cutting cords

In my mid-30s, I resigned from a well-paying but highly stressful middle-management position with an internationally-recognised tertiary institution – to open a needlecraft shop! I bought and renovated a little cottage in Rosebank and had the business (which was called Threads) for seven years. While I will never ever even consider having a shop again (for reasons too numerous to go into here), I don’t regret the decision I made at the time. I learnt about bookkeeping, how to think out of the box, how to handle stupid and/or rude people in a way that didn’t release toxins into my system, and about never giving up – until the writing really was on the wall in bright green neon letters (when it was no longer about giving up but about being realistic and doing the necessary). I didn’t learn how to get rich or how to achieve a healthy balance between work and family life, but, hey, you can’t win ’em all.

One of the things I did was organise workshops – cross-stitch for children in the school holidays (gak!), freestyle embroidery, tassel-making, beading, etc. I’d run the kiddies’ workshops myself but found a few lovely people who were experts in beading/ crewel work/ fabric painting, etc., to run courses from my shop, thereby bringing in more customers. I learnt about tassel-making from a wonderful textile artist called Marie (I can’t remember her surname now) and one of the tricks in her bag of wonders was a cord-winder. Traditional passementerie required one to make one’s own cord for wrapping the head, and since I had got bitten big-time by the tassel bug, I had to find a winder for myself.

Above is one of the first tassels I made, which I found at the back of a dusty box in the garage marked “kitchen stuff”. As you can see, the cord wrapped around the head is coming loose, but the idea is to show you how essential it is to have a cord winder for making cords of different widths and in specific colours.

I believe it’s not difficult for a handy person to make a cord winder from some kind of rotating piece of simple machinery and four cup hooks, but that person isn’t me. There was a company in the UK at that time that manufactured the winder pictured above, and of course that was the one I had to have. 23 years ago it wasn’t as easy to order things from other parts of the world to South Africa as it is today, so Plan B was to ask my then sister-in-law (who lives in London) to order one for me and bring it with her on her next visit to Cape Town. Her visits were frequent and regular, and within six weeks I had my new baby. I seem to remember that it was priced around 30 quid but Elaine generously refused to let me reimburse her.

Many hundreds of tassels were made until my enthusiasm ran out. I had a retired neighbour who had a lathe and he would make wooden tassel heads for me in shapes I liked. Here are some that I still have left over.

Where is this post going? you’re wondering. Does it have a point or is the crazy old bat just meandering around lost in her craftmaking memories?

The point is that, since I’ve started making fabric beads for my own necklaces, the idea of using handmade wrapped cord keeps popping up in my head. Here’s experiment #1:

I used some fuzzy blue yarn, some orange bamboo cotton and a novelty pompom yarn with greys, oranges and creams. I bound off the ends and turned them into tassels with beads. I did this when I should have been doing household chores like washing-up, vacuuming the rug and scrubbing the shower tiles. Over 24 hours later and those things remain unattended to….

14 thoughts on “cutting cords

    1. nanacathy2

      Just loving the cord- it looks good enough to wear! I worked in a knitting and fabric shop , one of my many jobs- I loved it, but spent most of my wages there too.

  1. katechiconi

    It looks like an egg beater… It just goes to show that if you’ve got a fancy bit of kit you should never throw it out. Assuming you have the space to keep it, that is. I really like your new use for it, I think it makes the necklaces even more distinctive and unique.

  2. insearchofitall

    Giving up a high stress job was probably the right thing to do. Closing down the shop was an even better thing to do giving the circumstances of the day. Being creative now is the best thing to do right now and you are doing that in spades. I gave away a lot of things I wish I hadn’t due to pressure from other’s about the amount of creative materials I had. Glad you held on to that little tassel maker. Love the vibrant colors of your necklaces. Fabric beads are an interesting idea.

  3. cedar51

    I’ve a cord maker as well, but a very much different looking “gadget” – and I haven’t used it for years because the wood/plastic things don’t wind nicely – got to oil them. Now I wonder where I put it! :-) I prefer to knit i-cord…

    but also it’s possible to make cord with an electric drill with the drill bit not attached…and I think your electric beater…

    but it’s another great way to create a unique cord for almost anything – as you’ve decided to do here…love the idea.

    1. Nice Piece of Work Post author

      I recall that quite a few of the other ladies learning with Marie had homemade gadgets that also did the job perfectly well, but they had their own personal handyman, aka a husband. I also had a husband at that time – he had many skills but figuring out how to make a cord winder from an old egg beater wasn’t one of them. (This is not a criticism of him, just fyi: he did all the cooking – extremely well, too – and managed the house, garden, and a large part of the parenting duties; there’s also no reason why I should default to assuming a man would be more likely to do this than a woman, i.e. me, although that’s precisely what I appear to have done !)
      The company in the UK that made the Apollo closed down shortly after Elaine had ordered my winder for me. I was glad I’d got mine when I did.
      What I can’t find in the flotsam and jetsam of my garage storage is the board with 4 corresponding cup hooks that the other end of the threads need to be attached to. I’ve made do with a left-over bit of wooden flooring into which I banged four rusty cup hooks redeployed from elsewhere in the house.


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