The making of elaborate trimmings such as tassels, braids, gold or silver cord, fringing or edgings for clothing or furnishings.
|Historic area of significance||London (handmade); Manchester, Macclesfield, Leek, Nottingham, Coventry (industrial production)|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK|
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
|Current no. of trainees|
|Current no. of skilled craftspeople|
|Current total no. of craftspeople|
Passementerie – the production of furnishing trimmings by hand for the antiques, interior decoration, and soft furnishing trades. It is not known quite where or how the crafts of cord-spinning, weaving and tassel-making as we know it today in the trimmings workshop were first practised. The luxury consumption of the English court, and the aristocracy, and the increasing application of luxury textiles in the stately homes of the 17th century onwards, where the quality of interior decoration reached its height, can be seen as the driver for the growth of this particular trade.
The trade for handmade passementerie always had London as its base, and was situated in areas where next to the furniture and textiles trades with whom they worked closely. All these trades were, of course, as near to their market as possible, and the high end of the market was London. With the growth of industrial production and the middle classes in the 19th century production grew in the textile-making centres of the north, such as Manchester, Macclesfield, Leek, Nottingham Coventry and surrounding areas.
There is still some production in the midlands and north, e.g. Nottingham and Derby. The production that had remained in London up until the end of the 20th century has dispersed, to as far as India.
The skills in the passementerie workshop comprise dyeing, cord-spinning, weaving and tassel-making, which are co-ordinated to produce mainly bespoke work.
Dyeing: Although usually carried out in dye workshops rather than in the passementerie workshop, the dyeing of silk yarn to match the furnishing fabrics on which the trimmings are to be mounted, is integral to the design of the end product.
Cord-spinning: Whereby component parts used in weaving and tassel-making are produced. The cord-spinner produces ropes, cords and gimps which can be immensely complex, and it is this aspect of the craft of passementerie which is most at risk, as the craft can only be learned by watching and following an already skilled craftsman.
Weaving: Bands, braids and fringes of a multiplicity of different formations that are peculiar to this form of work are woven on a ‘trimmings’, ‘ribbon’ or ‘narrow’ loom. Whereas with cloth weaving the attention is on the centre of the fabric between the selvages, with furnishing trimmings the attention is as much on what is happening at the edges, and this can include a variety of types of fringing, inlayed or brocaded centres, or gimpwork where stiffened cords are laid into the weaving to form decorative constructions. So, this has become a hybrid form of weaving quite different to other ‘narrow wares’ and fabric.
Tassel-making: The making of tassels and tassel tie-backs, usually using a wooden mould in the centre and covered with silk or other threads, and with gimps and bullions made by the cord-spinner, and often made to co-ordinate with the woven trimmings. The tassel-maker also works with woven trimmings, attaching ‘hangers’, ‘drops’ and jasmines.
Although passementerie can be defined by traditional and historical styles, with similar styles often copied and reproduced over time, some regional differences can sometimes be distinguished. For example, French work made for royalty in the 17th and 18th centuries, is often seen as the most elaborate and feminine. Also, some periods in history have distinctive styles, such as the Regency period in Great Britain.
It can be difficult to identify where historical work was made, as styles were copied and re-formed ad infinitum, but some recent designers have developed signature styles, incorporating feathers, beads and crystal in their own work.
Dyeing (particularly specialist dye-matching for heritage restoration projects)
Wood-turning (for tassel moulds)
Allied crafts where passementerie is used include curtain-making, soft furnishings making and upholstery.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
The craft of passementerie is reliant on the heritage, upholstery and interior decoration and also film and theatre industries for its existence. The trade is mainly ‘business-to-business’, providing a products that are used by interior decorators, soft furnishers and upholsterers as decorative detailing in their work. It is usually historically based and often used in restoration projects.
Contemporary work is also produced for interiors, but is subject to trends in interior decoration, so to give an example, with the clean lines of 21st century interiors, passementerie is used far less than say, in the 1980s where interior decoration was classically-based on archival pieces.
Increasing amounts of passementerie today is manufactured in larger quantities on power machinery, by large manufacturers, and in many countries. However, there is still a place for the production of one-off or ‘specials’ i.e. short lengths for small pieces of furniture or interiors, made by hand for the heritage or contemporary interior design sectors.
The market for this is of course small, and therefore competitive between companies. Like other textile /fashion industries, training is often done in-house, and without any system of qualification or professional recognition. Handwork is often done by outworkers. Since the millennium a few more art-school trained textile makers have joined the passementerie trade.
Cord-spinning is perhaps most at risk as the craft can only be learned by watching and following an already skilled craftsman.
Craftspeople currently known
Andréani, Carole, La Passementerie, (Paris: Métiers d’Art de Paris, 1993).
Boudet, Pierre & B. Gomond, La Passementerie, (Paris: Dessain & Tolra, 1981).
Crutchley, Anna, The Tassels Book (Lorenz, 1996) Tassel Making (London, Southwater) and Decorative Tassels and How to Make Them (Anness, 2012)
Diderot, Denis & Alembert, Jean le Rond d’, Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire Raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers / par une société de gens de lettres, 35 vols (Paris, Amsterdam: the authors, 1751-1780
Gasc, Nadine, Des Dorelotiers aux Passementiers, (Paris: Musée des Arts Decoratifs, 1973).