Marie Antoinette slumbered in a forest of bed curtains bedecked in silk fringe, bows, and ribbons. Even Napoleon had a weakness for the shimmering gold cords on his campaign tent. Trimming and tassels, long a symbol of wealth, reached their peak of design and popularity in the late 19th century, when every conceivable surface was draped in fabrics with layers of embellishment. Trimmings never went entirely out of fashion; William Morris used rich wool fringes on his hand-dyed wall hangings and textiles of the “simple” Arts & Crafts movement.
Applying trim is an art, but there are a few tricks of the trade. Make a mock-up first, advises Sam Yazzolino, who operates a curtain and fabrics workshop. Always test your trim and curtain fabric combinations before spending a lot of money on the full order. He often specifies trapunto, a quilting technique wherein stitches are sewn through padding; used on the leading edge of a curtain panel, it creates a heavier and more opulent look. Save the fringe for the last step; otherwise it may not lie smoothly on the fabric and can pucker. Contrary to what many advise, “think big,” says Sam, as larger-scale trimmings in a small room will actually give the room depth and make it seem larger.
Like a frame around a work of art, fringe should enhance, says Mark Failor of Polly McArthur and Associates. Avoid matching colors too perfectly, for when fringe matches a fabric exactly, it gets lost. Like jewelry with a beautiful dress, trimmings should bring out a fabric’s colors with complementary tones. Red trim on red drapery, for example, is easily overlooked, while a complementary trim color such as a soft green or a royal purple is a jewel-like accent.
Although vintage trim is nice to use, it can be difficult, advises Carol Tate, owner of Artisanaworks. Carol specializes in period fabrics and soft-goods construction. She cautions that trim often will “wander,” especially on mohair and velvet; antique cording easily frays and unravels. Carol likes to use fabric glue such as Tacky to prevent unraveling, and to secure the trim to the fabric before she sews.
Light gluing further helps achieve a flatter and straighter edge as its holds the trim in place. It also helps when turning a corner with a trim. If you find the end of a cord or trim beginning to fray, first glue the backside, Carol explains, then let the fabric dry and stiffen, and then make cuts as needed; it should not unravel any further. Fray Check is another glue used for this problem. Try squeezing the glue first into a small dish, then paint the glue onto the trim with a tapered-bristle brush.
Make sure your thread suits the material. While a fine silk thread is best for silk fringe, stronger thread, usually nylon, is required when stitching a heavy, robust trim. When hand stitching, Carol often waxes her thread first with beeswax, which comes in discs for sewing use. That both strengthens the thread and helps it pass through fabric.
Trim doesn’t have to be expensive. Use your imagination: Try combining an inexpensive, narrow gimp from China or India with more expensive silk tassels or cording to create the look of hand-tied trim at a fraction of the cost. Be creative in using unorthodox elements such as beads or small pieces of jewelry to add sparkle and interest. Layering fringe is also a good way to achieve the look of more expensive trim; for example, try marrying several inexpensive pieces together, such as a machine-made bullion fringe with a hand-made netting laid over the top.
Bands of fabric are a straightforward way to dress up even the simplest drapery panels. Designer Jeff Lincoln added 2′-wide bands of Fortuny’s ‘Ashanti’ fabric to the bottoms of Belgian linen sheers. The warm white and silver-gold of the ‘Ashanti’ added visual interest, but the overall look is light and summery because the panels still billow in the breeze.
Julie Kaminska, owner of the textile design firm Fret Fabrics, actually counsels to “think fringe first.” Trim has been traditionally the finishing touch, but many jobs Julie oversees start with the fringe and tassels, because these elements are the most expensive and involve hand work and time.Published in: Old-House Interiors July/August 2012