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Qin Body   Silk Strings   Tuning Pegs   Studs 首頁
Making and Fastening Tassels
 
古琴絨扣
loose "rongkou" (with tuning pegs) 1    
The qin strings wrap around the left hand end of the qin and are then tied to two legs. On the right hand side they are each knotted and this knot should rest on top of the bridge, where it goes through a twisted "rongkou" (cord, usually translated as "tassel"). The best position for the knot is near the front (playing side) of the bridge. Each of the seven tassels goes through its hole in the qin top then into a hole at the top end of its peg. It is fastened to the peg by putting it through a side hole near the top of the peg, looping it around the peg, putting back through the same side hole then bringing it out the bottom; from here it hangs down. After a short distance there is a knot in the twisted cord. Below the knot either the threads hang freely, or an ornament is fastened, from which threads hang freely. It is because of this latter characteristic that "rongkou" is usually translated as "tassel".
2

By tradition, the best material for the tassels is silk thread. Silk tassels should last a long time. However, cotton ones are common now and they break more easily (I have no data on rayon or other synthetics). Whatever the material, if a tassel breaks it must be replaced. This is a time consuming process, so even though tassels break very rarely, it is worthwhile having a spare peg with tassel already threaded available for an emergency.

Silk thread is not available everywhere. I had trouble finding it in Hong Kong and various other cities in China. However, I easily found some in New York City (see also UK). For my most recent tassels I used the following,

"Utica Threads, pure silk, machine twist, F gauge, 558 (dark navy)."3

The number of loops mentioned below in making the tassels is based on those strings and particular pegs. If the thread has a different gauge, or the pegs have different sized holes, the number of loops will be different. The tassels should fit snugly into the peg holes, otherwise they will slip; and the thicker they are the stronger they are. However, if they are too thick they will not go doubled through the side peg hole.

Once the appropriate silk thread has been acquired, the process of making and fitting the qin with tassels (rongkou) can be divided into four parts: preparation, making the basic tassels, fastening them to the pegs, then adjusting them as they are connected to the qin strings.

  1. Preparation:
    Before beginning, on a wall fasten firmly a screw with an L-shaped head, pointed up; use a solid L-screw where the smooth section protrudes about two inches above the threads before bending to make the L. At least one meter below this put a nail, also firmly fastened but one that will bend a bit -- the thread will have to slip off this onto a 2 to 3 inch nail held in the hand. (One meter makes a somewhat short tassel. The greater this distance the longer the tassel will be. I typically do mine about 1.3 meters apart.)

  2. Making the basic tassels
    Before beginning be sure to have scissors and a spare nail within reach.

    1. Put one end of the thread at the bottom nail, extend the thread around the L-screw then back to the nail below; this is one loop. Continue looping, at the same time pulling it firmly but not too tightly. (If it comes loose, you will have a mess of thread.) Make how many loops you need for the desired thickness. (With the thread mentioned above, and using the jadestone pegs on my qin made by Wang Peng, I can make twelve such full loops).4

    2. Tie the ends of the thread together so that the knot is just at the bottom side of the lower nail. Cut off most of the extra thread so that it is no longer connected to the spool.

    3. Take the 2 - 3 inch nail mentioned above and slip it in next to the fixed nail, within the loop, then slide the looped thread off the fixed nail and onto the free one. Pull on the free nail so that the looped thread runs firmly between it and the L-screw, making sure the knot is still touching the nail on the side away from the L-screw.

    4. Start twisting this nail counter-clockwise as you face the L-screw. Twist until the string begins to curl on itself. With the length mentioned above this should take about 150 turns. Make sure the twists are uniform for the length of the string.

    5. Holding the free nail firmly in one hand, place a finger of the other hand at the mid point of the looped thread, then bring the free nail right next to the L-screw. What was before the two ends of the looped thread should now be together, forming the bottom end of what will be the tassel. The aforementioned finger of the other hand is now inside what will be the loop at the top end of the tassel.

    6. Still holding firmly, rotate the aforementioned finger in a clockwise direction as you face the L-screw, twisting until the inside of the loop has closed up on the finger, probably just over 30 turns.

    7. Ease the tassel off the L-screw, then loop the top end of the tassel around once so that you tie a simple knot near the lower end of the tassel. It is important that this be close to the end and tied firmly but not so tightly that it cannot be easily untied. The nail should now come out easily.

  3. Fastening the tassels through the qin pegs
    Although you should now have what looks pretty much like a finished tassel, once the tassels have been fastened through the pegs and onto the strings, then re-adjusted properly, the simple knot made in the previous step will have to be re-tied so that all the knots are approxiately the same distance from the bottom of the pegs.

    1. Put the tassel into the bottom hole of a peg then pull it through the side hole. (One method for doing this is to pass a long strand of the silk thread inside the loop at the top of the tassel. Even off the ends of the string, then pass the doubled thread up through bottom hole of the peg and a good ways out the top. Use something like the end of a paper clip to pull the thread out through the side hole. Then pull on the doubled thread until the tassel comes through this hole.)

    2. Pull the tassel so the top of the loop is at least 10 cm out of the side hole, more for most qins: there must be enough length so that it can it can be twisted around the outside of the peg then go through the qin body and up to the top of the bridge. This will probably have to be re-adjusted several times during the following steps.

    3. Put the end of the tassel back through the side hole, then pull it out the top. The snugger the fit, the more difficult this is, but the better the end result in terms of strength and appearance. (Again the doubled silk thread method can be used here.) The length coming out the top should be just about the length needed to go through the qin peg hole and up to the top of the bridge. There should be about 5 cm of tassel sticking out from the peg's side hole, forming a circle.

    4. While holding the peg vertically, turn the circle of tassel at the side of the peg clockwise 270°, then loop it over the top of the peg. The section of tassel coming from the top of the peg should be inside the loop. Adjust the loop so that the peg and tassel look like the left side of the illustration at right. (The right side of the illustration shows a quicker method that can be used in an emergency; source: 龔一, 古琴演奏法, 1999).

    5. Further tighten the loop, but do not make it completely tight. (It will probably need to be re-adjusted later, but in any case will tighten itself.)

    6. Try to estimate where the top of the peg should be on the tassel so that the tassel above the peg goes just the distance from where it enters its hole on the bottom of the qin to where it will reach the front (playing end) of the bridge. Adjust the tassel and peg so that the tassel comes out of the peg with just enough length to end in just that position. In this regard each tassel will be a bit different, the ones going through the center holes needing a bit more length here than the ones going through the side holes.

  4. Adjusting the tassels while connecting them to the qin strings

    1. Thread the tassel through the appropriate hole in the bottom of the qin. My favorite method for this is to use a very thin wire - best seems to be the plastic coated kind for twisting around the tops of plastic garbage bags -- they should be long enough to hook through the tassel then go through the double holes on the qin. A large thin paperclip, straightened then with a little hook made on the end, may also work, as would string tied to the tassel at one end and with a needle or similar object at the other end that might drop down through the peg holes.

    2. Check to see how close the top of the tassel is to the front of the bridge. If necessary, readjust and tighten (though not too tight) the loop around the peg. It will probably be necessary to adjust this several times.

    3. Slip the knot on the qin string through the end of the tassel, then tie the string to the leg at the other end. Tune the string a little high: the tassel will probably stretch some, requiring more adjustment of the tassel and peg.

      You may need to do this several times until the position of the top of the tassel is correctly lined up with the front edge of the bridge. You need not be perfectly precise the first time you put it on (unless you need to use it right away), because the tassle will probably stretch some more later.

    4. If you are doing a complete set, do all seven tassels in this manner. I normally do all seven tassels based on the length required for the seventh string. Usually there is enough stretching in this process that by the time I have done all seven, some of them are long enough to be used for the middle strings.

    5. String the qin using all the new tassels. After playing some time the tassels will probably have stretched more. The last few steps will then need to be repeated.

    6. Once the tassels do not seem still to be stretching, tie a knot in each tassel near the middle of the part hanging down from the peg. Make each knot approximately the same distance from its peg. Then untie the loose knot previously made at the end of the tassel. The threads may be a bit twisted. If so, they can be wetted and pulled straight, after which they should hold their shape. The ends can then be cut so that instead of being looped and perhaps knotty they become individual threads that look neat and are all of about the same length.

Not considered here are ornamental attachments some people nowadays like to put at the end of tassels: beads, brightly colored ornamental fringes and so forth. They often seem garish, and I have not yet found historical references to them.

 
Footnotes

1. Tassels (or: "cords": 絨扣 rongkou)
"Rongkou" itself (絨扣 28014.xxx) literally means "yarn fastenings", while 絨 rong by itself gives as its earliest references 玉篇 Yu Pian (6th c.), 集韻 Ji Yun (11th c.) and 正字通 Zheng Zi Tong (17th c.). The translation "tassels" comes from the way the threads hang down from the qin pegs (軫 zhen). However, there is some evidence that on the earliest qin (Han dynasty and/or earlier) the rongkou did not dangle from the pegs. In fact, it cannot be said with certainty that the earliest cords consisted of a number of single threads, so that they easily lent themselves to shortening and lengthening via twisting, or whether they were solid cords that did not so easily perform this function.

There has also been debate as to whether the word 徽 hui, now "studs", originally referred to tassels.
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2. "Cord" vs "tassel"
Today it is quite popular, instead of making long tassels, to make short cords that extend only a little below the pegs; here an external tassel is then added. Many players consider this rather garish.
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3. Buying silk thread
In 2004 I bought spools of silk thread at:

Active Trimming Co.
250 West 39th Street
New York (Manhattan, between 7th and 8th Ave.)

Active Trimming, whose card says it has an office in Hong Kong, had about 10 different colors available by the spool (185 yards) or box (nine spools). They also had a chart from Utica Thread Company that showed many more colors, including 558. One spool was $10. With the hook and nail 1.3 meters (4' 3") apart, and using 12 loops (making a tassel having 24 strands), I can make about five tassels from one spool.

The same spool can be bought directly from Utica Thread Company (www.uticathread.com). Select "silk", then "Silk Spools". For thickness I use "F". Mine are also Mach 185 yards per spool" and when I looked there was a choice of almost 250 colors, but this did not include the specific one I bought, 558 [dark navy]), and the colors were not very accurate. If you know the color you want, Utica suggested sending them a sample and they will match it.

The cost for the same thread from Utica is $7.50. However, they would like a minimum order of $25, and normally charge (in 2004) $6.95 postage and handling.

Utica Thread is not in Utica. When I last visited them they were near Kennedy Airport on Long Island, but they later moved to Connecticut. They told me that the original silk material comes from China, then is dyed and woven into thread in the U.S. Comparing it to synthetics like nylon, they say that silk has comparable strength, but lasts much longer.

In Europe you might try (as of 2013):

Comparing the two Charles R. Tsua writes that the Saw Mill threads have a better price, adding, "Coats Seta Reale threads are thicker, mainly for sewing buttonholes. The Silk Mill threads are more like embroidery silk but they have more length, and weight for weight have more silk. They are sold in skeins rather than spools; each skein is made of one bunch of 6 threads, each being 6.5m in length so 39m in total. I've made two sets of rongkou out of them and they are very good. You only need four skeins to make a set of 8 (without long tassels incorporated into the rongkou itself)".
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4. With some of his earlier pegs I have only been able to do eleven. Sometimes I have done as few as nine or as many as thirteen loops. If you do too many loops it becomes very difficult to put them in and out the side peg hole.
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