When I was just a little girl, I remember accompanying my mother to an elderly lady’s house for the day. My mom apparently agreed to help her with some cleaning. The lady called a Victorian, two-story, wood-frame house her home. I remember being bored to tears just sitting there doing nothing, so I decided to explore the rooms in the house. As a toured the lady’s living room, I began looking at all of her fine porcelain figurines, cut crystal trinkets, and antique English teacups. She had quite an impressive collection. The one thing that stood out to me was her use of doilies beneath all these precious items. Beautiful white, ivory, and dusty pink doilies adorned all of her wood furniture. These beautifully crafted doilies were made of fine thread in delicate patterns that were spun like elegant spider webs. The doilies were skillfully placed under all of her exquisite trinkets and I noticed that they also rested on the backs and arms of her Victorian chairs and sofa. Looking around, I thought that the addition of the doilies made the room look quite charming and cozy. I found myself sitting down on a chair in the quiet, sunlit room taking in the charm and grace of an era gone by. Of course, this wasn’t the first time I encountered doilies. I knew what doilies were. Both of my Grandmother’s used them liberally throughout their homes. My mom was not a doily fan, but every now and then I would even see one or two make an appearance in our house too.
Doilies were a staple in homes starting in the Victorian era, but actually got their start in the 17th Century. “Doily” was
the proper name of a London draper. Back in the day, doilies began as small ornamental napkins that were used for dessert presentations and for protecting fine wood furniture from scratches. As time moved on, doilies were used as antimacassars, which protected sofa and chair backs from hair oil that was used to slick men’s hair down. Doilies were also placed on arm rests to minimize fabric wear and tear. During the Victorian era, doilies were also used to bind flower arrangements together. High society also used them under fingerbowls that were passed between courses and prior to the dessert course. It was considered poor etiquette to pass a fingerbowl without a doily underneath it.
Through the years, doilies were either crocheted, tatted, or knitted using fine thread or cotton yarn. Doilies were so popular in the 18th & 19th Centuries that a young Victorian lady was expected to have several of them as part of her hope chest hoping to use them in her home someday. Doilies are an elegant piece of art that has unfortunately faded into the background of homemaking. It is such a shame too because doilies add such elegant refinement to any home.
When you walk into my house you are greeted by doilies on my tables and the back of my chairs. I buy them whenever I find them. I just love the way doilies look as they regally rest against the fabric of my chairs. They turn my simple living room into a cozy parlor. I like to place doilies on my dresser and night tables, on my living room end tables, and under my photo frames on my picture table. The use of doilies has also cut down on the dust I get on my furniture. A very nice bonus, indeed!
I find my doily collection at random antique stores. You can find them buried in boxes that are tucked away in the corners of antique stores and fleatiques. Doilies usually cost about $2-$5, a piece. I’m lucky because the town in which I live has a great local paint store that stocks beautiful, delicate doilies made of fine ivory and white thread. They are my favorites! Another store in a little town nearby stocks holiday doilies in all sizes and shapes. My Christmas doilies are among my most prized possessions. If the doily is hand crocheted or knitted, I always take the time to examine its intricate pattern. It never ceases to amaze me how thread can be woven into something so delicate and beautiful.
So, don’t diss the doily! Never underestimate the classic style of the simple doily. Give them a try. Your furniture will thank you and you might find yourself enjoying the newly created ambiance these delicate works of art bring to a room. I guess some people will always associate doilies with dusty old homes that reek of moth balls and mildew. For me, I will always associate doilies with my trip to an elderly lady’s home that whisked me back to the vintage style of the Victorian era when homes were more than a place to hang your hat. They were cozy dwellings that made a grand statement to guests. 💋