Jean Smith uses her hand as a miniature loom to create...

August 22, 2002

Jean Smith uses her hand as a miniature loom to create such lace pieces as this tiny basket. Stitching up the competition

A few years have passed since Jean Smith, "The Queen of Tatting," was a contestant instead of a State Fair judge. Years spent studying other people's handmade lace, eyeing their collars and cuffs, examining their hand towels and handkerchiefs, has her eager to compete this year.

Smith, who is now 69, was not interested in tatting when her grandmother was alive to teach her. She taught herself the hobby 20 years ago when she worked part-time at the Craft Corral in Bel Air. The challenge has always been to make lace using a 2-inch bobbin and one's hands as a mini-loom.

Judging has shown Smith that the craft is a dying art. Neatness sets skilled tatters apart from beginners. So do tight knots and loops that are the same shape and size. A seasoned tatter chooses thread suitable for the pattern.

Her skill has come from experience. Practice has not made her rich. Far from it. The few dollars she has won alongside her 45 State Fair ribbons have been used to purchase more thread, or "put toward something for the house" in Fallston.

In the sewing division of the Home Arts category, tatting is not as heavily entered as knitting, and not as competitive as quilting. But for the eight or nine who enter, there's a difference between good lace angels and great ones, first-place bookmarks and those that finish third.

The last time she entered, a judge gave Smith's doily a blue ribbon. They don't call her the queen for nothing.

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