Age 97, Inducted into the Order of Australia for 'Service to the craft of tatting as a designer and through the international publication of her patterns.'

Here's a link to Judith Connor's short bio of Norma at Craftree: https://www.craftree.com/wiki/Benporath,+Norma

There is a table runner tatted by Norma and two scrapbooks of her published articles on display at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (Castle Hill(a suburb of Sydney)): https://collection.maas.museum/object/319288


The first two "Home Beautiful" collections of Norma's articles had very similar covers - the first had the round tablecloth on the cover that launched her designing career, and the second had a square tablecloth.


The Semco Shuttle came in pastel pink, blue or green
Dimensions: 7cm x 1.5cm (2.5 ins x 5/8in)


Photo courtesy of Deborah Zinn
Spools of SEMCO thread during WWII came with this warning label!

NORMA BENPORATH
Oct. 2, 1900 - July 2, 1998

Norma Benporath(pronounced benPORath) published over 1,000 tatted lace designs between the years 1929 and 1952. No other tatting designer in the world can make that claim. The list of these newspapers and periodicals are below the book bibliography, and were published primarily in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa with a few showing up in UK and USA publications. Despite her prolific output, her designs have become scarce and hard to find.

Norma was born October 2, 1900 in Hawera, New Zealand, to Maude Catherine(née Datson) and Arthur Norman Laurence Benporath(1868 - Sept. 30, 1933), noted archeologist. Her mother was the daughter of Capt. James Datson, a manager of the Wallaroo Copper Mines in South Australia. Norma had one younger brother, Morley George(born 1904). Norma was born with impaired sight, but cataract surgery restored 50% vision to one eye. It was enough to allow Norma to become an avid reader. Her family moved to Melbourne in 1909 upon her father's retirement from his first career as an accountant and company auditor. Norma was inspired to learn to tat watching an aunt doing it one holiday and being told that tatting did not require as much sharp vision as embroidery. Norma worked out her own method for creating the knot and went quickly from tatting every pattern she could find, to designing her own using a tortoise shell shuttle her father made for her. Norma was proud of how much thread her handmade shuttle could hold. Norma began writing about tatting in 1929 at the age of 28. Her mother Maude encouraged her daughter's ambitions and even mounted much of the tatted lace to embroidered linen for Norma throughout her career to spare her daughter's eyes the strain, and probably contributed strongly to Norma's ability to produce so many designs in so short a time. This marriage of tatting and linen is a hallmark of Norma's and is prevalent through much of her work.

Throughout the start of Norma's designing career, threads suitable for tatting were hard to come by, and mating it with linen helped stretch the supply. This early frugality never left her work, even after supply became less limited, and has given us a legacy of tatted lace designs that is unique as it is beautiful. Norma did many all-tatted lace designs as well, but the combination of lace and embroidered linen turned what was beautiful separately exquisitely sublime together. It was genius, and had that impact on everyone who saw it. Norma's designs were noticed, and it was a tea cloth that got borrowed by a friend for a party that ultimately launched Norma's publishing career. The editor of "The Home Beautiful" saw the tea cloth and sought Norma out to ask her to write up the instructions for the magazine. Norma became a regular contributor and it opened the doors to many other publishing opportunities. The tea cloth that launched this amazing career is on the front cover of "The Home Beautiful Tatting Book," the first compilation of articles published because of the high demand for reprints of the original magazine articles. "The New Idea" weekly also sold two collections of Norma's designs to an avid readership. Her sudden popularity with these readerships created a demand for even more designs in newspapers and weeklies.

When SEMCO, a thread manufacturer, noticed a rise in fine crochet thread sales, they realized they had an untapped market to explore, and Norma did collections of tatting patterns for SEMCO that were used to help promote their threads. Norma also worked with SEMCO to produce a line of thread and shuttle specifically suited to tatting. A picture of one of the shuttles can be seen in the left column. Between her articles that began in "The Australian Home Beautiful," many newspaper columns, and SEMCO tatting pattern collections, Norma became the face of tatting in a large part of the world. The capstone on Norma's publishing career was her book, "Every Woman's Complete Guide to Tatting, Illustrated: A Book of Fine Things to Make", appearing in harcover June 1952.

Norma had been invited to write a tatting book by a London publisher in 1946 and was offered international distribution - family responsibilities prevented her accepting this invitation, but they were still so strongly enthusiastic about the proposed project that they arranged to have the book published in Melbourne instead so that Norma would remain in charge of its creation. Norma's mother was so excited about this capstone in her daughter's publishing career that she came up with her own idea for the cover, which Norma kept as a keepsake but ultimately didn't use.

Norma instead had her book bound in blue linen cloth with silver printing on the spine, chosen to commemorate a beloved birthday gift received at the age of seven. This was when she first realized the ambition of publishing her own book one day, and the memory of the gift and her budding ambition stuck with her. On the dust jacket is a Richelieu embroidered satin dressing-table set with a deep silk tatting border. The instructions for the mat are in the book.

Norma never married, and lived with her mother in Queensland until her mother's passing April 27, 1958. We don't know why Norma stopped after the publication of her book - she went on to live 46 more years. But it may be that her mother's failing health was a factor, when Maude had been a partner in her daughter's career from the start. Norma's brother George did marry and had four children.

Norma was awarded an honorary life membership of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Tatters' Guild in 1997, and inducted into the Order of Australia for service to the craft of tatting as a designer and through the international publication of her patterns, before her passing in 1998.

I wish to thank Judith Connors, without whose help this page would not have been possible. She had the presence of mind to compile a comprehensive list of all the newspapers and magazines where Norma Benporath published her patterns before Norma passed away in 1998. I'm deeply grateful Judith shared the list with us so I could begin this page - I would never have been able to recover all of this information on my own. It is a long list, and we may never complete filling in all the designs Norma published between 1929 and 1952 - as there are more than a thousand. She also provided the photos and some of the biographic information offered here. This page would not have been possible without her gracious help. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. - Leigh

Pix

Bibliography Entries

SEMCO Art Needlework Instruction Book No. 4: New Designs & Stitches in Mt Mellick, Eyelet, Roman Cut, Richelieu, Cross Stitch, Smocking and Tatting, by Semco (TPB:1920) Book Review Popup Window
Notes: 32 pages; Language: English; Publisher: SEMCO, Australia; ISBN: None;
      I have the revised 4th edition, so I'm still looking for the earlier editions...

The Home Beautiful Tatting Book: A series of Lessons and Designs for Beginners and Advanced Workers, Book 1, by Norma Benporath(pronounced benPORath) (TPB:1932) Book Review Popup Window
Notes: 32 pages; Language: English; Publisher: Edgar H Baillie, Caulfield, Australia; ISBN: None;
      This book is a compilation of all her articles for Australia's magazine "The Home Beautiful" in the 18 month period before its release; There's an ad for ordering it in the Brisbane Courier(QLD) Sept 29, 1932 on page 7...

New Idea Book of Tatting Designs, No. 1, by Norma Benporath (TPB:1936)
Notes: 17 pages; Language: English; Publisher: Fitchett Brothers, W. Melbourne, Australia; ISBN: None;
     

New Idea Book of Tatting Designs, No. 2, by Norma Benporath (TPB:1937) Book Review Popup Window
Notes: 32 pages; Language: English; Publisher: Fitchett Brothers, W. Melbourne, Australia; ISBN: None;
     

The Home Beautiful Tatting, Book No. 2, by Norma Benporath (TPB:1938?)
Notes: 34 pages; Language: English; Publisher: Edgar H Baillie, Caulfield, Australia; ISBN: None;
      The cover for Book 2 is very similar to the first in layout, but the tablecloth has corners instead of being round; it does state that it is Book 2 inside...

SEMCO TATTING For Experts and Beginners, Book No. 7, by Norma Benporath (TPB:1940) Book Review Popup Window
Notes: 32 pages; Language: English; Publisher: SEMCO, Black Rock, Australia; ISBN: None;
      This was kindly donated to the bibliography project. There are variations between editions, so I've included ToC of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd editions; Here's a link to a free download of the 1st edition from Trove: SEMCO TATTING For Experts and Beginners, Book. No. 7...

SEMCO Tatting For Beginners and Experts, Book No. 16, by Norma Benporath (TPB:1940) Book Review Popup Window
Notes: 32 pages; Language: English; Publisher: SEMCO, Black Rock, Australia; ISBN: None;
     

Tatting, Book No. 3, by Norma Benporath (TPB:1943)
Notes: 34 pages; Language: English; Publisher: Edgar H Baillie, Caulfield, Australia; ISBN: None;
      Note from Judith Connors: "The third of these was published in 1943, during wartime conditions in Australia. Government permission was granted for a supply of paper to publish No. 3 Ďto provide women with relief from the all-consuming war workí. 15,000 copies were printed for distribution only within 100 miles of Melbourne. It sold out in one week! Owing to permit restrictions and rations on paper, the demand for a fourth Home Beautiful Tatting Book could not be met until the following year, but the result was the same. (Because of poor quality paper during the war years, there are few copies of this book around.)"

Tatting Designs and Instructions: The Australian Home Beautiful Tatting, Book No. 4, by Norma Benporath (TPB:1944)
Notes: 32 pages; Language: English; Publisher: Edgar H Baillie, Caulfield, Australia; ISBN: None;
      Also published during paper rationing for the war, and sold out in just one week! Very few copies survive to this day because of the poor quality of the paper that had to be used...

SEMCO Tatting Instruction, Book No. 21, by Norma Benporath (TPB:1945ish) Book Review Popup Window
Notes: 20 pages; Language: English; Publisher: SEMCO, Black Rock, Australia; ISBN: None;
      There is a pdf available at: https://www.knitting-and.com

SEMCO Advanced Tatting Designs, Book No. 50, by Norma Benporath (TPB:1945) Book Review Popup Window
Notes: 16 pages; Language: English; Publisher: SEMCO Pty Ltd., Wellington, Australia; ISBN: None;
      My current edition of this is from New Zealand - I do not know yet whether it differs from the edition released in Australia...

Every Woman's Complete Guide to Tatting, Illustrated: A Book of Fine Things to Make, by Norma Benporath (HC:1952) Book Review Popup Window
Notes: 164 pages; Language: English; Publisher: Colorgravure Publications, Melbourne; ISBN: None;
     

HERITAGE PATTERNS: Tatting Designs of Norma Benporath, by Queensland Division Inc. (TPB:1995) Book Review Popup Window
Notes: 16 pages; Language: English; Publisher: Queensland Div. Inc., Australian Lace Guild, Australia; ISBN: None;
      I was able to review this book courtesy of the IOLI lending library..

CATALOG OF MAGAZINE ARTICLES BY NORMA BENPORATH
1929 - 1952

  • THE AGE & THE LEADER HANDBOOK OF NEEDLEWORK
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
  • THE AUSTRALIAN HOME BEAUTIFUL
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
  • AUSTRALIAN NEEDLEWORK
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
  • AUSTRALIAN NEEDLEWORK & KNITTING
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
  • EVERYLADY'S JOURNAL
    • "Lovely Tatted Evening Bag"
      ISSUE: May 1934
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
  • FASHION AND HOME
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
  • HOUSEWIVES' JOURNAL
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)

  • NEW ZEALAND NEEDLEWORK
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
  • PIECEWORK
    • "Life of Lace, Norma Benporath's Contributions to Tatting", by Judith Connors
      ISSUE: Jan/Feb. 2000(Vol. 18:1)
  • THE QUEEN, LONDON
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
  • SHUTTLE ART
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
  • SOUTH AUSTRALIAN HOME & GARDENS
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
  • WOMAN'S WORLD
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)
    • "*"
      ISSUE: *,*(Vol. *:*)

CATALOG OF NEWSPAPER ARTICLES BY NORMA BENPORATH
1929 - 1952

NOTES FROM LEIGH: All of the jpgs I've given links to are only 72 dpi, so they will not print legibly, even if you have 11"x17" paper to print on and only have to reduce the size of the newspaper pages by one third to one half. I'm sure they did this to conserve the space needed to store over 11 million pages. I'm still grateful the Australian government did this and gave us all access to this treasury of historical documents. It is a lot harder to improve print quality than to reduce it, however, so that is a project I will tackle when I don't have so many pressing huge projects on my plate. For now, at least we know where some of them are.

Also keep in mind I do not consider "The Age", "The Australasian" or "The Queenslander" lists complete for three excellent reasons. 1) Work in newspapers and magazines was often unattributed, so my search for "Benporath" will not have found those instances where the name of the designer wasn't given. 2) The recognition software that is currently being used by the search engine is pretty good but not brilliant. It can't always "read" the search words "Benporath" or "tatting" depending on the print quality of the issue that was photographed. I did searches using both key words separately, with differing results. I need to do a third search using the key word "tatted," but have not done so as of this typing(April 1, 2021). 3) Despite the enormity of this project, not everything will have gotten scanned in, because human error and missing documents are always going to be part of the equation. I am still very excited and pleased to have found so much. Judith Connors confirmed that the unattributed patterns from "The Age" that are listed are most likely Norma's, so they are included. If you have differing information, please get in touch and set me straight. If links start breaking(they are all good as of this moment), also let me know. I've archived all the relevant pages just in case.

And my last note(promise): Pay attention to how many page numbers are given on each entry. The link will take you to the pattern page, but you may have to page through the document a page or two to get the remainder of it. If you come across one I missed, please let me know so I can correct the entry. There is one pattern link that I was only able to find the link to page 3 of that issue, so you'll have to page a ways to get to the pattern.

  • THE SUN NEWS-PICTORIAL(Australian)

CATALOG OF ARTICLES BY NORMA BENPORATH IN WEEKLY ISSUES
1929 - 1952

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