I really like Italian tassels. They are exquisite. From the more elaborate to the very simple, they have a style all their own.
Some of them are very easy to make. Vima deMarchi Micheli wrote a lovely little book called: Tassels Italian Style which is full of ideas and very clear instructions.
The Anchor Manual of Needlework (Interweave Press) has a few in the second to last chapter: "Finishings and Decorations for Embroidery".
My most recent acquisition on tassels is the book: Nappe e Pendagli by Giuseppa Federici of San Paolo di Jesi, Italy. The book has 15 different tassels explained from start to finish with lots of clear diagrams though the text is in Italian. You can get this book from Tombolo Disegni - its under the "Libri" section, then "Libri Ricamo Italiani" - send an email request.
I recently tried to explain how to make some knotted tassels to a friend and ended up getting my daughter to take some pictures. I followed the instructions from the Anchor Manual of Needlework except that I had seen some tassels in Assisi made of twisted cording and wanted to try that.
First things first.... get out your kitchen string or any other thick cotton yarn and your cord-maker (not essential but certainly faster!) - I have the Kreinik Custom Corder but I understand you can use a drill and a hook just as well.
Run out a length of 10 feet of kitchen string, fold it in half and tie the two ends together. Twist until the length is tight and begins to twist back on itself if folded. Grab the length in the middle and release the two ends to let them twist themselves up into one thick length. You now have a twisted length of cord about 1/3 of your original length.
Make knots down the length in a series of about an inch apart, then half an inch apart, then an inch apart, then a half inch and so on.
Then cut between the half inch distance so that you have little pieces like so:
After that run out another length of string of about 18 inches and fold it in two, thread one end into a needle, something with a big eye and a sharp point like a chenille needle. Position the needle in the middle of the length and knot the two ends together. Thread the pieces of knotted cord onto your length in the needle, piercing the centre and pulling them down to the end knot, as if you were stringing beads:
You should end up with something like this:
Make a knot in the length in your needle to keep the pieces together like so:
You now have your tassel! You can attach it to the corner of a placemat by inserting the needle into the outer corner point and coming out at the inner hem corner point. Take the needle back down into the outer corner point and make little couching stitches to hold the threads in place (one per thread will do), then needle weave down the length to your tassel head and either bury the thread back in your needle weaving and up into the hem or pierce the centre of the tassel head and make another knot where you come out.
Hint: the longer the distance between the knots you cut between, the longer the fuzzies on your tassel. I have seen instructions for just making your initial length full of knots of equal distance apart (for example one inch) and cutting between every second knot. If you get them wet, they fluff up even more.
I have made these tassels many times for works of Punto Antico Embroidery or Catherine de'Medici Embroidery.