All Those Doilies!

Looking through old family photos from the 1950s I have noticed how beautifully crocheted doilies are featured on the furniture in many of them. Check out this photo of my Grandma Annie Jantz Schmidt reading in a chair in her home in the mid-1950s. There are doilies on both arms of her chair and on its back. There is a doily on the record player to her left under the clock and on the table, to her right, there are two doilies, one on the upper shelf and one on the lower shelf.  I think I see one on top of the piano too.

In this 1955 Christmas photo, you can see my grandmother’s doilies on the backs and arms of the couch

I know my Grandma Annie was a gifted crocheter. I have a huge tablecloth she crocheted and so I am pretty sure she made the doilies featured in these photos herself.

My sister and I with our dolls in our home in the 1950s. Three doilies are on the chair where we are sitting.

The name doily is thought to come from a sixteenth-century cloth merchant named Doiley who sold bobbin lace.  Women bought it and crocheted fancy napkins they called doily napkins.  After a strong cotton thread was invented in the mid-1800s crocheting became very popular and by the end of the century, women’s magazines were printing instructions for the creation of doilies. Women thought they added elegance to their homes.

My Dad feeding me while studying for his medical school classes. There is a Home Sweet Home doily on the chair behind him. 

By the early 1900s doilies were everywhere. They adorned almost every type of furniture and were viewed as a must for any proper table setting.

Mom and Dad ready to leave for my Dad’s medical school graduation party in 1959. See the doilies on the chair where Mom is sitting? 

The doily craze began to ebb in the mid-1940s but as my family photos from the late 1950s show they certainly hadn’t gone out of style completely.  

My sister and I with our aunt around 1956 or 1957. There are doilies on the couch and under the plant on the end table. 

Apparently, there is a renewed interest in doilies and there have even been some formal exhibits of vintage ones because they illustrate how women who lived during an era when running a home was extremely labour-intensive still found the time and energy and patience to create intricate works of art.  It was a way to express their creativity. 

My friend Sue and I in a Japanese taxi in Kyoto.  Check out the doilies on the front and back seats. 

I remembered as I was writing this blog that although doilies are no longer popular in North America, there was one place I had seen them more recently.  On my visit to Japan, I noticed the headrests and seats of most of the taxi cabs we took were adorned with doilies. 

I still have one doily.  It sits on my dresser and is a combination of embroidery and crocheting.  It was made by my other grandmother Margaretha Sawatsky Peters.  

Other posts……….

Grandma and Embroidery Hoops

Japanese Surprises

Medical School Graduation 1959



Filed under Art, Family, History

5 responses to “All Those Doilies!

  1. Cathy Rempel

    I burst out laughing when I saw the title of your blog this morning. This past week I got out of storage the doilies that my mom and mother-in-law had crocheted with the idea of repurposing and regifting them to my family as a reminder of their grandmas’ artistic flair. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. Those 1950’s works of art surely are beautiful.


  2. First the doilies, then the crocheted slippers. At least we have the internet to distract us. 🙂


  3. Lynn

    Furniture was not as easy to clean and maintain as now and they were used for protection ! Doilies are also made from tatting as ell as crochet and knitting

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, my, I’m green with envy over that peacock/pinapple doily… sooooo beautiful! We moved into a new place last year that is a freaky dust-bomb being near a highway as it is. I’ve RE-discovered the use of doilies and dresser scarves as dust collectors. The dust is still there, impossible to get ahead of, but it’s less visible. That said, I do enjoy crocheting doilies. I’ve adapted many a pattern into hair nets/kapps as I used to work in environments that were either filled with dust (construction) or the food/health care industry and I found such things as hairnets store bought were so ugly. I decided that if I had to wear one, at least it could be pretty. I inadvertantly started a trend… and by such a thriving home business for myself. I moved away from that area about 13 years ago…have to say I miss the business, but I’m still making my own Kapps.


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