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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.