Tatting Split-Ring History
Anne Orr Publications
& Mary Sue Kuhn

I have always wondered what "modern tatting designs" would look like today without the advanced tatting "design element" now known simply as a split-ring. It is almost a scary thought when I think of all the wonderful present day tatting designs that would not have been created without the use of this innovative "technique". The technique is the manner in which the tatter is manipulating the threads in order to create a design element.  
  Before Mary Sue Kuhn, (and her brilliant publication, The Joy of Split Ring Tatting), there was Anne Orr. Anne Orr was the Martha Stewart of her time, a very savvy business woman indeed. An editor and publisher of various arts and craft patterns, rather than the sole creative force behind the designs that carried her name. To Orr's credit, some of the cross stitch patterns were of her design.
  Since Orr did not tat, who exactly is responsible for developing "the reverse stitch", and designing all those wonderful design elements and tatting patterns from Orr's tatting catalog?
  There is NO published evidence that anyone (besides Orr's designers), used the "reverse stitch" since it was first published in 1923. This revelation left me wondering why? Can you guess the answer?
  It had to do with copyright law. Orr was a pioneer in those early days, not only for being a publisher, but because Orr copyrighted the works that were published in her name. Only a handful of tatting publications were copyrighted back in those early years of intellectual property right protection.
  It is true that you can not copyright a "technique". The technique is "only how the thread is manipulated" in order to create the finished result. The "design element" is the "split-ring".
   This is where the "loop hole" comes into effect. Orr copyrighted all of the "basic split-ring elements" in her first publication of this "technique". Since the "technique" was newly developed, no other "design elements" that used this technique existed in the public domain, Orr literally own the exclusive right to not only the "basic elements" but the technique as well. The "technique" could not be utilized to make any "design element" as Orr had "exclusive rights".  Genius, and yet protecting those rights almost killed this technique.
  Thank you, Mary Sue Kuhn for recognizing the importance of this almost lost technique and the design elements, and for publishing your work so that tatting design could evolve to the next level!
  I first saw The Joy of Tatting, in the summer of 1987, at our public library.
  This publication totally re-sparked my interest in tatting. I could not wait to get home, find my shuttles, so that I could try again to learn to tat.
  The illustrations are outstanding in The Joy of Tatting  and my hat is off to Lyla Yost Dozier.
  This soft-bound publication boasts approximately thirty-five black and white pictures. The pattern scripts are easy to use and well written. I really liked the look of this book with its down-home appeal. You just want to be able to tat these designs. I know I sure did!
   It does not look like much with its simple mono-colored cover, and black and white content. However, The Joy of Split Ring Tatting is a pivotal publication in tatting's history.
   Mary Sue literally took a "dormant technique" and breathed life back into it.
  Mary Sue perceived the genius behind the "reverse stitch technique", re-coined the perfect moniker "split-ring tatting", and used the same "r st technique" including Orr's now public domain elements in her designs. No other designer of tatting patterns had used this technique or those elements in their designs in sixty-one years. You read that correctly 61 years!
It was June of 1988, when I purchased the Better Home and Gardens Creative Ideas Needlecraft Ideas magazine that featured one of Mary Sue's split-ring designs on the cover. I vividly remember sitting on the couch looking over this magazine and marveling over the tatted split-ring stars and Lyla Yost Dozier's beautifully illustrated diagrams.
   Something clicked in my brain, like a light going off over my head, and I thought of the macramé knot called "the lark's head knot". I was off and running with my own version of split-ring tatting.
  If I had not seen this magazine, I may have never discovered this "technique". I already had Anne Orr's books that were published through Dover, and I was not having any revelations concerning those published tatting designs. I thank my lucky "stars" for Mary Sue!

Mary Sue and Me...

In August of 1988, I decided that I was going to reach out to Mary Sue Kuhn and tell her how much her work meant to me.
  Unfortunately, Mary Sue's phone number was unlisted. I was undaunted as I remember reading on the back cover of The Joy of Tatting that Mary Sue was affiliated with the Des Moines Community and Adult Education Program. I managed to finagle Mary Sue's home phone number and address from the secretary who ran the office. I vaguely recollect leaving a few, over-excited messages on her answering machine.
  I was totally unaware of Mary Sue's on-going battle against cancer. I could not understand (at the time), why my enthusiasm was not being appreciated. I was young, naive, and very brazen back in those early days. Not necessarily winning attributes, especially in the eyes of a very rigid lace community. 
  I thought that I was being respectful (at the time), but now I am horrified by my actions. I still get choked up when I think of all the effort that Mary Sue had gone through to figure out the directions in Orr's publications concerning the "r st". I like to imagine Mary Sue having that "aha moment" and happy dancing around the kitchen table in celebration over her "r st" revelations.
  The community can be so slow about embracing what is not "traditional" and I know that Mary Sue's contribution was not as well received at it should have been.
   Unfortunately that "technique" was in the early stages of being forgotten again, if not for those "stars".
   The bull in the china shop that I am, I burst upon the tatting scene not thinking about those before me or that it is sometimes better to quietly enter the room and not make a grand entrance. Here I had taken the "r st" and changed the way the "technique" was tatted/knotted. I even had the audacity to criticize the manner in which the technique was being manipulated. "Why take the ring off your hand, reverse the work, place back on your hand, just to knot the second portion of the split-ring?" In my opinion that was so much wasted effort.
   Little did I know that Mary Sue had more important things going on in her life (like survival), then trying to swat at me with my constant little gnat sounds on her answering machine, letters or articles written in the newsletter.

Mary Sue had so much creative promise in the world of tatting. I owe so much to her and I hope that every time you tat a split ring that you will also think of Mary Sue happy dancing around her kitchen table.
 Mary Sue Kuhn
1950-1993
My First SR Tatting Pattern...
This is a computer generated image of what this motif would look like if you combined it with many, many other motifs.
This is the original motif. I found this thread at the thrift shop and was never able to identify it. Thread was wrapped on a long sewing thread type spool. A size 20 that was silky to the touch. 
PDF Pattern Link:
Tatted Split-Ring Wreath Motif
All Rights Reserved ©1998 by Teri Dusenbury.
Happy Tatting!