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Throwback Thursday: Antique Tassel Repair / Restoration

Antique tassel restoration - old and newI have always found that the best way to learn about how passementerie is made is to look carefully at damaged items. Hidden areas can show the intensity of the original colours, how stitching is used, if glue is present, and of course many techniques can be discovered by studying how something has come apart. These tassels remain some of my favourites, as they held so many surprises.

This article was originally published on my old website as a pdf back in 2008. 

 

Overall condition of tassels

Antique tassel restoration - original tassel 1

Although intact, the first tassel was very faded and had lost most of it’s silk decoration. (pictured left) The second tassel, broken, had also lost the majority of its silk. (below, minus skirt & cord).

Antique tassel restoration - original tassel 2

The embrace consisted of a four-element cord, finished with loops, which are enclosed within a silk needlelace section (grappé technique). Centrally, there is one decorative coulant, the cord then forms a loop from which the tassel hangs.

The cords were formed using silk-wrapped gimps. Most of the silk has either worn away entirely, or had faded. Beneath the silk, the cotton cores were dyed a similar colour to the original silk, as this now shows, there is still an impression of colour. By slightly untwisting the cords, you can get an impression of how bright the cords once were.

On both, the coulant was very damaged. Most of the silk covering, as well as the red and white decorative cords were worn and broken, leaving much of the wooden mould exposed. The red and yellow binding silk however was in fair condition. The true colours can be seen inside of the coulant, and beneath the binding silk.

The tassels consist of 11 individual moulds, with the addition of a holding disc and ball beneath the skirt. All of the silk covering, including the decorative cords were damaged, with faded silk and silk worn away to the degree that some molds have no visible traces of silk. Running centrally through the tassel is a hollow wooden core, through which the holding threads run. On both tassels this was broken, and parts missing. The skirts, made of a central area of wool bullion cord and an outer section of silk bullion gimp, are much faded - the silk worn away from much of the core threads, and faded where it remains. There had, at some point been water damage, as all of the moulds which originally had blue silk have blue staining; likewise there had been some insect damage, particularly to the wool bullion skirts and the intact tassel.

Separate sections of individual damage will be discussed further at each repair section.

The following refers to second broken tassel. 

Repair & Restoration

Work began with the second tassel, as this was in pieces, allowing for the first to be referred to if needed.  

All remaining original silk was removed. The original colours could be discerned by the silk which remains inside of each mold.

None of the original white decorative cords could be saved - all had broken on the outer edges. Only a tiny fraction of the original red decorative cord could be salvaged - enough for 2 rows on the top mould.

This needed to be replaced. New, very fine silk gimp was handmade, and the cords hand-spun.

All of the gold decorative cord was salvaged.

Every piece was covered using traditional passementerie wrapping techniques, with a strong linen or cotton thread to hold.

The following works from the top of the tassel down

1. Top Mould

Antique tassel restoration - top mould 

Recovered using a fine matching silk. 

Added the new red and white decorative cords, except for two rows of red, which use the original. 

Gold cord was lightly brushed to remove the surface dust, and turned so that the undamaged, brighter surface now shows.

 

 

 

 

 

2 & 10. Flat roundels

Antique tassel restoration - other parts

No silk remaining on #2, but #10 had small traces of white silk in the centre.

Wrapped both with fine white silk using traditional method.

3. Cloche

A very small amount of blue covering silk remains, plus some gold binding silk. The wooden mould badly damaged - chipped all around the top and with a section missing.

Using wood filler, the gap was closed and the top of the mould evened out.

Wrapped using a fine blue silk and gold silk binding, using traditional method.

4 & 8. Carved roundels

The white silk on one of these roundels was in fair condition, but the other was much worn. It was decided to replace the silk on both, as the new white silk would be brighter than the old, which was very dirty.

Wrapped both in fine white silk, using traditional method.

5 & 7. Flat roundels

Silk completely missing from top roundel, and only remaining in the centre of the bottom roundel.

Wrapped both in fine blue silk, using traditional method.

6. Rouleau

Antique tassel restoration - rouleau

All silk, including the white decorative cords, worn from edges exposing the wood. The silk that remained was very faded, except inside the centre hole, particularly the green which had faded to yellow.

Wrapped using traditional method, laying the 3 colours (red, green & yellow) simultaneously. 

Added new white decorative cords.

9. Cloche

Blue silk worn away at all edges, gold silk binding loose. Silk that remained, quite faded. One small chip on the bottom edge of the wooden mould; nothing too serious.

Removed all silk, re-wrapped in fine blue silk using traditional method, and bound with gold silk

 

11. Shaped mould, with rosettes

Antique tassel restoration - rosette mould, top 

Blue silk covering worn at edges, missing in most areas, faded nearly to white where it remained (except inside and underneath). Gold silk binding (beneath the rosettes) in fair condition. Most white silk decorative cord broken; could not be salvaged. Gold silk cord worn, but could be turned.

 

Antique tassel restoration - rosette mould, underside

 

 

 

 

Rosettes.

The rosette ‘petals’ are formed from metal strips wrapped in white silk. This silk was very worn, missing in places, and dirty. However, the metal strips cannot be recovered without straightening the metal first - it is too old to do this as the metal would probably break. At the centre of each rosette is a small, green silk covered wooden button. The green silk was either faded to pale yellow at all exposed areas, or badly worn. Two centres were missing altogether. 

Antique tassel restoration - rosette mould, side

Removed all silk, taking care to remove rosettes and gold decorative cord to keep.

Wrapped the mould in fine blue silk using traditional method; bound the ‘neck’ with fine gold silk.

White silk cord - new, very fine silk gimp was handmade, and the cords hand-spun. Covered using traditional method.

Gold cord was lightly brushed to remove the surface dust, and turned so that the undamaged, brighter surface now shows.

Rosettes. Made new centre buttons in wood, wrapped in fine green silk to replace the missing ones. Re-wrapped all other buttons using fine green silk. Carefully removed dust and damaged, fluffy areas of white silk from the petals, but did not recover. Fixed all to the mould using traditional methods.

 

 

 

 

Skirt. 

Although a great deal of the silk wrapping on the gimp bullion cord was faded or worn away, in order to ensure that the overall tassel still matched with the embrace, it was decided to use the original skirt. The skirt was unwound and holding stitches removed, then lightly brushed to remove the dust which had built up beneath the mould. The wool bullion had some insect damage - this was repaired by careful stitching. The skirt was turned, so that the slightly brighter threads from underneath now face outward. The skirt was stitched into a circle as it was originally, in order to fit beneath mould #11.

Embrace coulant

Antique tassel restoration - embrace coulantIn order to re-cover the coulant, the small holding loops either end of the embrace needed to be unpicked. This meant that the very faded, but otherwise in good condition needlelace (grappé) which covered the binding also needed to be removed.

All of the blue silk wrap was missing, except under the decorative binding. Gold cord worn, but as previously, saved to be re-used. All of the white and red decorative cords were broken, missing or very worn. 

Recovered the mould in fine blue silk using traditional method. Bound the depressions with fine gold silk. Over this, the decorative cords were added - new handmade & spun white and red silk cords, whilst the gold cord was lightly brushed to remove the surface dust, and turned so that the undamaged, brighter surface now shows.

Over these, a fine red silk binding was added. A gold silk twist thread was spun, to allow for the decorative, and holding ‘x’ stitches along the red binding.

Coulant replaced, and new blue silk twist thread was spun to replace the blue silk needlelace previously removed.

The embrace was then attached to the tassel, using waxed linen threads as the original. As the original hollow tube was badly damaged and missing in part, a drinking straw was used through the centre of most tassel parts, with the exclusion of the tapered piece beneath the skirt, which was retained, and fitted into the straw. The wooden ‘holding’ button underneath was replaced, as was the small silk covered ball, which retained it’s original silk.

Antique tassel restoration - recovered parts

Antique tassel restoration - before and after

Dating

Positive dating cannot be made, as the tassel is made using traditional techniques, all of which are still in use today. However, the dyes used may be helpful. The green has been created using a blue (probably indigo) dyed over yellow. This points to a date prior to the invention of a chemical green dye. Likewise, the way in which the blue had faded, along with the staining on the moulds beneath, indicate a use of indigo, as opposed to a synthetic colour. Synthetic greens were first invented in the 1870s, whereas synthetic blues date from the 1890s. (There were some earlier, but not extensively in use). 

Although it has been mentioned that there was what seemed to be some water damage, and certainly insect damage, the majority of the damage caused to the original tassels is probably from either brushing the silk, or more likely, vacuuming it. The force of the suction will pull the fine silk away, eventually causing serious damage. 

The image on the left shows the second tassel repaired/restored, alongside the first in its original condition.

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