Thursday, January 18, 2007

Knotting, netting and medieval tassel decoration

While waiting for supplies for a new commission to arrive, I spent my time quite wisely trying to achieve a two-colour netted tassel top, as found on two chemise-bound books from 1504. One, The Foundation Charter of Henry VIIs Chapel at Westminster (PRO, London E.33/1), was shown at the Gothic Exhibition at the V&A.

This gorgeous binding also includes laces and ribbons woven with silver thread as ‘straps’; I spent a lot of time whilst at the exhibition trying to see the detail on these trimmings, and making drawings of what I could see!

Although difficult to see behind glass, a friend sent quite a close-up photo of the tassel, showing an intricate net of knots in two colours. It’s taken me some time to try to figure out how to incorporate the two colours – and as usual, it turned out that I was thinking about it a little too hard!

I used a revised needlelace stitch for the netting. The one that I found in my various books that most closely resembled the knot on the original had 3 ‘loops’, whereas the original appears to have only two. The knots are not all tied in the same way on the original, but this would not have been noticed without very close inspection – I found this a nice aspect, as it shows someone simply working, not worrying about stitch perfection!

I also noticed that the original (and those on a second book made in the same way), both use red as one of the colours, and that the head of the tassel beneath is also red. This would make seeing any loose threads, carried over to the next area, harder to see, especially on the photograph.

I’m very pleased with the result. I can’t guarantee that it is exactly the knotting method used, but it certainly looks very close, and it will be nice if one day I can see the original in very close detail, just to compare. It took quite a long time, although I did get quicker as the pattern and knots became more familiar.

For those of you who are interested, for this sample, the tassel was made with spun silk, as is the red part of the netted pattern. The pale green part of the net is a viscose thread, which really does what ‘it says on the tin’ – its an excellent substitute for 60/2 spun silk, super inexpensive, and great for trials. (This is my first time using it). I’m looking forward to trying this method with filament silk. The original on the book mentioned above is made with metal thread (appears to be silver) and silk, so that will probably be my next trial…


  1. It' s beautiful! I can imagine it took you a lot of time to finish this tassel.

    Good luck with the one that combines metal thread and silk.

  2. Aha! I knew it was only a matter of time before you figured this one out. The head of these tassels is stuffed with red woollen cloth, by the way - another experiment for you to try!
    It looks pretty darn good- well done.

    Yes I think the original was in silver - I will fish out my notes and we can go through them together some time soon.
    I've done a short article on the books which is due in Selvedge in March, assuming they do go ahead and publish....

  3. Thank you both! I didn't have enough silver thread to complete one of these, so I've tried with gold thread. Its been difficult maintaining the correct tension on the knots with the metal thread, but I go better as I got used to working with it. I'll post up a pic next week.

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