Tassels are hot. Consider the the recent Society of the Arts designer showhouse at which almost every room featured the charming novelties dangling from cabinet knobs, bedposts, pillows, curtains, lamps and even wall sconces.
Though these simple decorations are nothing new and, in fact, have been around for hundreds, probably thousands, of years, their popularity is blossoming.
Designer Christopher Lowell, host of the Discovery Channel's "The Christopher Lowell Show," includes tassels in his Christopher Lowell Collection at Jo-Ann Stores. He says tassel use has doubled in the past five years.
Accessories purveyor Kristie Brown of California-based Trims Plus says her national and international sales of tassels at www.trimsplus.com have tripled over the past eight years.
And in the Lehigh Valley, Richard Bass, owner of Fabrics by Allan, says his fringe and tassel business has increased over the past year.
In the beginning
Tassels have been around since the time of the ancient Egyptians, says Lisette Dell'Apa, an interior designer at First Impressions Interior Design in Bethlehem. "I'm sure they had a function at some point."
They emerged in full force during the Renaissance and were used on the clothing of cardinals and priests, says tassel expert Heidi Pribell, an interior designer from Cambridge, Mass. The gold and silver threads in the clerics' tassels displayed their status.
Drapery tie-backs have been adorned with tassels since the 17th century, Pribell says. During the third quarter of the 19th century, when upholstery started to become popular, they could be found hanging from the edges of chairs and sofas, she adds.
"When it first started, they pulled out all the stops," she says. "They used all the ways of celebrating fabric. A lot of times, it was highly ornamental."
Jamie Gottschall of Coopersburg knows how useful tassels can be to add just the right touch to a room. Inside her powder room, two small tassels hang from the pull chains of a small brass lamp with the perfect, custom cream-colored shade.
Suspended from the doorknob is a green tassel with a serene wooden bunny perched on top. The tassel perfectly matches the sage walls.
It makes the room.
Throughout the rest of her home, Gottschall has sprinkled more tassels, many of which she custom-ordered for up to $500 apiece.
Manufactured in European design houses, tassels were often this expensive. But today not all tassels are $500 indulgences. Gottschall recalls that she bought the bunny gracing her powder room at Blissful Home in Hellertown for a "reasonable" price.
The price has dropped on this once-luxury item because, like many other goods, they are being produced less expensively in India, China and other countries.
"Because they're more affordable, people who wanted to own them before, now can," Lowell says, noting that an 8- to 10-inch tassel once cost about $150. "Today, however," he says, "with the advent of global sources, I retail the very same sophisticated tassel from $17 to $29.95."
Price isn't the only factor driving the tassels' increasing popularity.
Hulya Akman, an interior designer with Ethan Allan in Lower Macungie Township, says the trend is especially strong in the Lehigh Valley because Valley residents embrace a more traditional interior decorating style characterized by heavier furniture in deeper colors -- the perfect ambience for tassels.
Today, professional interior decorators, as well as everyday homeowners, are using the dangling bundles of fringe to adorn everything from throw pillows to table runners and dining room chairs.
"It's very European," Jeff Whitted, who designs for Aslan Interiors, says of the look tassels create.
A lot of their use can be attributed to the neo-classical ideology, he says. People are looking at what was once classic and are bringing it back in their designs.
In his British Colonial-themed den in the recent SOTA showhouse, Whitted used a tassle to set off a lamp fashioned with a monkey holding up an umbrella shade.
Bass, of Fabrics by Allan on Tilghman Street in South Whitehall Township, says he started to see the spike in tassel sales last fall. He attributed it to people sewing more to get their houses ready for the holidays.
The tassel is all the more popular now, Bass says, because of the many choices people have.
"There's more stuff with beads today than there used to be years ago and also long-type fringe has increased in sales. There are just so many more different types."
Suzanne Butkus, the soft line manager at Jo-Ann Stores on MacArthur Road in Whitehall Township, says tassels have always sold well in her store. The store now carries the Christopher Lowell collection, which Butkus thinks will draw more people to tassels.
"The interior decorators on TV are incorporating them into their shows, so I think more people are going to start looking into it more as a part of decorating, as more of an accessory thing," she says.
Like Bass, she thinks the availability of a greater variety of reasonably priced beaded trims has encouraged more people to use tassels in their homes.
Using your tassels
A primary consideration for those new to tassels is the style of the decor in the room. Traditional thread-bundle tassels work best in traditional rooms, a style always popular in the Lehigh Valley and increasingly popular nationwide.
But tassels come in all different shapes, sizes and materials, including wicker and glass beads, creating a wealth of options for people with different tastes.
Tassels add a little extra something to a room, ornamenting what would be otherwise a plain pillow or lackluster drapes.
"I love trims and tassels," designer Pribell says. "The world would just be so sad without them. Seriously, it's jewelry for the home.
"To me, it's just like going out. You can't go outside without your shoes on or your eye make-up or wristwatch. Tassels are just the ultimate embellishment."
Designers have different recommendations for what in your home deserves embellishment but agreed on a few basic places where this decoration really adds something extra.
"I think the most obvious place -- and one of the most noticeable places if you want to add tassels to your room -- is to see if you can incorporate them into your window treatments," Whitted says. The adornments dress up curtain tie-backs and can look beautiful adorning the rod that hangs a wall tapestry, he says.
The most traditional way to use a tassel is to hang it from a skeleton key in a chest of drawers or similar piece of furniture with a lock. It's a simple way to add color or style to an otherwise dull piece, Pribell says.
"They can be used on chair tie-backs in dining rooms, on throw pillows, on tie-backs for curtains; there are a lot of ways you can use them," Dell'Apa agrees.
But Dell'Apa emphasizes that when using the embellishments, moderation is essential. Use tassels to accent a few key pieces, she advises.
"Less is more is what I tell people. A little bit of detail here and there makes the room more interesting. When you go overboard, it tends to be more tacky."
Size matters, designers say. Tassels used as curtain tie-backs should be larger than those used on throw pillows, for example.
Consider the color scheme in your room. Remember the green tassel in Jamie Gottschall's powder room? Tassels should complement your dominant color choice.
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