A tassel is a binding of plaited or otherwise gathered threads from which at one end protrudes a cord on which the tassel is hung, and which may have loose, dangling threads at the other end. Tassels are normally decorative elements, and as such one often finds them attached, usually along the bottom hem, to garments, curtains, or other hangings.
The word 'tassel' comes from the Latin "tassau" which meant a clasp (as for the neck of a garment). Tassels, or liripipes, are also found on mortarboards during graduation ceremonies and possibly upon the shoes of the men at graduation. The tassel is a universal ornament that is seen in varying versions in every culture around the globe.
Near the conclusion of the graduation ceremony the tassel that hangs from the graduate's mortarboard is moved from the right to the left. Typically the entire graduating class does this in unison.
A tassel is primarily an ornament, and was at first the casual termination of a cord to prevent unraveling with a knot. As time went on, various peoples developed variations on this, until by the time of sixteenth century in France the first Guild of Passementiers was created and documented the art of passementerie. The tassel was its primary expression, but it also included fringes (applied, as opposed to integral), ornamental cords, galloons, pompons, rosettes, and gimps as other forms. Tassels, pompons, and rosettes are point ornaments; the others are linear ornaments. The parts of a tassel are basically, from top to bottom:
Tassels were originally, in the Western World, a series of windings of thread or string around a suspending string until the desired curvature was attained. Decades later turned wooden moulds, which were either covered in simple wrappings or much more elaborate coverings called "satinings", were used. This involved an intricate binding of bands of filament silk vertically around the mould by means of an internal 'lacing' in the bore of the mould. These constructions were varied and augmented with extensive ornamentations that were each assigned an idiosyncratic term by their French practitioners. Those practitioners were called in France "Passementiers", and an apprenticeship of seven years was required to become a master in one of the subdivisions of the guild. The French widely exported their very artistic work, and at such low prices that no other nation developed a mature "Trimmings" industry. Tassels and their associated forms changed style throughout the years, from the small and casual of Renaissance designs, through the medium sizes and more staid designs of the Empire period, and to the Victorian Era with the largest and most elaborate. Some of these designs are returning today from the European and American artisans who may charge a thousand dollars for a single hand-made tassel.