The Art of Passementerie

By Wendy Cushing, expert in historical trimmings.

The exquisite skills of passementerie are largely unsung. It’s time to change that, because trimmings are more than the icing on the cake. Just as the detail and style of beautiful handbags,  shoes and scarves sets our personal stamp, so do the  tassels, fringes,  braids and detailed decoration that finish our furniture,  curtains and cushions. The message is subtle and almost unconscious: the detail comes into its own when it takes its place within the whole.
The broad range of passementerie is to be found in the interiors of historic palaces: we can look to the ornate bed drapery of the Palace of Versailles, the comforts of 17th century English country houses, the ornate palaces of the Middle East with sumptuous Majlis with heavily ornamented sofas and curtain treatments. The  skills of passementerie have been handed down through generations and retained within a limited group of craftsmen. The finest work has historically been in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain but all European countries have had a skill base of their own. Companies tend to be family businesses servicing mainly domestic markets and producing  custom-made products as well as stock trimmings for retail and wholesale outlets.
Sadly,  many  traditional companies have disappeared – and  their skills with them – casualties of trends in interior decoration and competition  from Asia.  Passementerie is very labour-intensive and the skilled fingers of the East can in fact produce beautifully  intricate work.

But all is not lost and there is always scope for new and exciting products in the world of passementerie, just as we never run out of ideas for new handbags or shoes. Passementerie can achieve almost any look, with any type of materials, and I have constantly adapted my work to innovative design over the last twenty-five years. I have introduced all types of beads and crystals –  something that was never considered in the days of traditional trimmings. My hand-blown glass tassels in beautiful shades complement the Murano glass lamps popular in contemporary interiors, and  I have used leather and silverware inspired by the Moroccan skills I find on my travels in that country.

The possibilities opened up by passementerie are really  limitless: it’s all a question of  sensitising designers to the manifold ways in which it can bring a design concept to satisfying completion. It’s my mission to bring together ideas and solutions for enhancing furnishings of all styles through the application of trimmings – as well as to create new and interesting design concepts in the beguiling and inexhaustible field which is passementerie.

Wendy Cushing trained as an apprentice weaver to one of the oldest established manufacturers of royal trimmings. She is an expert in creating historical passementerie and has been involved in many historical restoration projects over the years, including for a great many Royal Palaces. She has always valued the importance of recreating history by making historical trimmings using the same skills and equipment used in that period. She also supplies stock collections of handcrafted tassels, braids, fringes and tie-backs in silk, chenille, jute, wool, linen and cotton.

And for more suppliers of trimmings, tassels, fringes, braids, gimps, tie-backs, ropes and cords in both traditional and contemporary designs, see The House Directory’s Trimmings listings pages. Our directory also has details of expert textile restorers.



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