Historical information

Tatting is a form of knotted lace making using thread and a small shuttle. Twisted threads are tied around or through small, pointed shuttles that can be made of bone, mother of pearl, tortoise shell, steel or plastic. This produces a stable, strong lace using simple knots of two half hitches to make rings and chains embellished with picots. The origins of tatting are not clear but early versions of decorative knotting were used by the Egyptians on their ceremonial dress. Tatting also has elements of fishermen's net making techniques and the decorative knotting that was practiced by aristocratic women from the 15th century. Tatting, as we know it today, emerged in the first half of the 19th century. The new availability of mercerised thread from 1835 encouraged a burgeoning of lace crafts of all sorts. It was known in Italy as "occhi" and in France as "la frivolite".

Tatting looks fragile but is both strong and durable. An article in a column named "Wives and Daughters" published in the Star newspaper in May 1910 describes the durability of tatting lace - "there is edging and insertion still in existence that have outworn two sets of pillow slips." In the 19th century and well into the 20th century, tatting was used like crochet and knitted lace for decorative edgings, collars, doilies, tray cloths etc. At first, different tatting patterns were passed along by word of mouth from person to person, however in time, patterns regularly appeared in newspapers and magazines well into the 1950's. This book has photographs and detailed instructions for a wide range of tatted edgings and insertions suitable for household linens such as towels, doilies and tablecloths as well as patterns for whole mats.

Stanley E. Mullen (a businessman) developed Semco Pty Ltd which began as a Melbourne based importation company in 1907. The first three letters of Semco's name were his initials. In 1915 it began manufacturing women's apparel, whitework and transfer patterns. In 1924 the company moved to Black Rock, Victoria and continued to produce an extensive range of needlework patterns and handcraft instruction booklets, threads etc. up until the late 1970's. Semco had a staff that included many young women. It was noted by E.J. Trait (editor of the local newspaper "Standard News") that the firm provided them with good working conditions and the correct rate of pay for women in a time of war - the starting rate for 15 year olds, mainly girls at Semco was 25 shillings per week. During World War 2, Manpower Regulations could be used to coerce workers to move into jobs that supported the war effort, but Trait argued that being employed at Semco could make this unlikely as the firm made some goods essential for the war effort. He even suggested that women be encouraged to produce needlework items (and play a part in the war effort) by sending them as presents, to the troops up north. He also heaped praise on the Semco workplace - noting that no Saturday work was the norm, allowing employees to shop and have "hair-do's" before enjoying a relaxing weekend! Semco also had a female cricket side in the women's Saturday association. After the war the firm stayed in production until the early 1990's when it was taken over by Coates-Paton Pty Ltd.

Norma Benporath (1900 - 1998) was an expert in tatting techniques and taught and published extensively on the subject. She was born in New Zealand with impaired sight but cataract surgery restored 50% vision to one eye. She was inspired to learn tatting whilst watching her aunt tat and being told that tatting did not require as much sharp vision as embroidery. She quickly learnt to design her own patterns and published over 1000 tatted lace patterns between 1929 and 1952. She became a regular contributor to magazines (such as Home Beautiful) and newspapers across Australia. Her designs were also published in New Zealand, South Africa as well as the U.K. and U.S.A.
When Semco, a thread manufacturer, noticed a rise in the sale of fine crochet threads, they realized they had an untapped market to explore. Norma designed a collection of tatting patterns for Semco that were used to help promote their threads. Norma also worked with Semco to produce a line of threads and shuttles specifically suited to tatting. In 1997, Norma was inducted into the "Order of Australia" for "Service to the craft of tatting as a designer and through the international publication of her patterns".


This item is an excellent example of the needle work being enjoyed by women in the 1940's in Australia and the skills of the Australian designer, Norma Benporath. It is also an example of the trend that emerged for craft companies such as Semco to publish pattern books in order to advertise their own materials.

Physical description

A 32 page soft cover instruction book with green front and back covers showing two tatted doily designs. The book includes black and white photographs and written patterns by Norma Benporath.

Inscriptions & markings

Front cover -
"No. 16"
Back cover -
"Published by Semco Pty. Ltd."