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Get Ready to Twirl Your Tassels Girls!

Written by Rissa Peace, April 2002, all rights reserved.

Tassels once denoted military or social rank, but these days they are strictly decorative items.  Somewhere along the line, they became ornamentation.  Decorative tassels cross all cultural, social and time boundaries; from ancient battle grounds, to modern interior furnishings, to the bridles and tents of nomadic herdsmen.  It may be the aesthetic decorative nature that explains an almost culturally universal use of tassels.  If you own a skeleton key, chances are there is a decorative tassel attached.  There may be tassels on your pillows, on your drapery tie-backs or even on your shoes.  Tassels are everywhere in our lives.

At no time did the tassel as art form flourish as much as it did during the reign of Louis XIV to Louis XVI.  Chances are, you have never actually seen Versailles (the closest I have gotten is the Splendors of Versailles Exhibit), but you have probably seen some incredibly rich, dramatic tassels and tie backs reproduced somewhere.  Scalamandré, an interior design firm in New York, is famous for its historically accurate reproductions and fine passementarie.  They have done fine reproductions for some of the most famous people and homes in the world.  One particular tassel, known as the Marie Antoinette (from Versailles again), cost the client $9,000 for their research and painstaking labor. 

For me, tassels have that same decadent allure as silk ribbon.  You feel the urge to touch and admire them.  It has been said that tassels served no real purpose, but I disagree.  First and foremost, I think that there is purpose in decoration.  That said, tassels can be functional on a more practical level.  The tassel you hang from a skeleton key or a pair of embroidery scissors is there to ensure that the small, but very important item, is not lost in the clutter of daily living.   

Passementarie, a French word that has been carried over into English, is the decorative use of trim.  Modern examples include military dress uniforms, couture clothing, fringed lampshades and fine furnishings.  Tassel making is considered part of passementerie and not just because of the cording, trim and braid work involved.  Tassels are often an integral part of decorative trim.  The endless variety and form of modern tassels and trims is astonishing.  There is something to suit every need, taste and decor.  

chenilletassels.jpg (24810 bytes)Soft tassels, made solely of fibers, are usually the first kind that people try to reproduce at home.  You can use the most basic of supplies and come up with a lovely tassel in under an hour.  The plain soft tassels to the right were made using very fine rayon chenille.  The head and shirt were made by wrapping the chenille evenly on a "Yarn Crafter".  The cord was made by twisting multiple strands of the same chenille, then looping it through the wound yarn.  The neck was created by carefully wrapping the threads about an inch below the cord.  Once it was completed, I cut through the bottom of loops, then trimmed the skirt until all strands were even.  

perletassel.jpg (34982 bytes)Soft tassels can be decorated further by adding embroidery to the neck, like a ruff or collar.  The tassel to the left was made about 1999, when I was first experimenting with silk ribbon.  It is a simple soft tassel made of DMC cotton perle, then embroidered with YLI silk ribbon leaves and Caron variegated silk thread bullion knot flowers.  I have learned a lot since making this tassel.  One of those things is that cotton perle has a tendency to fray over time, so unless you plan to constantly trim the skirt, you may want to reserve perle cotton for bullion skirts!  

There are also fancy decorative tassels that utilize hardware, such as wooden or ceramic molds, beads or finials.  These tassels also employ the standard cording and skirt like a soft tassel.  Often, the tassel skirt if made from rolled fringe, which can buy commercially if you do not wish to make it yourself.  They usually employ ruffs or collars to cover the place where the head and skirt meet.  Beaded tassels seem to fall into this category, even though they sometimes do not utilize molds.  No matter what type of tassel, they all share a common anatomy.

The photos below are of some of Mae Vernon's tassel work and are exceptional examples of workmanship!

Art Deco 2.jpg (53687 bytes)  Green with Fuschia.jpg (50050 bytes) Orange front.jpg (50127 bytes) Orange back.jpg (45462 bytes)
Blue on Blue.jpg (46950 bytes) pink.jpg (13668 bytes) Red on Red.jpg (42606 bytes) 
Click on any photo to enlarge.

The photos below are of tatted ornament covers that I made for friends and for charitable auctions to which I decided to add simple tassels for a more dramatic effect.

orn1.jpg (19205 bytes) orn3.jpg (26161 bytes) orn4.jpg (27476 bytes)
 orn5.jpg (20773 bytes) ornsizecomp.jpg (66853 bytes)

Anatomy of a tassel:

Cord or Rope:

This can be any form of cording, hand made or purchased, as thick or as thin as you desire.  It's sole purpose is as something from which the tassel can hang.  The simplest method for making your own cord is to secure one end, loop the other around a pencil, knitting needle or chopstick and hand twist it.  The Spinster® is an inexpensive little tool that is perfect for winding the cords.  I have done my cording many ways in the past, but I recently purchased this neat little tool and am very pleased with its ease of use.  You could also modify a hand drill or a cordless screwdriver by filling a cup holder or other small hook into the chuck.   A cord does NOT have to fit through the head of the tassels, it can be attached with thread or wire.

Head, Mold, or Finial:

If you are making a soft tassel, the head will be the wrapped end of your fiber skirt.  If you are using a mold, they can be made of wood, ceramic, polymer clay, beads, or any type of hardware.  Many molds are hand painted, but often they are covered with gimp or fiber.  Crocheted or tatted netting or needle lace can also be used to cover the head of a soft tassel or a wooden form.  

Neck, Collar or Ruff:

On a soft tassel, the neck will be repeated tight wraps of fiber.  This neck can be left plain or later embellished.  On a tassel with a mold, the ruff is designed to cover the joint between the head and the skirt.  Most ruffs are decorative, often a piece of nice trim or cord, but a plain one can be used and later embellished with embroidery or ribbon.  

Skirt:

The two common types of tassel skirts are cut and bullion.  A cut skirt is like the one seen above in the simple chenille tassels.  It is as simple as this, if the ends of the fringe are cut, it is a cut skirt!  If the ends are wrapped or twisted, it is a bullion skirt.  In a bullion skirt, the threads are wrapped and allowed to twist back onto themselves, creating a *bullion* looped effect.  Often highly decorative tassels will have will be a combination of both, with the inner skirt being cut and the other one being bullion.  

Tips and ideas:

bulletIf you do not have a tassel maker, you can use a piece of cardboard or foam core, a piece of well sanded wood, a crochet fork (AKA Crochet Frame or Hairpin Lace Frame), two dowels attached to a base, or even the back of a chair.  
bulletTo conserve expensive threads or yarns, create a straight skirt using one of the items above and sew through one end, then roll it up and insert it into your form.  
bulletAnother way to conserver expensive materials is to make an underskirt with less expensive material and only use the nice stuff where it will be seen.
bulletYou can buy cord fairly inexpensively.  If you have something that you know would look great, use it.  Often, you can hide the joining or flawed spot inside of the mold or head.  
bulletIf you decide to make your own cord, you can use a Spinster®, Kreinik Custom Corder™, hand drill or cordless screwdriver with a cup holder attached, or even just a securely attached hook and knitting needle, pencil or chopstick to hand twist. 
bulletIf you are a weaver or have access to a warp board, it is an excellent way to prepare bobbins.  If you don't have one, you can make one with dowels and a wooden frame, use an expandable coat rack, use the back of a chair, or purchase a commercially available product like a Tassel Magic peg board.  
bulletUse sturdy thread or thin wire to secure and attach the pieces of your tassel.
bulletSilk, rayon, linen, wool and cotton threads and yarns are available in a wide variety of colors, textures and weights.  Most have some application in tassel making, you can either experiment or get a good resource book that lists acceptable materials.   
bulletRayon chenille makes excellent tassels, acrylic chenille does not.  The acrylic chenille will pill and pull apart.  Rayon chenille has excellent sheen, a wide variety of color and sizes and hangs exceptionally well.
bulletYou can use purchased fringe trim for the skirt or part of the skirt for your tassel.  Just roll it up and insert it into your mold.  
bulletKeep a comb handy to straighten out your skirt. The threads may get twisted in the process of making your tassel.
bulletUse steam to fluff your tassel.  
bulletDon't skimp.  Since tassels are decorative, sometimes it is a matter of bigger is better!
bulletIf you can, try some nice wooden or ceramic molds.  If you don't have access, you can either have someone make them for you, or improvise.  You can buy wooden finials for drapery rods and drill a hold through the top. You can buy other small wood supplies, like large beads and candle holder cups.   You can make your own ceramic-like mold, using polymer clay.  You can use found objects, like large decorative beads or buttons.
bulletYou can cover a mold with gimp, fiber, paint or even decoupage.  Got some tiny little pieces from a vignette or greeting card that you want to keep as a souvenir?  This is a great project for incorporating small personalized designs.  
bulletUse small tassels to trim large tassel skirts.  
bulletTry ribbon for your skirt.  It gives a lovely effect.  

On-line Resources:

Photos of tassels for inspiration:

bulletAli Tassels Designer Tassels (do not MISS!  Click on each tassel to see how incredible they are!)
bulletBeaded Images Shirley Shone's Gallery
bulletBeading Path Tassel for Class Fall 2001
bulletCarey Company Pink Tassel
bulletDelinda V Amura Photo Gallery
bulletDesign's by Whitmore Beaded Tassel
bulletErica's 
bullet Dropletta Tassel
bullet Tie Back Tassel
bulletKast Fabrics Tassel Cluster
bulletMeinke Toys Bright Dot Tassel
bulletMeinke Toys Coquette Tassel
bulletNiko Decor LuLu and LouLou
bulletPatricia Brubaker Ribbon Tassels

Tassel Making Supplies & Patterns:

bulletA Stitch out of Time How to Make a Tassel
bulletAbout.com Love Tassel Top
bulletBurke's Backyard How to Make a Ribbon Tassel
bulletCarey Company Tassel Moulds
bulletCaron-Net Beach Combers Tassel
bulletCrafty College Free Tassel Angel Pattern
bulletCrafty Visions Newsletter Tassel Doll Instructions
bulletDMC USA DMC Tassels
bulletDritz Tassel Toppers
bulletHGTV 
bullet Beaded Fringe
bullet Designer Tassels
bullet Easy Tassels
bullet Finial Topped Tassel
bullet Fringed Tassel
bullet Giant Tassel
bullet Knotted Top Tassel
bullet Making a Tassel
bullet No More Tassel Hassles
bullet Tassels Encore
bullet Tickled by Tassels
bullet Sachet and Tassel Doll (Helen Gibb)
bullet Silken Tassels
bullet Super Simple Tassels
bulletHelen Gibb Clara Half Doll Hanging Tassel
bulletJust Nan Bee Tassel Toppers
bulletKari Me Away Tassel Supplies
bulletKreinik Custom Corder
bulletLacis Tassel Supplies
bulletLion Brand Chenille Tassels 
bulletMeinke Toy 
bullet Tassel Supplies
bullet Tassel Tools
bulletNine Design Tassel Forms
bulletposh-abilities.com Clay Tassel Toppers
bulletSculpey Tassels, Buttons, Whatever
bulletSwallow Hill Creations Tassel (Knit or Crochet Beading)
bulletTassel Magic Tassels
bullet Tassel Master
bulletWhimsical Porcelain Tassels Page

Patterns and kits for sale:

bulletDeanna's Vintage Style Tassel Kits
bulletErica's Tassel Kit (for knitting machine)
bulletHalf Doll AU Tassel Half Doll Kits
bulletHelen Gibb
bullet Camilla Lace Tassel with Legs
bullet Rosalind Silk Print Tassel
bullet Victoria Silk Print Tassel
bulletKari Me Away Scissor Tassel and more
bulletSilver Needle Beaded Fob with Tassel
bulletViking Loom Beaded Tassel Kits

Printed patterns and information:

Magazines:

bulletEmbroidery and Cross Stitch.  Express Publications.  Australia.
bulletVolume 4, Number 2.  "Tassel with Ribbon Rose Ruff" (pp. 41) 
bulletInspirations. Country Bumpkin Publications.  Australia.
bulletIssue 18 - "Allegro" SRE Tassel (pp. 56)

Books:

bulletCampbell-Harding, Victoria. Beaded Tassels, Braids & Fringes.  Sterling Publishing. Soft cover.  128 pages.  ISBN 0-80694-8396 (An excellent resource for beaded tassels.)
bulletClement, Cari.  Terrific Tassels and Fabulous Fringe: Heirloom Accents from Modern Materials.  Krause Publications.  Soft cover.  128 pages ISBN 0-87341-8190 (This is an exceptional book with a lot of really great, practical advice.)
bulletCrutchley, Anna. The Tassels Book: An Inspirational Guide to Tassels & Tassel-Making, with over 40 Practical Projects.  Hardcover.  160 pages. ISBN 1-85967-2221
bulletCrutchley, Anna. Tassel Making: Revealing the Secrets of how to Make the World's Most Gorgeous Fabric Decorations.  Southwater.  Soft cover.  160 pages. ISBN 1-84215-229-8  (An interesting book with some excellent tassel patterns.)
bulletDickens, Susan.  Art of Tassel Making.  Independent Publishers Group.  Soft cover.  152 pages.  ISBN 1-86448-1226
bulletDickens, Susan.  Tassels. Allen and Unwin.  Hardcover.  136 pages.  ISBN 1-86508-0810 (There are patterns for some extraordinary tassels in this book.)
bulletTaylor, Enid.  Tassel Making for Beginners. Guild of Master Craftsman Publications. Soft cover. 128 pages. ISBN 186108062X
bulletWelch, Nancy.  The Creative Art of Tassels.  Sterling. Hardcover.   128 pages. ISBN 0-80696-2534
bulletWelch, Nancy.  Tassels the Fanciful Embellishment.  Lark Books. Hardcover.    pages. ISBN: 188737423X
bulletWelch, Nancy. Simply Tassels: The Creative Art of Design. Sterling. 128 Pages.  Soft cover. ISBN 0-80697-7159

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Last edited: 12/28/2003