silk tassels

Part I: Simple Thread Tassels

compound tassels

Part II: Compound Thread Tassels

Beaded Tassel

Part III: Beaded Tassels

Period Thread Tassels II: Compound Tassels

From all the types of thread tassels we are left with one, Type 4. In this type the fringe and the body are made separately and then added to each other, this is not so common in tassels on clothing but very common in tassels for hats, fans and parasols.

Below are some examples of type 4 tassels with a description that includes the thread fiber, weight and brand along with the bead or mold where used. Note: As you read through the examples below, you will notice that the units of measurement switch often.  This is because of the different sources for threads.

red tassel 1. I made this tassel with two 100 yd. spools of Belding Corticelli size A sewing thread. I used two shades of red; the slider ball was covered with the darker red. I glued two wooden beads together to make the body and covered it with the lighter thread. There is also a 3/8” oak dowel hole plug below the fringe that the cord passes thru. The twist cord was made from the two different shades.
parasol striped
2. This is a vintage ca. 1900-1910 parasol tassel from Claudine’s collection that has almost no fringe left but is very interesting nonetheless. It has a two-color twist cord. The body is a cord-covered wooden bead, which is covered with a spiral of three different twists of cord. It has a right twist, a left twist, and between them there is a fine covered cord. Also, because the fringe is almost gone you can see there is a wooden single-hole button just below where the fringe is attached.
yellowblack 3. This tassel was my test of some of the interesting parts of the parasol tassel above. It is made from a 100 yd. spool of Belding Corticelli size A (yellow) and a 220 yd. spool 100 wt. Kimono silk (black). It has two beads, an oval and a round glued together, and those where covered with cord of three different twists a two color right twist, a two color left twist and a one color yellow twist (this is what gives that chevron look). It surprised me that 100 yards of size A thread went almost as far as 220 yards of 100 wt. thread. That is why I would never recommend the 100 wt. thread for making tassels.



4. These tassels were made from two 100 yd. spools of size A silk thread. There is a 1” long grooved bead in the body of each tassel and a barrel shape bead in the slider (see close-up photo). Each tassel also has a small shell button (with a center hole) between the covered bead and the fringe.
black tassel 5. This tassel was made with a 15m skein of DMC perle cotton. The wooden piece that makes the body was sold in the craft store to be used as a taper candleholder. They come with a hole but I enlarged it to about ¼”. I covered the candleholder with black soutache trim using white glue. Another piece of soutache is used as the cord for the tassel and it is pulled up inside the cup of the candleholder. The fringe was made following the type 3 instructions thus making this tassel a hybrid type 3/4.
turquoise 6. This tassel was made with two 100 yard spools of Talon silk thread size A. The wooden piece that makes the body is the same as for #16. The threads where of a slightly different blue green I made the skirt from both mixed evenly, the twist is a two-color twist and the head was covered with one color and the thread ruff is the other blue.

parasol white tassel

white tassel

7. This tassel is a fine 40 wt. rayon embroidery machine thread. I used almost all 225 yds. of the spool to make this tassel. It has an 11x23 mm grooved bead inside the body. The bead was spray painted white before it was covered with the thread. It’s always best to have the bead as close as possible to the thread color. The tassel has a nice swing but the rayon was so weak I had to use a nylon beading thread to make the banding on the bead as the rayon keep breaking. The parasol and the photos of the finished parasol are by Claudine de Montigny and used with permission from her blog.

purple cotton tassel

purple cotton tassel

8. This tassel has the same bead inside, also painted white. It was made with 5 shades of DMC 50 wt. cotton. When photographed from the side you can see that it gets darker as you reach the core. The cotton was stronger than the rayon but the finished tassel does not have the swing that a tassel should have so I don’t think I will make any more cotton thread tassels.
green tassel

9. This modified type 3/4 was the last one that I made. The only reason I made it was I had to take my sewing machine in to be serviced. The store has a large rack of Floriani 40 wt. polyester machine embroidery thread, I could not resist I had to see if polyester would work for tassels. Well with some reservations it did. For less that $5 for a 1000 meter spool I think I could make four large tassels like this one. This thread has the swish of silk and the luster as well but not the weight. It just feels different in the hand. It seems to be a loose two-ply so you can really see the twist but it does not come easily unraveled. The storeowner said that the color is in the fiber so you could even bleach it and it would never fade. I’m not sure if that is a really good thing or not. I suspect that it would be for home decoration but not for costume. There are two wooden beads in the tassel the long one is almost 2” (I think it was suppose to be a drapery cord pull) and the round one under the skirt. As I did not have a sewing machine to hand I made this one more like a type 3 tassel but with the knot is inside the fairly large hole of the large end of the bead.
reconstruction era jacket 10. When I went back to pick up my sewing machine I got more of the polyester thread, two spools this time. I wanted to do a larger project (I only temporally thought that I was done with tassels). The jacket of my late 1860’s costume needed more decoration. Tassels seemed a good choice as many of the clothing articles in the Reconstruction Era Fashions book have them. I added four type 2/4 tassels to the back and four on the front. They are of two different sizes with the smaller ones hanging from wooden buttons covered with some of the same two-colored twist cord I used for the larger tassels’ cords.
poly cord

This is what is left of the 1000m spools of the thread. I chose a charcoal gray and a dark brown. The fringe is made of both threads blended evenly. Making the fringe goes twice as fast if you are adding two threads at a time to your card. Because polyester thread can break I used black nylon to form the neck as I do with cotton and rayon heads. The small black shaped bead I used for the smaller tassels is a section of the same bead I used for tassels 7 and 8. I cut the bead with a panel saw in two places to give a shape that was similar to the light colored wooden form near the center of the picture.
heads I darkened the light colored wooden forms and the 3/8” oak dowel hole plugs with a black permanent marker (left). On the right are the thread covered tassel heads and plugs strung with a loop of two-color twist cord ready for the fringe.
heads on cord on the left is one half of the tie closure for the jacket. One of the small black forms covered with thread (the neck threads have not been added yet) is shown in place on the long twist cord with a small bead in place just before a knot. The fringe will be added between the thread covered form and the small bead.
vintage parasol 11. This is a tassel from a vintage parasol ca.1870 in the collection of Claudine de Montigny. Because some of the silk threads are worn away you can see the wooden bead that makes the body of the tassel: it is a long bead with ridges. The horizontal wraps of silk thread pull in the vertical wraps of thread so that the silk follows the contours of the bead. This is a type 4 tassel with some differences: the fringe is made with a very thick twist cord that has been knotted off about half way and the cord below the knot has been un-twisted.
straw hat with tassels 12. After looking at a few period tassels under a dissecting scope I came to the conclusion that the silk thread covering the forms (as in 11 above) was not a twisted thread or a ply. I found out that there is a Japanese flat embroidery thread that is made of 12 single strands that are not twisted. Lacis carries it so I had to give it a try. It comes on 50m spools, the green sections of the tassel decoration above where made with the majority of that spool. The flat silk was a little difficult to deal with as it snags easily and seems to catch up when being pulled thru the holes of the beads even if they are well sanded. But that said, covering a bead goes much faster with the flat silk and it used much less yardage to cover the beads.
two tassels with cord I was able to cover the two head molds, two slider beads, and make enough twist cord to cover the small flat bead and the larger oval bead, as well as the cord from which everything hangs from one spool of the flat silk thread. It cost 6 dollars. The fringe took 66 yards each of Gudebrod Champion Silk thread size 0 (out of a 600 yard spools at 15 dollars). Because silk is an animal fiber (like feathers and wool) it can be acid dyed. I used the same techniques that I have used for feathers (see my feather article on Koolaid dying) to ombre dye tassels 12 and 13.  I was happy to see that with just a little mixing of colors I could create a gradient from a color that matched the bow on the hat down to the darker color that matched the silk velvet that covers the upper brim.
tassel with ribbon floss slider 13. Figuring that rayon ribbon floss (a flat tape made up of very fine strands of rayon woven into a mesh) was very much like the flat silk I wanted to test that as well for covering beads. I made this covered bead (yellow-gold), the neck (over a nylon neck) and the twist cord (orange-gold) from ribbon floss.
ribbon floss for tassel The two spools above are the two different colors of ribbon floss that I used. The white spool of Champion silk size 0 made the type 2 tassel below the covered ball. I used 120 yards of the silk thread. The tassel has one of the flat beads shown on the right inside the head. The twist cord has a knot then opens up to go thru the covered bead and back out and then thru the flat bead. The tassel fringe is added between the covered bead and the flat bead.
three thread covered beads
Of the three different ways to make a thread covered bead; four strands of thread (the instructions below are for thread), flat silk or ribbon floss. I would say that ribbon floss was the easiest and fastest way to cover a bead. It has a slightly different luster than the flat silk covered beads as do the thread covered ones. I would say that the flat silk is the most beautiful.
tassel 14

14. This is a thread combo tassel. The majority of the tassel is made with two different types of machine embroidery thread. I used two different brands both rayon. Because rayon thread would just break if I used it on the head I used silk to do that. Below are the instructions on how to make a band of thread over a dent in a wooden bead and also the instructions for trimming tassels.

Tassel Making Instructions:
Twist Cord (see part 1)
Two Color Twist Cord
two color twist a. Set up your hooks as for a single twist cord but place a bar at the middle point. Add thread and wrap it as in step 2 above from your first hook to the center bar. Tie the cord off as in step 3.
two color twist b. Add thread and wrap it as in step 2 above from your second.
two color twist c. Stretch the thread to the center bar but slip the spool between the rounds of the first color.
two color twist d. Bring the thread back to the hook. Repeat c and d until there is the same amount of the second thread as the first.
two color twist This is how it will look before you remove the bar.
two color twist e. Un-tape and remove the bar then treat it as if it was a single cord. Follow steps 4-9 from the instructions for single twist cord in part 1. This cord can be seen on tassel #1-3, 6, 9-10.
If you want to make twist cord longer than your tabletop, you can tape one hook to the far end of your table and set up a chair across the room from the table in line with the edge of the table. Wrap (warp) your thread from the hook to the back of the chair. When you have enough rounds use your second hook to grab the threads that are on the back of the chair and start twisting. You can use a power drill to twist the hook. The hook can be added to any drill with a chuck. There are also many inexpensive thread tools that one can purchase to make cord but I do like to twist it by hand on the other hand if I did more I would want one.
Type 4 - Compound Tassel  
1. Wrap your thread around the cardboard as neatly as possible. Cut two pieces of packing tape equal to the width of your threads and apply one over the threads on each side about ¼” down from the top edge.
2. Cut the threads at the bottom.
3. Open the threads up and place it on a square of tissue paper. With a matching thread sew down the center with a very short machine stitch.
4. Fold the threads on the right side over and sew about 1/16” over from the fold. Carefully tear the tissue paper and packing tape away, but do not cut the sewing threads.

5. Pick a bead that has a hole at least 1/16” to ¼”. If you have a drill or Dremel tool, use a 3/8” drill bit to enlarge the hole in the bottom half of the bead. Measure out about 4 yards of thread. Run the thread “back and forth” between your thumb and forefinger several times. This is very important as it gets the extra twist in the thread out, and it will not tangle later. Fold the thread in half and thread the fold thru the eye of your needle. Pull the fold until you have a needle with four even lengths of thread; clip the ends even if necessary. Thread the needle thru the hole in the bead until you near the end of the threads. Add a very small dot of glue the ends of the threads and push the threads against the inside wall of the bead hole with a toothpick.
6. When the glue is dry, bring the needle around thru the bottom of the hole again. Before you pull the thread tight, smooth the individual threads. Repeat this as many times as necessary working in one direction (counterclockwise or clockwise) until you reach the end of your thread.
7. When you near the end of the thread, pass the needle under threads from previous stitches inside the hole. Cut the needle free very close to the bead.
8. Prepare another 4-thread needle, and glue the thread as in step 5. Continue stitching until you cover the whole bead and finish off the thread as you did with the first length of thread (I usually need to re-thread two times to finish a bead).
9-12 9.Slip the twist cord through a bead or button and the thread-covered bead.
10. Use one end of the loose sewing threads on the fringe to tie the fringe you made in step 4 to the cord.
11. Wrap the fringe tightly around the cord as many times as needed to reach the other end. Use the other sewing threads to tie off. Comb out the threads. Add a small dot of glue over the stitches near the cord. Note: If you are using a Tenon Head type bead then wrap and glue the fringe around the base of the bead. (A tenon head tassel form has a ledge that is narrower that the bead and was made for several wraps of the fringe) You will want to add a thread band or some trim to cover the top edge of the fringe.
12. Push the covered bead down the cord until it rests tightly against the fringe and hold it until the glue dries.
  All of the slider beads where covered following the steps above (5-8).
head The bead heads (#s 1, 6-10) where made this way except that after the beads were covered with thread I wrapped another thread around the indents in the same manner as creating a neck (part 1). When doing this you can’t use a needle to bury the thread ends, so you need to use a thread loop that is laid down before you wrap the threads.
The images below demonstrate the use of a thread loop as shown on the bead in example # 8. The darker purple thread is the loop, and the lighter thread will be wrapped around the bead and over the loop a few times. When the neck is complete the thread is then passed through the loop. Then the loop is pulled, which draws the tail end of the lighter thread under the wrapped threads. The lighter thread is clipped off close to the bead. As always, it is important to wrap the threads as tightly as possible because they are all that holds the tail end in place to prevent unwinding.
tassel trimmimg One of the things that seems simple but it not is trimming the threads of a tassel so that they are even. I came up with this method. I used office tape to gurdle the tassel near the top. This is done by cutting of a piece about two inches long and turning over the last 1/4", Note: the sticky side is down.
Lay the tassel down across the tape close to the folded side.
tassel cutting While compressing the threads of the tassel bring the folded edge up and over the threads. Pull it around until the stick side of the tape just past the folded edge starts to stick to the middle of the tape.Roll the tassel until all the tape is stuck down.
tassel trimming Slip the collar of tape down the length of the tassel to near the bottom.
tassel cutting Use scissors to trim the ends even.
tassel varieties I have only scratched the surface of the complexity of thread tassels and only shown you examples of those I feel are fairly easy to reproduce but even in the half dozen examples of tassels on vintage parasols that I was able to see in person and photograph I was amazed with the variety. Here are 4 examples; the two on the left are in the collection of
Noelle Paduan (photos are also by her) and the two on the right are in Claudine’s collection.
Noelle’s tassels show head beads that are covered in two very different ways than just having silk thread wrapped around the bead. The bottom one has a glass bead instead of wood below the head. And Claudine’s have pompoms in place of covered beads. The black one has a sort of fez shaped bead that is covered with threads for the head the pompom is just above the tassel on the cord.