I bought a sewing box and contents at an estate sale recently. In it were things I couldn’t identify a name or use for.
This item is 2 ½ inches long. It is in two parts like a clamshell and I think it is ivory. I appreciate any identification you could give me.
What you have is a tatting shuttle. Tatting is a method of lace making popularized in the mid 19th century as a less expensive and time intensive alternative to point or bobbin lace. If you were right handed, thread would be wound around your left hand fingers and worked with the shuttle in your right. Tatting was portable: the only thing required were hands and a shuttle. The shuttles could be wound with 10 or 15 yards of thread and could safely slip into a pocket.
I’m not at all clever with needlework but I watched tatting demonstrations and to me it looks like a form of crocheting on a very detailed scale.
If you’re interested in learning to tat you can find instructional videos online. I’d recommend a trip to Lacis in Berkeley. In addition to housing a lace museum, Lacis stocks tatting threads, shuttles and a selection of books detailing techniques, history and contemporary and historic patterns.
What I find more interesting is the fact that your shuttle was a promotional giveaway by one of the most inventive and tenacious women entrepreneurs of the 19th century.
Lydia Estes Pinkham grew up in an abolitionist teetotaling Quaker family in Lynn, Massachusetts. Throughout her married life she supplemented her husband’s income by brewing and selling her vegetable compound brewed specifically to treat women’s maladies. By 1876 she had moved the production from her home kitchen to a factory nearby.
From the very first, Pinkham separated herself from the crowds of patent medicine by marketing her compound as being made “by women and for women.” Her image graced all packaging and advertising, the first time a woman’s image had been marketed as a corporate icon. Women wrote hundreds of letters asking for advice; in response the company published more than 160 pamphlets of “Health Hints” addressing not only “female complaints, headaches, menstrual cramps, stomach ills, infertility and lack of vitality” but cooking and housekeeping advice, first aid, home economies, sewing, and happy babies.
According to the Pinkham Company Archives at Harvard’s Schlesinger Museum, your shuttle was part of one of many successful direct-to-consumer and focus group ad campaigns. Appearing in newspapers and women’s magazines in 1917, the ad promised, “This tatting shuttle will be sent free” upon return of a three-question survey. Interestingly, the survey did not ask about women’s experiences with Pinkham’s Compound: it asked where the ad was found and if the reader had seen ads for any similar products.
Your shuttle is made from a celluloid compound designed to mimic ivory. As a collectible, it will appeal to vintage sewing fans, advocates of women’s history, and aficionados of patent medicine. Similar ones sell in the $15-40 range.