tying Knots by Jean-Marc Nattier, 1756, Château de Versailles.

10 comments:

Sarah said...

why that's a tatting shuttle! I'd often wondered what knotting was and now I know; it's tatting!
I can crochet, I can embroider, I can make pillow lace, but tatting has always eluded me. I end up with an ugly mess.

curator said...

Alas, I cannot tat - though I inadvertently wear it a great deal. Still, what a beautiful object.

Ginger Moses Spence said...

Is this a tatting shuttle? Tatting is coming back in popularity. I have a couple plastic ones. Not lovely but functional.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Although knotting and tatting shuttles resemble one another, they're not quite the same. Tatting shuttles tend to be smaller and slightly more rounded, while knotting shuttles are longer and narrower. Tatting uses knots and loops to create a kind of lace, while knotting just creates a string of knots to be used as a decorative braid. :)

Any knotters or tatters are welcome to weigh in!

Sarah said...

thank you for that clarification!

Angela Burnley said...

Knotting is actually the predecessor of tatting. A knotting shuttle is much larger and is open at the points rather then hooked down

Rachael Kinnison said...

I have a wonderful late 17th c fragment of a cope that is covered in couched knotting that would have been made on a shuttle such as this~ if you would like me to email a picture, just let me know, it may help to illustrate how knotting differs from tatting for your readers~ rachael

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thanks for the information, Angela. :)

Rachael, I'd love to see that image. My email is SHScott21@gmail.com Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I think tatting shuttles can be open at both end, but usually there is a point to help slide knots and pull threads through picots. This is certainly beautiful. Helen

Anonymous said...

For fly fringe it is not necessary to look like the girl in the painting (it should be marie antoinette, am I right?) ;)

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