Alan Kolodny learned to crochet at a young age from his grandmother. As an Orthodox Jew, she would make his kippah (head covering) and tried to teach crocheting to Kolodny’s mother, but it never took. “My mother could not do it to save her life, so [my grandmother] figured she better teach me,” says Kolodny. At age 21, he converted to Christianity, and moved to Mississippi to attend seminary, where he met his wife. By trade, Alan is a preacher, and in his free time, he loves to craft. He practices multiple forms of craft, including making candy, gingerbread houses and balloon sculptures (from his work as a clown). His interest in crochet and craft eventually led to learning about tatting. A friend of Alan’s noticed his ability to pick up new skills and encouraged him to try tatting. He then taught himself how to tat, and soon after, he taught his friend. “I discovered that I really love doing it. I love making old, antique things,” says Alan. “I was already doing very detailed crochet work with fine thread so moving into the tatting was an easy step for me.”
Tatting is a form of knotted lace made by hand, often used for trimming or to create small lace pieces, as one piece alone can require hundreds of knots and hundreds of hours to complete. Compared to crochet, which takes significantly less time, one of his tatted doilies took Kolodny more than 360 hours, where a typical crochet doily may take less than ten. Kolodny explains tatting is a precursor to crochet and macrame, and at one point, tatting was a popular pastime in the United States, when women made lace for collars, pillowcases, and a variety of trims and edge work.
Kolodny has a physical disability, which affects his mobility. This has impacted his ability to clown, but allows him more time for his tatting and jewelry making. He has been tatting for about 13 years, and has participated in craft shows since 2009 as part of the Mississippi Craftsmen’s Guild, which he joined in 2007. In terms of tatting, Kolodny makes table runners, animals (butterflies and dragons), bookmarks, and crosses, among other things.
Though tatting is traditionally done with thread, Kolodny is one of the few artists to make wire tatting successful. This process can be challenging and requires a lot of hand strength. His 25 years of experience making balloon animals for kids has helped him with this, and he doesn’t use gloves or tape on his fingers to protect them. This allows him a tighter tatting, as he explains: “I’m the first wire tatter who has done it successfully. I’m the only one who does the close tatting that’s like thread.” His designs are based on traditional viking knitting patterns, as well as contemporary patterns he finds from other tatters. Wire tatting requires more tools than thread tatting and more consideration of materials. Pliers and cutters are required and the wire has to be thin enough to manipulate, but strong enough not to snap when being knotted. Kolodny prefers to work with fine silver, which is .99 pure silver.
Kolodny sells his wire tatted jewelry online and at craft shows, and receives commission work for his jewelry. Over the years, he has researched tatting traditions from around the world to enhance his own skills and continue the tradition. Alan is passionate about his craft and keeping tatting alive for future generations. He explains, “It’s beautiful. That’s what keeps me doing it. If I’m having a bad day and I make a piece, I can look at it and say ‘I made this.’ This started out as a piece of thread or a piece or wire, and look at what it turned out to be. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes along with it.”