Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Mrs Mee Speaks (Caution long OCD post)

My present to myself, alluded to in a previous post, was a photocopy of a complete version of Tatting, or Frivolite by Mrs Mee and Miss Austin. Mrs Mee was quite well known in her day, and had published many books of knitting and crochet beginning in the 1840's. She has been overlooked by tatting historians, but I consider her a true pioneer.

From Tatting, or Frivolite, pp iii-iv:
" Having been long solicited to bring out a work on Tatting (or Frivolite, as it has been called of late years in Paris), my only hesitation in doing so has been, I thought it difficult to write so that all might understand me. I never remember learning the work, or when I did not know how to do it. I believe it was taught me by my grandmother, who, if she had been living, would have been in her hundredth year. I mention this, as I have heard that a claim has been made by some one lately, to have invented the work, which certainly has been known as Knotting or Tatting, for more than a century. My plan of forming the work from the reel or skein, and only making the foundation from the shuttle, is original, as are all my patterns; and I offer it with confidence, believing that many who have never before attempted it, will be induced to learn. In most of the patterns, the old plan of drawing up the loop from the work formed round the fingers, is altogether done away with; and this has been the great difficulty with many. The patterns are entirely different to anything before published, and I trust will meet with general approval; they are applicable for varieties of purposes, and the great durability of the work will be a recommendation to many. The cottons as directed must be obtained; those of Messrs. Walter Evans & Co. being the best produced.

Cornelia Mee
71, Brook Street, Grosvenor Square,
London, December 10, 1862"

From page vii:
"...In my new method of Tatting which I have endeavored to show in the Illustration the work is formed from the reel, while the foundation is only used from the shuttle, which is the thread that passes through the work. Take both threads between the thumb and fore finger, letting the one from the reel or skein be uppermost; let this thread pass over and between the fingers of the left hand as shown in illustration..."

Therefore I submit that the true tatted chain dates to 1862 with Mrs Mee, not 1864 by Mlle Riego as previously believed by most tatting historians. And doesn't that sound silly and trivial, now that I've said it. Well, I thought it was significant.

PS. I do no mean to belittle Mlle Riego, and still consider her the Mother of Modern Tatting for her revolutionary change in the style of tatting designs. She may not have invented all of the technical advances, but put them to good use, as Elgiva Nicholls says. Elgiva had wondered why Riego had quietly started using chains in 1864 without drawing attention to what she considered the discovery of the century. I think this is why; the ladies of that time would have already seen Mrs Mee's little book, which was lost to us for a time.


  1. Well done on getting such an old book, and nice to find out about tatting in the old days, just a bit before my time.


  2. It is significant. It is always interesting to know accurate historical information, and those who pioneer new techniques deserve credit.

    It also sounds like she was using mock rings of some type instead of true rings.

    I find this passage interesting from a personal standpoint as well, because Mrs. Mee obviously felt that chains were easier to learn than rings. As far as I can tell, it seems like most new tatters are taught rings first, on the theory that one thread is easier than two. I was taught chains first, and to me chains are easier to understand intuitively, despite requiring two threads. Nice to know that Mrs. Mee felt the same.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, it was an interesting read! I like learning the history of tatting whether trivial or not.

  4. Some things never change... Sounds Mrs. Mee had a legitimate beef - sort of like the disgruntlement that exists out there in Tat-land concerning copyright.

    I have read this somewhere in my brief tatting past, and I agree with you - does sound like she has made her case.

    However, Mlle Riego was the squeakiest wheel who also contributed the most to the community, not because she came up with an original idea ( never a copyrightable commodity) but because she did not "...think it was difficult to write so that all could understand..."

    She wrote a lot and did it well, got a following, published her work and then got the credit for her "invention" as well. Probably erroneously!

    Mrs. Mee deserves her place in the sun, and she may have been the first to write about the tatted chain - BUT her grandmother taught it to her. We do not know where the thing originated!

    My two cents too early in the day!
    Fox ; )

  5. It does not sound silly or trivial to me. Historical accuracy is important, especially since tatting's origins have been so elusive.

    Congratulations to you for your marvelous find, and congratulations to Mrs. Mee for her discovery.

  6. I think it's significant also. Thanks for sharing, Martha! Now, where can the rest of us obtain a copy of this little gem? : )

  7. Since she calls this her new method, I believe Mrs Mee came up with the chain herself, but was taught basic tatting by her grandmother.

    The photocopy came from the National Library of Scotland. Their photocopy service is supposed to be for personal use only, but I have asked permission to scan the copies and offer them to the Antique Pattern Library. I am still awaiting their decision. Though if I don't get permision to scan their copies, since this is public domain, I can still type out a transcript, right?

  8. This is a good discussion!

    Mrs. Mee's learning from her grandmother is amazing! (Could she really have been 100?!!) And the terms 'tatting' and 'knotting' were obviously familiar and 'connected' in 1862.

    As Miranda speculates, it does seem that the 'all reel' tatting impliees mock rings, which would certainly have been a departure from shuttle-made rings. However, in order to do mock rings you have to do a 'chain' - so I can see how these two new 'methods' kind of rocked the boat!! (I also agree with Miranda that the chain should be taught first! Sure would have made it easier for me!)

    I'm glad, however, that the shuttle-rings continued to be the norm! To me, they are at the'heart' of tatting!

    I'm also amazed that we even have these publications. We are indebted to the dedication of these ladies to get their patterns and ideas published back then! Thanks for sharing this post and bringing Mrs. Mee to our attention. I was not aware of her!