Tantalizing Tassel Fringe: It's All About Levels

Photo courtesy of Samuel & Sons
Occasionally, someone will tell me, with great conviction, that they "don't like drapery trim."  What they usually mean, though, is that they don't like the drapery trim they've seen at their friends' or neighbors' homes, or at the local Calico Curtains store.  Custom soft furnishings are all about attention to detail, and the best passementerie (fancy French word for trimmings) is like the elegant icing on an otherwise ordinary cake.  Decorative trimmings are available in a dizzying array of styles and price points, and I incorporate some kind of passementerie into almost every drapery panel, Roman shade, or pillow that I design.  However, fine trims are luxury items, and you do get what you pay for.

In this post, I'm going to show you some of the different tassel fringes available at different price points.  Although tassel fringes come in a wide range of styles and colors, I'm going to focus on traditional tassel fringe in a gold/camel color for the purpose of comparison. 

Machine-Tied Fascination Tassel Fringe from Milton Decorator Fabrics

This is a very common type of tassel fringe that you can find at your local JoAnn Fabrics as well as many online retailers.  This particular trim sells for $25/yd at Milton Decorator Fabrics.  This trim is made of synthetic fibers, probably rayon and/or poly, and the tassels are machine-tied rather than hand-tied (if you look closely at the top of the tassels, you can see the machine stitching holding the tassel together instead of a smooth coil of hand-wrapped thread).  If you need 13 yards of trim for your drapery project (enough to trim the lead edges of four 110" long drapery panels), a trim like this will run you $325.  From across the room, no one will see those machine stitches, anyway.

Hand-Tied Fascination Fringe from Milton Decorator Fabrics
...However, decorative trimmings are all about attention to detail.  Decorative trimmings invite the viewer to look more closely, and this hand-tied tassel fringe from the same collection is much more elegant and luxurious.  Also available from Milton Decorator Fabrics, this hand-tied Fascination Fringe sells for $48/yd.  If you need 13 yards of trim for that same hypothetical drapery project, your cost for the trim just bumped up to $624.  However, this is what I consider an entry-level trim collection, like the Honda of passementerie.  When you look through magazines like Architectural Digest or Southern Accents, the trims you're seeing are invariably sourced through trade-only suppliers, and most of them are considerably more expensive.
Robert Allen Scallop Trim in 14 Karat

The tassel fringe at left is available through interior designers from Robert Allen.  It's a rayon hand-tied tassel fringe with an interesting header, and it retails for $99/yd.  Going back to our imaginary drapery project, 13 yards of this trim is going to cost $1,287. 





Robert Allen Velvet Trim in 14 Karat
This Velvet Trim is from the same Robert Allen collection, still made of synthetic fibers, but it has a more elaborate header with a velvet ribbon woven through ladder stitches, and it incorporates a draped rope cord between the tassels as well.  This trim retails for $129 per yard, which translates into $1,677 if we need 13 yards to trim the edges of those four drapery panels.   
Vervain Eliot silk tassel fringe in Camel
 The trim pictured above is exclusive to the design trade from Vervain.  It's a hand-tied tassel fringe, but it's 100% silk rather than rayon.  It's lustrous, soft, and the color is rich and luminous.  No other fiber accepts dye the same way silk does, so I like to use 100% silk trims with 100% silk fabrics whenever possible for the best color match.  Of course, there's a reason not all trims are made of silk.  This tassel fringe retails for $132 per yard, so it would cost $1,716 to trim the lead edges of our four drapery panels.  That's the cost of the trim alone, in addition to the cost of the drapery panels themselves and the labor for hand-stitching the trim in place.
Photo Courtesy of Stroheim
Supposing price is not an issue, and you love silk trim, but you're looking for something more playful and unique?  Look at the impact this silk Pom Pom tassel fringe from Stroheim makes along the bottom edge of a simple balloon shade.    I love how the thread connecting the little pom pom balls is barely visible from a distance, so the little balls seem to be suspended in midair along the edge of the shade.  Here's a closeup shot of that same Stroheim pom pom fringe in a gold colorway:
Silk Pom Pom Tassel fringe from Stroheim
Stroheim trim is also sold to the Trade.  This is an especially beautiful collection from Stroheim, and the coordinating tassel tiebacks and braids are exquisite.  I love the mottled color variation in this collection -- the large drapery tiebacks almost appear tie-dyed, which gives it a Bohemian flair.  This pom pom fringe retails for $232 per yard, so the 13 yards we'd need for our four drapery panels would cost $3,016. 

Now for my favorite tassel fringe of all (favorite today, anyway): the Normandy Ornamental silk tassel fringe from Samuel & Sons, which was shown on a detail shot of a drapery panel in the photo at the very top of this post:
Normandy Ornamental molded tassel fringe in Nuance d'Or
Not only is this a silk trim, but look at the exquisite detailing!  At $290 per yard, this is the most expensive trim I'm showing you today (although it's not the most expensive trim available, not by a long shot).  Trimming those four hypothetical drapery panels with this breathtaking trim would cost $3,770 -- just for the tassel fringe.  As you can see in the photo below, that window treatment also has a coordinating wide braid trim layered next to the tassel fringe, double tassel tiebacks, a decorative hardware holdback, and what appears to be an expensive embroidered silk drapery fabric.
Photo courtesy of Samuel & Sons
Obviously, this look is not going to be practical or affordable for everyone.  If you live in an historic home, or you long for an Old World European flair, there are ways of bringing a little of this in without having to empty your kids' college accounts to pay for the draperies.
  • Look for a similar trim at a less expensive price point.  From across the room, the $100/yd trim may look almost as good as the $300/yd trim.
  • Consider a less expensive drapery fabric to offset the price of the trim.  Gorgeous high-end passementerie can turn a simple solid silk taffeta into an extraordinary drapery treatment, and not only are the solid fabrics less expensive than prints or embroidered patterned fabrics, but you will probably need less yardage since you won't have the waste required for matching the pattern repeat.  This is especially true for swag valances and other top treatments where the same motif needs to be centered on each piece that is cut from your fabric.

  • Remember that sometimes, less is more.  With our example of 110" long single width drapery panels, we can use half as much trim if we apply it horizontally instead of vertically.  An attached panel valance, as shown above, is a great way to showcase a beautiful trim in a horizontal application. 
  • Embellish readymade drapery panels with designer trimmings.  Even if you're working on a tight budget and hiring a designer is out of the question, adding tassel fringe to the edges of readymade drapery panels is an easy DIY project to mimic a custom look. Start with solid silk drapery panels from someplace like Restoration Hardware.  Make sure the drapery panels are lined, preferably also interlined with flannel, or they will hang at your window like limp sheets!  Also, no matter what your sewing machine dealer tells you, machine stitching trim to drapery projects will create a horrible puckering mess. The professional drapery workroom that fabricates my designs always stitches trims like these by hand, but if you absolutely can't do it that way, you'd be better off with a hot glue gun than trying to top apply a tassel fringe by machine. Trust me!
  • Pillows to the rescue!  If you fall in love with an amazing trim that is too costly for your draperies, consider using it for a throw pillow or two, where you'll only need a few yards. 

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