Tag Archives: tassel

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….

DIY bead tassel

I love tassels. You can make them out of pretty much anything you have lying around, and they can be as fancy or simple as you like.  I made a black and white one this morning for Jane, who is coming round later today to pick it up.

Finished!

Finished!

What you need for one tassel:

1. one large bead with a big hole (this will be the tassel head)

2. a selection of beads in various sizes and shapes

3. a 16cm length of soft cord (you can use ribbon if you prefer)

4. a sharp needle with a narrow eye (I used a #7 crewel needle)

5. strong thread (I used Gutermann topstitching thread)

6. scissors

Beads and cord

What you do:

1.  Cut a short length of thread and fold it over the cord.

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2. Push the thread up through your big bead and pull it out at the top, the cord with it.

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3. Pull the cord up until the loop is about as big as you want it. Leave approx 1.5 cm of cord stub sticking out of the bottom

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4. Thread your needle and knot the end. Run it through the stub and wrap the cord round it a couple of times to make it really secure.

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5. Trim the stub if it’s got a bit fluffy.

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6. Make the first length of beads: thread them on (in the order of your choice), using a little seed bead as the last one.

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7. Skipping the last bead, take your needle and thread back up through all the other beads back to where you started.

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It will look something like this:

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8. Make a couple of stitches through the stub to secure the thread nicely, then start a second length of beads.

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9. Add as many lengths of beads as you like (depending on whether you want your tassel to be slender or chubby), and vary each length slightly.

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10. When you’re happy with how it looks, secure the thread tightly in the stub and carefully trim off any messy bits.  I also like to dab on a bit of clear nail polish or fabric glue, just to make extra sure the thread won’t ever loosen. Push the head down firmly and knot the cord if you wish.

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And that’s it! If anything is unclear, please let me know.

To give you some more ideas, here are some of the tassels currently in my home:

Hanging on the key hooks at the front door

Hanging on the key hooks at the front door

Very simple tassels that Alex made when she was about 6; they're on the key to the linen cupboard

Very simple tassels that Alex made when she was about 6; they’re on the key to the linen cupboard

Multi-coloured tassel with a silk flower pinned on top, on my trusty old brown leather handbag

Multi-coloured tassel with a silk flower pinned on top, on my trusty old brown leather handbag

A tassel on a long piece of black and gold cord that I sometimes wear as a necklace. Modelled by you-know-who.

A tassel on a long piece of black and gold cord that I sometimes wear as a necklace. Modelled by you-know-who.

And if you don’t have the materials to make your own tassel, or if you want someone else to have the fun of making one, I’ve finally got around to making up more kits for bead tassel keyrings and listing them on etsy again.

Back soon x

la Belle anniversaire pour la belle Jane

Funny how some people get – mention them once in a blog and they so enjoy the glare of the spotlight, however fleeting, that they come to crave on-going publicity.  So, today is Jane’s birthday. The lovely, serene, auburn-haired Jane with the understated elegance and subtle sense of humour that can only be achieved with polished maturity. Here are three old school friends: Jane on the left and Karen on the right, I’m in the middle. We were at La Belle at the Alphen Hotel, and the reason why the food display behind us looks so depleted is because we had just eaten up all the cheesecake and lemon pies.  Jane had many other friends there to celebrate with, but I was the only pleb with a camera.

 
The other really nice thing that happened today was meeting Letitia* for coffee in the afternoon. An erstwhile colleague and belly dancer, she is looking for unusual and amazing tassels with which to embellish her dance ensembles. I have seen photos of Letitia and her dance group doing their stuff, they really are extraordinarily gorgeous and flamboyant.  These are two “tribal” tassels which had to be imported, apparently they are hard to find in South Africa (you don’t say?) so I’m going to see if they can inspire me to come up with something a bit different myself.

I have no cowie shells, but I do have lots of bells, whistles, beads and glitter. It’s my challenge for the evening. Pic soon.

To be continued… 

* Not her real name.

At Jane’s house

Yesterday afternoon I visited Madame Jane Butters of Constantia, in my capacity as Tassel Maker Extraordinaire. The Butters have a new and very large house with many rooms, each of which has a door with a key which is crying out for a decent tassel to add some colour and verve.  Not that the house doesn’t already have verve — it is in fact already a very vervacious house — but a house with tassels becomes a home. A classy one, actually, and I should know, coming from Blackpool as I do.

This orange tassel was our starting point – height and body weight are good but the ribbon and too much bright orange isn’t going to work, so I’m going to tone the new ones down a bit. Creams, neutrals, ivories, a touch of pale rose and sea green here and there. Nothing like playing with beads to keep me happy.

There were some nice things at Jane’s house, notably the happy little pot of purple petunias on the windowsill, the exquisite mosaiced brick doorstop (wonder who made that?), and the view of the Constantia vineyards from the end of the road.  It’s like a piece of heaven. I’ll have to invite myself back one day soon.

To be continued…

 

tassels for Africa

So Anne asked me the other day what I’d done with all my tassels. I went through a huge tassel passion about 8 or 9 years ago, going so far as to run tassel workshops! It seems they had been wrapped in tissue paper and stored in a box in the garage all this time. A bit like bulbs, and hopefully – like bulbs – they will now come back to life.

I’d forgotten how very much I like them, and how very much I liked making them. Seeing the zebra one made from a cotton reel makes me think I could use other waste things in tassels to come.
The others have special wooden shaped heads, which were made by a very handy man called Laurie who used to live next door to my first shop in Rosebank. He had all the right carpentry equipment and used to turn some really beautiful shapes for me.

A woman asked me one day what on earth a tassel was, and when I showed her, she then asked what on earth it would be used for. [No imagination, some people.] Think of them as house jewellery, I said, just for starters.

To be continued…