At 76, she keeps alive the art of tatting

PLANT CITY

Edith Wooley did not realize at age 14, when she picked up her first tatting shuttle at vacation Bible school, that one day she would be the teacher instead of the student.

Wooley, now 76, not only tats for enjoyment, she also gives classes.

Among her most prized tatted treasures is the headpiece her daughter Regina wore with her wedding veil. Wooley also is proud of the tiara she crafted that won her a grand champion ribbon at the Florida Strawberry Festival in 2009.

Tatting, she says, is her favorite hobby.

"I just enjoy doing it," said Wooley, who also is an expert knitter, cross-stitcher and embroiderer. "It's relaxing for me."

Tatting is almost a lost art. The needlework dates back to the 19th century. It is the handcrafting of delicate but sturdy lace using tiny knots and loops. In its heyday, it was used as edging on linens, collars, cuffs and baby clothes.

To create the designs, tatters use a single tool called a shuttle. Then they make loops and knots with a single strand of heavy-duty thread on the shuttle.

Some pieces, like a table-sized doily, can take 30 to 40 hours to create, Wooley said. Depending on the size of the piece, it can take much longer.

Wooley displays and sells her artistic treasures at craft shows and quilt guild meetings. She has even been known to take her tatting wares to Monday night bowling, where she is a member of a league.

She can make just about anything. Christmas tree decorations and crosses are high on her list of favorites. She makes stars and angels, and decorative furnishings such as dresser scarves, doilies and table runners. She also tats embellishments to decorate quilts, cards and clothing.

Once every few months, Wooley teaches a class of 10 to 20 students at a quilting store in Dade City. The students have varying levels of experience, though most are beginners.

Marty Hicks tried and failed to learn tatting as a child. Now, at 63, she is one of Wooley's students.

"Edith is a wonderful teacher," said Hicks, who lives in Plant City. "She's patient and wants you to really learn and ask questions."

A retired registered nurse, Wooley spends much of her free time doing needlework. Sometimes she charges for her wares. Prices range from $50 for a moderate-sized doily to $1 for three small butterflies.

Often, she gives her creations to others.

Robby Darmon, a longtime friend, customer and quilting companion of Wooley's, said her friend's prices are "too reasonable."

"Edith can do anything with a needle or even two needles," Darmon said. "I have bought a lot of Edith's tatted items, but she is always giving me something."

Wooley keeps on giving. Each new member of the Berry Patch Quilters, a Plant City quilting guild, receives a tatted butterfly from her as a special welcome.

A mother of two, she also has taught one of her daughters and granddaughters to tat.

"I've been so grateful that I have learned it well enough to teach it and pass it on," Wooley said. "I've made a lot of wonderful friends through tatting."

Information from Times archives was used in this report. Dale Bliss can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

At 76, she keeps alive the art of tatting 12/15/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 15, 2011 3:30am]

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