Russian Belt Tassels


Figure 1

In the Fall 2004 issue of TWIST, we spoke about the very important role that a belt plays not only in clothing but also generally in Russian traditional culture. We examined a
technique with lots of variety that is used for making traditional belts. And now let us ask ourselves a question: “What, actually, transforms a woven band into a belt?” Certainly,
tassels turn a band into a belt (Fig. 1).

Why is the role of tassels so important? In fact, the belt can do its main function perfectly well, holding clothing, without tassels. But tassels transform a belt into an object
of a culture, “marking” it in space, designating its beginning and its end. Any phenomenon of the traditional culture has spatial or time frameworks allocating it from the
general lifestream, and tassels allocate a belt as an independent object from that of a woven band.

Thus, tassels are a primary boundary between “belt” and “not – belt”. Any boundary in a traditional people’s consciousness is a peculiar place which should be specially marked (for example, remember that all clothing items were specially decorated also on the borders; on a hem, edges of sleeves and on collars). Understanding that tassels are not only a decorative element but as the beginning and end of significant cultural objects explains
the attention which is given the embellishment of tassels.

Even in clothes of traditional national dolls where the belt also is obligatory, as well as in clothes of the people, the ends of these belts are specially marked. The doll belt is represented often simply by 2 to 3 braided threads, but also in this case its ends are also emphasized by knots.

An interesting fact about tassels has been noticed by the ethnographers working in the Russian North in the mid-twentieth century. The netted belts that were traditionally popular in this area were considered as especially good protection against evil. So when in the 1950s netted bags appeared for sale, people bought them and, having decorated them with tassels, wore them as belts. It is evidence that tassels are capable, even in a mass-marketed item, of giving significance of magic to an everyday item. The variety of tassel decoration methods is really wonderful. A balance between the decoration of the main part of a belt and its tassels is very precisely observed in traditional belts. Usually, wide colorful belts have rather modest tassels formed with braided or simply combed threads of the belt warp. On the other hand, plain narrow belts are often decorated with several rows of magnificent tassels with beads and expensive store-bought fabrics. There was even an expression “as has dropped out from tassels”- describing a beautiful girl who was compared with a bead or a bright thread dropped out of festive belt tassels.

Figure 2

Let’s learn one of the common methods of tassel decoration. The belt in Fig. 2 is a replica of a belt from the early Twentieth century. Such long tassels embroidered with beads were very typical in the Ryasan region, 100 km south of Moscow.

They are made as follows.

The belt width is 1.5-2cm and is woven on 10 to 12 cards. The yarns can be of one color or with very simple ornamentation.

Figure 3

The beginning and end of the belt are woven into three sections to make three separate tapes for approximately 20cm. Then each of these tapes is wrapped with colored threads and the ends of the tapes are tied together. The embroidery is made using black and white beads, as shown on Fig. 3. The tied ends of the tapes are wrapped with bright fabric and the area above the big tassel is decorated with beads.

Copyright © Karen van Gelder-Mauve

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