A pargeter, a shoe maker, reverse glass sign makers and a passementerier are the recipients of the latest round of grants awarded to help safeguard some of the UK’s most endangered craft skills.
Heritage Crafts, which is currently working on the fourth edition of its groundbreaking Red List of Endangered Crafts, has awarded a further five grants from its Endangered Crafts Fund, which was launched in 2019 to increase the likelihood of endangered crafts surviving into the next generation.
This round of the Endangered Crafts Fund has been offered with the generous support of the Pilgrim Trust. The five successful recipients are:
Elizabeth Ashdown, from London, to enhance her existing practice by learning high-level passementerie skills from expert Clare Hedges.
Paul Chamberlain, from Norfolk, to create short films to support the teaching of the craft of reverse-glass sign making.
Michelle Dawson, from Dorset, to supplement her glass restoration practice by learning high-level reverse-glass sign making skills from David A Smith MBE.
Stephanie Firth, from Derbyshire, to start up a business specialising in handmade bespoke orthopaedic shoes.
Anna Kettle, from Bedfordshire, to create short films to support the teaching of the craft of pargeting.
These five projects follow 42 awarded in previous rounds, covering endangered crafts such as type founding, wallpaper block printing, clockmaking, tinsmithing, kiltmaking and many more.
As usual the fund was oversubscribed, and Heritage Crafts hopes to work with many of the unsuccessful candidates to identify other funding and support opportunities.
Heritage Crafts Endangered Crafts Manager Mary Lewis said:
“The pressures facing practitioners of the UK’s most at-risk skills have only been exacerbated by the succession of crises that have included COVID-19, the energy crisis and inflation. These projects will provide future generations with opportunities that they might not otherwise have, to pursue fulfilling careers while safeguarding this important part of our national heritage.”
Since 2019, the Endangered Crafts Fund has been funded through generous donations from organisations including the Pilgrim Trust. Past funders have included the Dulverton Trust, the Sussex Heritage Trust, the Swire Charitable Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Benefact Trust, and the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, as well as individuals who have donated sums from £5 right up to several thousands of pounds.
About the Pilgrim Trust
The Pilgrim Trust is an independent charitable trust that was set up in 1930 by Edward Harkness to support the urgent and future needs of the UK. Over the decades, it has supported a wide range of causes, adapting to the changing circumstances and needs in the UK. It gives around £3 million in grants each year to charities and other public bodies that focus on preserving the UK’s heritage or bringing about social change. Its aims are to improve the life chances of the most vulnerable and preserve the best of our past for the public to enjoy.
We have linked up with AirBnB Experiences, to offer a range of heritage crafts experiences from tassel making to building your own cart wheel. The Experience workshops will be led by craftspeople from the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, and guests will be able to learn about these crafts and the skills that are required. The following workshops will be the first to be hosted:
Hadi Moussa, AirBnB General Manager for Northern Europe said:
We’re delighted to work together with the HCA and enable craftspeople to offer these unique workshops through our platform, connecting travellers and locals to authentic historical crafts. We’ve seen a growing appetite for Arts & Crafts Experiences on our site, with an increase of 180% in bookings to this category of Experiences in 2018, making it a powerful platform to raise awareness about teh crafts in danger of dying out.
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
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income)
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
1-5 – includes embroiderers, soft furnishers etc who will be making (and teaching) passementerie as part of their portfolio of skills
Current no. of trainees
Current total no. serious amateur makers
11-20 – there has been an increase in amateur makers due to an increase in awareness of the craft
Current total no. of leisure makers
There are fewer workshops on offer at adult education centres, textile guilds etc. than there were before
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.
When Daniel Marot the French Dutch Architect and furniture designer (1661- 1752) worked on Hampton Court Palace he used Faggotted fringe for the State Bed (refurbished by Wendy Cushing in the 1980s) which was originally a design seen on garments. Passementerie became fashionable by following the trends of the rich. It was an expression of wealth.
The industry developed in Spitalfields with the weaving of fabrics and trimmings hence many trimmings skills were passed down. The French and Dutch Huguenots had the skills and used passementerie in the 17th and 18th centuries to adorn the fashion of the day. Weavers would have worked in the attic rooms of Brick lane. 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.
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 independent 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, like the weaver, attaches handmade ‘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. Some designer-makers buy in constituent parts that are manufactured abroad, and incorporate into handmade pieces.
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.
The remaining practitioners are approaching retirement age and there is a risk that their skills won’t be passed on
Andréani, Carole, (1993) La Passementerie (Paris: Métiers d’Art de Paris)
Boudet, Pierre, and Gomond, B, (1981) La Passementerie (Paris: Dessain & Tolra)
Crutchley, Anna, (1996) The Tassels Book (Lorenz), Tassel Making (London, Southwater) and (2012) Decorative Tassels and How to Make Them (Anness)
Diderot, Denis, and Alembert, Jean le Rond, (1751-1780) d’, Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire Raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers / par une société de gens de lettres, 35 vols (Paris, Amsterdam)
Gasc, Nadine, (1973) Des Dorelotiers aux Passementiers (Paris: Musée des Arts Decoratifs)