The best way to begin to learn just the simple art of tatting, before you worry about patterns, is to tie two threads together and learn the double stitch (ds) and see the knots flip. The videos below demonstrate that technique. So, wind your shuttle with one color thread (just wind, don't worry about particulars--you'll develop a sense of how you want your shuttle wound as time goes on), perhaps ten feet or so. Cut the thread from the ball and tie it to a different color thread. You are now ready to use the videos to learn how to make the double stitch. Eventually I'll add instructions on how to begin a pattern. First you need to learn how to tat. Also, please note that these videos demonstrate the way I tat. I have noticed that nearly everyone that I have seen tat has developed a slightly different way of tatting. You'll probably develop your own preferences as well.
Patterns which have only rings and no chains use the shuttle only, cut from the ball thread. If the pattern calls for chains, then this involves leaving the shuttle thread attached to the ball thread, which is often called CTM or Continuous Thread Method. If you want your chains to be a different color from your rings, you'll need to wind your shuttle with one color, cut from the ball, and then tie the shuttle thread of one color to the ball thread of another color. While this is the simplest way of attaching thread, it is not the most elegant. Eventually I will have some videos showing how to attach a new thread in better ways. If you are just learning, it's best to tie two different colors together and begin with a chain so that you can see the flip.
The Flip This video is just for you to look at before you start learning how to tat. The next video, "First half of the double stitch" is when you should pick up your shuttle and learn to tat. The shuttle is filled with green thread and the ball thread is maroon. I'm making a chain in order to more clearly demonrate "the flip." Notice how the green thread (shuttle) transfers the knot to the maroon thread (ball) before bringing it close to my thumb. In order to do this, I pull the green thread (shuttle) taught while letting my index finger relax a little in order to let the maroon thread (ball) relax so that the knot can flip over to it. Then I use my index finger to pull the knot over toward my thumb. Notice that there are two movements--the first half of the stitch and the second half.
First half of the double stitch In order to make it easier for you to see the flip, I'm making a chain. Tie two different color threads together so that you can see the flip. Don't worry about what kind of knot--just do an overhand knot. You can hold the thread in your left hand however is comfortable to you. I hold the thread as if I were crocheting by wrapping it around my pinky finger (which I use to control tension) and over the top of my index finger. A view of this is demonstrated in the "Reverse Work after making a ring to do a chain" video. Then, hold the knot between your thumb and middle finger. With the shuttle, hold it between your index finger and thumb, index finger on top, thumb on the bottom so that you can see your palm, with the thread coming out of the top left hand side of the shuttle (if you hold it pointing up slightly, as in the picture). Wrap the thread around the pads of your fingers (almost like you're grabbing the thread to pull it), going around until the thread is on top of your fingers. Slip the shuttle between the thread and your index finger (the thread is on top of the shuttle) and then bring the shuttle back between the thread and your thumb (the thread is on the bottom of the shuttle). Do "the flip" and make sure that the green shuttle thread transfers into the maroon ball thread. Pull the first half of the double stitch toward your left thumb and middle finger. Try not to yank on the shuttle thread as you move to the second half of the double stitch or the knot will tend to flip back (this takes practice).
Second half of the double stitch This part is easier than the first half. And, as a treat, you get to see Max interested in tatting in the background. There is no turning of the shuttle hand for this part. With the index finger on top and the thumb on the bottom (the thread should be coming out of the right side of the shuttle when the shuttle is parallel with the floor and pointing toward your left hand), slip the shuttle between the thread and your thumb (the thread is below the shuttle) and then slip the shuttle between the thread and your index finger (the thread is above the shuttle). Do "the flip" and ease the knot toward your thumb. This completes one double stitch and is the basis for tatting. Practice the doublestitch (ds) until you feel comfortable with it. Then, attempt a ring.
Forming a ring Start with a wound shuttle, with the thread cut from the ball. Grasp the end of the thread (about 5 inches from the end) with your left index finger and thumb. Using your right hand, wrap the thread around the left hand and bring the end of the loop back to the left index finger and thumb. I just made a ring. Then, I do a quick double stitch and the ring is secure (you can let go if you like).
Making a picot Start the first half of the double stitch, leaving a space of thread between the current ds and the last. This will be the picot. The bigger the space, the bigger the picot. Then complete the second half of the ds, snug the stitches over, and see the picot just made.
Enlarging the ring You'll find as you're making a ring that the thread gets tighter and tigher around your hand. Grasp the ring thread below your thumb and pull gently until the ring is a more comfortable size. You'll notice that the thread going to the shuttle gets shorter, so you'll need to let a bit of thread out from the shuttle, which you hear in the video as my shuttle clicks. Continue tatting and repeat as necessary. If you cannot enlarge the ring, it probably means that you are not flipping the ds properly (or they are unflipping) and you will need to start over (because if you can't enlarge the ring, you probably can't close it, either).
Closing the ring Lay down your shuttle, grasp the tatting with your left hand, holding the ds at the end snugly, pull gently but firmly on the thread attached to the shuttle as the ring closes. If the ring will not close, it is likely that one or more of the ds haven't flipped properly. Review "the flip" video and make sure that your stitches are doing that.
Joining a picot I have started a ring by making the first five double stitches. Then, I want to join the current ring to the last ring made (which is on the left). I put the working thread (the ring thread that is wrapped around your left hand) below the picot that I want to join to (the finished ring that is just to the right of my thumb and closest to my current work). Then, using the hook on the end of my shuttle (or you could use a crochet hook), I reach down through the picot, grab the thread, and bring it up through the picot, making a loop. I then put my shuttle through the loop and then pull the slack back out of the loop (my left hand automatically does this, but it may take some practice for you). I made a quick ds after that and then show you that the picot has been joined. This is a classic picot join. I will show other joins in the future.
Reverse work (RW) after making a ring to do a chain I have just finished a ring and now I must reverse work (which is what you see me doing in the beginning) and make a chain. I place the ball thread (green) on my left hand and use the maroon thread (wound on the shuttle) to make the stitches. I complete one double stitch.
Georgia Seitz has a wealth of techniques and patterns. Click on the online tatting lessons to view various techniques.
Rosemarie Peel shares techniques on joining the last picot, using two shuttles, false picots, the lock join, and more