Tuesday, July 3, 2012


My friend Nancy, who lives in San Francisco, sent me a unique card that her mother embellished many years ago with amazingly small flowers made by tatting:  Here’s what I saw.

Nancy had no idea that I was absolutely fascinated by tatting and I asked her if she would be a guest blogger on Hot Coffee and Cool Jazz to show some of these cards and share a little bit about her mother’s tatting.  She agreed, and her story is below.  To see the delicate work she did, clicking on each card will enlarge it.  Oh, if I just had this kind of talent!


The art of tatting has been practiced in our family for several generations.  My mother told me how her grandmother, the earliest known of the family “tatters”, made sure all her daughters knew how to tat.  In that early generation, like other girls my great-grandmother Mary Emma Burwick tatted.  So when her daughter (my grandmother May Athaline Morris) became old enough to learn how to use a tatting shuttle, she also carried on the family tradition of making this kind of lace.  And as you could imagine would happen, she passed the craft on down to her own daughter, my mother May Morris Elsner.   The family came west, leaving Michigan for Southern California, where my mother was born in 1898 and where she became the third generation to pick up a shuttle to make lace.   

 My mother, May, a native Californian, was born in Ballona Township, renamed Inglewood somewhat later, and she graduated in Los Angeles from Manual Arts High School and Teachers Normal School (later UCLA).  In 1921 she married Max Elsner, whose parents had immigrated to the US from Prussia and Bavaria in the 1870s and settled in Los Angeles.  

May and Max had three children, two daughters, Nancy and Jacquelyn, and a son, James (Jim).  May devoted herself to making a home for her family in our English-style house built in 1927 on Stearns Drive in West Los Angeles.  Mother was always interested in art and took art history courses at UCLA and night drawing classes at the public schools when we were growing up.    She had an artistic bent and learned Japanese flower arranging and  was in demand for arrangements at our grammar school for special events.   She also assisted a professional designer of flower arrangements in the days of glamorous premieres of Hollywood movies with stars arriving in limousines, Kleig lights in the sky, and bleachers for fans, held at theaters like Carthay Center near where we lived.  I remember vividly the opening of “Song of Bernadette”.      

Mother was an accomplished seamstress and made all of my sister’s and my clothes when we were young.  A familiar memory of her is sitting in her chair in the bedroom with sewing on her lap.  This was in the 1930’s Great Depression. 

She liked to cook because as she said “it is creative” and she was well ahead of her time in the dishes she served, like Japanese noodle soup and Mexican enchiladas she learned to make from a neighborhood Mexican maid.   She loved to garden and was knowledgeable about plants, which she learned from her father who early in his career was a nurseryman in San Bernardino. 

In her later years, mother made several new quilts which family members have enjoyed.  She also finished others begun by her own mother years earlier after visiting a quilt exhibition in Pasadena.   She sometimes used swatches of material in her quilts from dresses we wore in our youth, sometimes even using material from grownups’ apparel.  We still have those quilts in our possession and they have been a particular joy.

Although neither my sister nor I learned to tat, my mother did teach tatting to her granddaughters and passed on to them the shuttles she used throughout her life.


When my mother was in her 80’s she recalled what fun it had been to tat.  She got out her shuttles, bought a variety of colored threads and decided she would decorate note cards with tatting.  Some of these are displayed here.   Mother died in Ventura at the age of 94.  At that time my sister Jacquelyn and I inherited her cache of tatted note cards.  Although we don’t tat, we do have an appreciation for arts and crafts as an inheritance from our mother, May Morris Elsner.

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