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Grace Goff - Kansas Folk Art


Kay Burger, Apprentice

Grace Goff of rural Manhattan is known throughout the state for her beautiful tatting. Her tatted creations include such traditional pieces as lace edging, doilies, and Christmas ornaments.

Grace also is known for her work that combines her tatting skills with those of quilt making. First she appliqués tatted pieces on a cloth background and then quilts the top to make wall hangings and bed covers. Her bed covers have won numerous awards. In fact, one of her pieces has won "viewers' choice" in every show in which it has been entered.

Grace was born in Riley County in 1909. She has lived on a farm for most of her life. the only time she was off the farm was while she was attending Kansas State University. After college she taught high school home economics for six years. Following her marriage she moved to her husband's family farm. They ran a dairy and raised three children before retiring in 1978. Although retired, they remain on the farm today.

Tatting, as well as other needlework, was a tradition among the women of Grace's family. She first learned to tat as a young girl with the help of her mother and grandmother.

I recall I wanted to learn to crochet and mother said, "No, I want you to learn to tat." That was before I started school. We had an old washhouse out back and I remember sitting in the door, while she was going in and out and around me—but I did learn to tat. My grandmother was a tatter and she had lots of patience. She would sit beside me and help me to read patterns and furnish me with anything I needed.—Grace Goff

One of Grace's earliest accomplishments as a tatter was the completion of three butterflies when she was still in grade school. "Mother put them in the sleeves and the front of a nightgown," recalls Grace. "I was thrilled to death." Although Grace became a proficient tatter, she also learned to crochet, knit, and quilt.

Grace has tatted all through her life but she has been far more productive since her retirement. She tats for four to five hours every evening. She tats and talks or watches television. Even though she must count her stitches, Grace explains that she develops a rhythm. She explains, "My fingers don't get tired because I do so much of it." She prefers a metal shuttle and although at times she will use commercial patterns, like those found in the Workbasket, she generally develops her own.

The art of tatting is time consuming and accuracy is critical. A round lace doily, for instance, eight inches in diameter, takes about 35 hours to make; if a mistake is made, it must be cut out. Because of her love of the art form, Grace found herself making a lot of doilies. "I was running out of places to put them," she explains. "I've given away an awful lot of them. But I suppose that's why I started doing some of these other things." By "other things" grace means her wall hangings and bed coverings.

To the best of her knowledge, Grace thinks she is one of the only tatters to combine her lace making with quilt making. She refers to it as her "wild idea." It came about because of her need to find new ways to use her tatting. Tatted shapes are carefully appliquéd onto pieces of solid cotton cloth. The appliqué work alone might take Grace up to 100 hours. The appliquéd piece is then combined with a batting and a lining and then all three pieces are quilted, using designs that set off the tatted pieces. A bed covering might take her more than 950 hours to complete.

When asked why she tats, Grace replies, "I have no idea!" When asked if she thinks of herself as an artist, she says, "I don't think I am at all—but I get ahold of a shuttle and I can do it."

She is, however, interested in seeing that the art is passed on to yet another generation.

I think it is important to pass it on. It's something I'd hate to see die. Right now I don't think it's going to. There's a lot of interest in it. . . . It seems like there is a renewed interest in tatting—but then don't you think there's a revival of things you do with your hands?—Grace Goff

Besides teaching her granddaughter, she has taught many other students in her community through Home Extension and 4-H functions. "I think it's easy to teach," explains Grace. "It's one of the simplest arts."

Grace has participated in the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program as a master artist since the program began in 1985. Her apprentices include Coni Jo Bates, Leona Berry, Kay Burger, Jody Britt, Karen Sim, Cecille Benson, and Elaine Yowell.

Kay Burger

Kay Burger of Manhattan worked with Grace under the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program in 1986. She began tatting in 1975 when she was 20 years old and a student at Kansas State University. While home on Thanksgiving break she convinced her 85-year-old Great-aunt Margaret to teach her to tat. Kay remembers that Aunt Margaret was never without a tatting shuttle in her sweater pocket. Although by 85 Aunt Margaret was able to practice the art only on a limited basis because of arthritis in her hands, she taught Kay the basics. "She spent most of the day with me, showing me how to do the stitches," recalls Kay. "I remember having the darnedest time getting the basic tatting 'knot' to jump from one string to the correct string. After I mastered that, the rest was easy."

Kay continued to practice, learning to keep the knots even and her tension just right. Aunt Margaret continued to serve as Kay's technical advisor when she ran into problems or needed advice. Kay began to produce beautifully tatted lace edging, doilies, and wedding garters. She spent time experimenting with different ideas. One of her biggest and most challenging projects came about when she promised to make the lace for a girlfriend's wedding dress. It took her about five months and 2,951 feet of string to tat the lace. The wedding dress was a huge success.

Although Kay was becoming quite a talented tatter, she felt she needed to spend time with someone like Grace to improve her skills. When she applied to the apprenticeship program she had three goals. These included learning how to construct three dimensional items, to better finish her pieces, and to develop her own patterns. All three goals were attained under the apprenticeship. "My only problem was that I didn't want the apprenticeship to end," remembers Kay.

Grace also was pleased with the apprenticeship. "She [Kay] had been tatting long enough to be ready for some new challenges," explains Grace. "I am proud of her work, and I am sure that she is too." Grace feels that Kay was an ideal candidate for the apprenticeship program. "If the purpose of this program is to keep the art alive," says Grace, "then Kay was an excellent apprentice. She is already teaching some tatting classes at a local craft store."

Kay is as committed to the art of tatting as is Grace. She feels her apprenticeship has opened new doors for her, commenting that "I learned a lot of stuff I had no idea about." Kay is committed to the continuation of the art form. She has already taught several students and has demonstrated her work throughout the region. Her enthusiasm is catching. She, like Grace, is willing to teach "whoever wants to learn."

From Kansas Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program © KSHS 1989

Entry: Goff, Grace - Kansas Folk Art

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: May 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.