18th Century Knotting

Last updated: Aug 2, 2022

From the Letters from Mrs. Delany (a letter to Mrs. Frances Hamilton, October 10, 1783):

The King, with his usual graciousness, came up to me, and brought me forward, and I found the Queen very busy in showing a very elegant machine to the Duchess of Portland, which was a frame for weaving of fringe, a new and most delicate structure, and would take up as much paper as has already been written upon to describe it minutely, yet it is of such simplicity as to be very useful. You will easily imagine the grateful feeling I had when the Queen presented it to me, to make up some knotted fringe which she saw me about. The King, at the same time, said he must contribute something to my work, and presented me with a gold knotting shuttle, of most exquisite workmanship and taste; and I am at this time, while I am dictating the letter, knotting white silk, to fringe the bag which is to contain it.

She also references knotting for chairs in her Autobiography & Correspondence. See Tatting Myths Dispelled for photos of the knotting on Mrs. Delany’s chairs or the 1765 Delany quilt at the Ulster Museum.

Several of the workbags & purses may also have knotted fringe and/or tassels.

  • Colonial Williamsburg 1967-699,1, England, c. 1730; “Valance or bed furnishing textile of yellow (Munsell 5Y 7/6) silk satin with design of knotted and couched red wool threads stitched through innerlining of damask linen; couching done with red wool and coral silk thread.”
  • The V&A has some examples of knotting from the second half of the 18th century, including several balls of knotted silk (T.353C-1965, T.353D-1965, T.353E-1965, T.353G-1965), some tassels (T.353B-1965), and some fringe (T.353-1965). The captions also feature a remark on the custom of knotting: “The Comtesse de Genlis, in her Dictionary of Court Etiquette, maintained that knotting had no other purpose than to enable a woman to appear composed when in company.”

Knotting shuttles

  • V&A 560-1907, a pierced steel knotting shuttle, Woodstock, c. 1770-1790
  • Wallace Collection W210, Paris, mid-18th century; “This iron knotting shuttle is made up of two oval plaques joined together by an oval central column. The plaques have been chased with a border of overlapping circles which has been falsely damascened (gold foil hammered onto the roughened surface) in gold on a chased ground. In the centre is a gold medallion falsely damascened in gold with a foliate V and intertwined L's below a laurel wreath. Surrounding the medallion is interlaced foliage which has been pierced and chased.”
  • Inlaid shell knotting shuttle, England, c. 1790
  • Silver inlaid tortoiseshell knotting shuttle, late 18th - early 19th century

Portraiture and depictions of knotting