New tatters often start out with shuttles, since shuttle tatting has (until recently) been the more visible and popular of the two main methods (I’m not including cro-tatting and other variants in this post, since they’re more hybrid techniques).

However, needle tatting has experienced a surge in popularity in the last few years, and is a great alternative for those who just aren’t getting along with shuttle tatting but would still like to learn to make this gorgeous type of lace.

So which type of tatting is best? Easier? Which one should you learn? Well, why not learn both? While both shuttle and needle tatting produce the same look, their techniques are different enough to appeal for various reasons; moreover, there are definite advantages to learning both. Here are the differences between shuttle and needle tatting, plus potential pros and cons for each method. I hope this makes it easier to decide which one to learn; or to take the plunge and learn both!

Shuttle Tatting

Shuttle tatting is, as its name implies, done with a tool called a shuttle. It’s the oldest method of tatting, and many diehard fans consider it the one “true” or “traditional” type of tatting. Forum and Facebook discussions about this can get quite heated!

Pros of Shuttle Tatting

  1. All the beautiful shuttles! There are both antique and modern shuttles out there of incredible function and beauty, and most shuttle tatters have a large assortment to accommodate various projects.
  2. Stitches (basically knots) are formed directly on the thread, which means that the only determining factor to the size of the piece is the size of the thread itself. You don’t need to match shuttle to thread, because the shuttle is merely a tool for managing and manipulating the thread.
  3. The above (stitches being formed on the thread itself) also makes for lace that is sturdier, and harder to unravel (we’ll talk more about this in the Cons). This makes shuttle tatting perfect for pieces that will experience lots of wear, or that needs to be especially firm.
  4. Shuttle tatting is portable enough that you can carry it in a pocket (especially if you’re working with two shuttles instead of off the ball) and take it out for some much needed craft therapy!

Cons of Shuttle Tatting

  1. Shuttle tatting can be hard on the hands for people suffering from arthritis or other joint or muscle issues. Holding the shuttle itself is not always the culprit here; the way rings are made forces the fingers into positions that might not be comfortable for everyone. This alone is responsible for many people giving up on shuttle tatting.
  2. The learning curve for shuttle tatting is a little steeper than for needle tatting. Mastering the “flip,” closing rings properly and generally feeling at ease manipulating the thread and shuttle takes some time. For people learning alone, through books and videos, it can feel discouraging at times.
  3. I mentioned above that one of the pros of shuttle tatting is that it’s sturdy and hard to unravel. Well, that turns out to also be a con sometimes. If you make a mistake, undoing your work can be painstaking and take a long time. Sometimes, it’s simply easier to cut the part with the error and join new thread.

Interested in shuttle tatting? Here are some products to get you started:

Needle Tatting

In needle tatting, the stitches are formed onto a special needle and then pushed off to form rings and chains. Tatting needles come in various sizes, ranging from very thick for yarn and heavier threads, to ultra fine for the most delicate lace projects.

Pros of Needle Tatting

  1. Many people find needle tatting easier and quicker to learn, especially if they’re learning on their own. The movement of the thread onto the needle (half-hitches in both directions) is more intuitive for many than the slip and slide of the shuttle.
  2. Likewise, needle tatting seems to cause less strain on the hands of those with arthritis or other issues affecting their hands. You can also put down the needle with the stitches on it before finishing an element if you need a break; this is harder to do (though not impossible) with shuttles.
  3. It’s easier to undo if you make a mistake, so you almost never have to resort to cutting your work.
  4. You can affect the look, feel, and size of a project by changing the needle size. Want a stiffer look, to emulate shuttle tatting? Use the smallest needle you can put your thread through. Want more drape and softness? Use a thicker needle. While there are some basic guidelines for pairing thread to needle, it’s good (and fun!) to experiment.
  5. There’s no loading process for needles like there is for shuttles. This means that a) you can start a project more quickly, and b) you can try out a pattern or idea without committing thread to it. Even when I know I will be shuttle tatting a project, I often do a thread test on needle first. The same goes for pieces I design myself; needle tatting is an easy way to experiment.

Cons of Needle Tatting

  1. Pairing up needle and thread sizes to get the look you want does take some time and experimentation. The importance of needle size also means that the size of your finished object might vary from what’s described in the pattern, which may or may not be an important factor.
  2. While patterns written for shuttle tatters can also be worked on a needle, there is some “translation” work to do for certain elements and techniques. patterns with bare thread spaces, for example, require the use of a length of thread cut off from the ball for needle tatters, which means that later on you will have to join new thread in order to make chains and other elements.
  3. While needle tatted lace is quite sturdy, it can unravel more easily than lace made with a shuttle, because of the way stitches are formed. This is usually not a big issue for most people, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Interested in needle tatting? Here are some products to get you started:

If you’re interested in learning either needle or shuttle tatting and don't know where to start, see my post Tatting Resources for Beginners