10 Country: Standing tat - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

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April 8, 2003

Waycross-- A handicraft once popular 50 years ago makes a slow, but steady comeback. Some young people want to learn the art of making fancy lace.

One woman with fast fingers is determined to keep an endangered handicraft from extinction.

If you believe idle hands are the devil's workshop, then take a rare look inside a saint's workshop.

"It's a craft that has been in my family for generations." Myrtie Highsmith's hands and fingers move almost non-stop, and rarely get tired. "Oh, sometimes, but not much."

She keeps alive an older handicraft called tatting. "It's a form of lacemaking." Most of us have seen tatting, perhaps a special lace collar or maybe even a small bookmark. People often ask her how many stitches in her pieces.

"There are 8,378 double stitches or knots in this collar." It became quite popular not so long ago in the 40s, 50s and 60s, when girls learned it from their mothers and grandmothers.

"I learned to tat using leftover tobacco string." It was almost a lost art, but Myrtie helps keep alive. "Lot of young people wanting to learn the craft."

It looks easy to learn, where two knots makeup the foundation. Looks and sounds simple enough, when an expert tatter does it.

She sometimes uses a shuttle that holds the thread inside, the way a lot of people use to do it. "This is one craft unless you really want to do it, leave it alone."

Myrtie Highsmith learned patience the old fashioned way. "I was a long distance telephone operator, wedding consultant and caterers and seamstress." Professions that taught her patience to become an expert tatter.

She won't leave the old craft alone, sitting for hours, looping thread in intricate patterns, pushing life into a once dying artform. Myrtie frequently teaches people how to tat and will publish the second edition of her how-to book in a few months.

posted at 5:30PM by dave.miller@walb.com