Tassel Tussle

Today 9 June I had cause to have a discussion about tassels and it was quite an intriguing one. I have, of course used tassels in my wrapping before but today was the day I looked at tassels in a new light AND made a tassel myself.

The tassel is an ornamental crafted piece that grew out of the practical need to prevent the unravelling of cord. This was cannily achieved with a knot. The tassel has been used for centuries to adorn clothing and uniforms, becoming the status symbol that differentiated rank to ward off evil spirits. Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun was unearthed from his tomb wearing them around his neck.

Martha Stewart even has a blog on tassels. So they must be important. Her blog titled “A Decorative Past: How Tassels Changed History tells us that in 330 AD, Roman emperor Constantine decreed that all Christians should be clothed, leading to a high demand for tassel trimmings. Flash-forward, says Martha, to 540 AD and we have the Emperor Justinian and two Persian monks smuggling  silkworms in from China — just to make the tassels fancied by royalty and aristocrats in the Western world.

Cords with tassels were used dating back to the 14th century to represent levels of learning, the forerunner of the Academic Regalia still used today. Scholars from Oxford and Cambridge affixed them to their graduation caps to mark their intellectual superiority. The flipping of the tassel from right to left on graduation remains a highly prized moment.

By the 16th century the art of making elaborate trimmings or edgings resulted in the creation of the first Guild of Passementiers in France who established the art of passementerie. I only add this in because I am fascinated by guilds and really can you think of a better guild word than Passementiers?  It took seven years of apprenticeship to be trained in this craft – so membership was hard won and highly sought after. The Passementiers were primarily interested in the tassel but they also created fringes, ornamental cords, galloons, pompons (which turned into pompoms), rosettes and, winning first prize for the most oddly named item – gimps – a narrow ornamental trim used in sewing or embroidery. Importantly, I now know that tassels, pompons and rosettes are point ornaments and that the others are mere linear ornaments.

Besides uniforms and academia, tassels are today used on jewellry and leather goods, keys and curtains, cushions and furnishings – an art form in their own right really. Now I don’t know if my tassel deserves the title of art form, but I do know that I am mightily pleased with it. I made it out of Whimsy Farm Twine using their genius little tutorial. It took a remarkably short period of time. I like the lilac twine tassel against the micro dot kraft wrapping paper- looks a bit special to me. I think I will take up making a few more tassels – there are no end (and I mean no end) of ways I could use them besides gift wrapping. But that’s another story.




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