Welcome to The Depreciation Lands Museum

18th Century Gentry Handwork

By Kimberly Chaffee

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it’s easy to forget the slow, meticulous pastimes that our ancestors once enjoyed. One such forgotten craft is knotting, an intricate art form that was once a favored pastime among the gentry of the 18th century, especially in England. A delicate, precise activity, knotting was more than just a leisurely pursuit; it was a testament to patience, skill, and social status.

Knotting involved tying tiny, elaborate knots into silk thread, then used to create lacy fringes or decorative patterns. Despite the name’s similarity to knitting, the two bear little resemblance. Knotting is closer to macramé or lace-making, albeit far more minute in its execution. A painstakingly time-consuming process, knotting required considerable skill and extraordinary patience.

Gentry Woman Knotting



Central to this activity was the knotting shuttle, a small device often crafted from materials like ivory, bone, or tortoiseshell. The shuttle was both a functional tool and a status symbol; its ornamental design often reflected the affluence of its owner. A woman would thread the shuttle and then tie knots onto the thread itself, creating delicate strings of knots that could be used to adorn clothing, curtains, or personal accessories.

However, knotting was more than just a craft-it was also a social activity. As contemporary groups may gather for a book club or knitting circle, 18th-century women would convene for knotting parties. These gatherings allowed upper-class women to socialize, exchange ideas, and showcase their knotting prowess. Such occasions emphasized the leisure and affluence of these women, as they had the time to devote to such an elaborate and impractical craft.

Lady Knotting

A portrait of Princess Charlotte of Hesse-Philippsthal or Maria Anna Sophia of Saxony from the workshop of Georg Desmarées, circa 1764.

In her novel “Emma,” Jane Austen depicts a character proficient in knotting, subtly emphasizing her social standing. Mrs. Elton, a self-important woman who prides herself on her gentility, is described as adept at knotting—illustrating the craft’s association with prestige and social class.


However, as the 19th century dawned, the practice of knotting began to decline. Industrialization brought about mass-produced lace and fringes, reducing the demand for handmade knotting. Over time, this charmingly meticulous craft became a relic of the past, preserved only in literature and museum pieces.

Despite its fall into obscurity, knotting’s legacy as a symbol of status, skill, and social bonding among 18th-century women should not be forgotten. It serves as a window into a world where a delicate knot could tell a story of leisure, affluence, and meticulous craftsmanship—a narrative intertwined with the threads of history. As we delve into the forgotten art of knotting, we are reminded of the timeless human need for creativity, camaraderie, and a touch of elegance in our everyday lives.

Museum Volunteer BREE knotting a long rope to make fringe.