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What are Doilies?

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  • Written By: Jane Harmon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 April 2014
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Doilies are small mats, usually circular, that are placed on furniture to protect the finish from large heavy vases and bowls. Doilies are associated with Victorian decor, and were practical as well as ornamental. Furniture of the period was typically dark wood, and polished to a high gloss. An epergne - a large, often metal, vessel meant to hold an arrangement of fruit or flowers - placed in the center of the dining table or on a sideboard, could seriously scratch the surface of one's fine mahogany. Doilies were the solution.

Doilies are most often crocheted out of fine cotton thread, in a round pattern with a lot of openwork, or filet. They can also be knitted, or a plain fabric center can be edged in several inches of crocheted lace border. Doilies should extend at least several inches from beneath the item set upon them - a vase with only a hint of a doily underneath it would appear ridiculous, so get a larger doily for that particular vase.

Antimacassars and table runners are similar to doilies in function and appearance.

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An antimacassar is a decorative fabric, often in the same pattern of the room's doilies, that is placed over the back or arms of chairs. Macassar oil was a popular grooming product used by gentlemen of the Victorian period to keep their hair in place - thus, the "antimacassar" was to keep the hair oil from the chair fabric. The antimacassar, of course, could be laundered or replaced altogether.

A table runner has a similar function as doilies, to prevent damage to a sideboard or credenza. Table runners can be crocheted filet, but are often woven fabric that has been embellished with embroidery. They are usually made to the size of the table they are to adorn - narrower than the table width, and often much longer than the table length, to drape attractively down either side.

Doilies and their cousins, antimacassars and table runners, fell out of favor in the twentieth century, as large decorative table pieces began to be manufactured with felt on the base to protect furniture, and as the tastes moved away from dark wood furniture. Doilies on a blond wooden table don't present the same as on a darker surface.

Today, if you want to make a period statement, you can recreate a Victorian ambiance with knickknacks under glass bell jars, corner bric-a-brac shelves and the copious use of doilies and other crocheted accent pieces.

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Discuss this Article

wander
Post 7

If you have any kind of an event coming up, such as a wedding or dinner party, you can actually order paper doilies in hundreds of patterns online. While you can buy cheap paper doilies in stores, the ones sold online are customizable and can come in more resilient fabrics that can handle things like heat and grease.

I also love that with the ordered doilies that you can get them in a variety of colors, and even in metallic hues.

I think if you are having a one-day event, ordering paper doilies can be a great way to create a classic look without having to invest a lot of money in getting them made in more traditional materials.

manykitties2
Post 6

Whenever I hear or read something about doilies I always think of my grandmother's house. She used to have a lot of antique furniture and kept it clean by placing doilies over everything. I have since acquired a few for my own home, but they are much more simple. I ended up just purchasing them from the store.

For those of you that are good at crochet, do you think that making doilies is a difficult task, or could a beginner probably tackle the project?

I would like to make my own doilies, but I haven't had the chance to practice but would love to give it a try.

SarahGrove
Post 5

Doilies and vintage doilies are also great to use in craft projects. I found a really great tutorial for making a pendant-style lampshade from vintage doilies. It is very striking and I think would look good even in a modern home.

Doilies stitched onto a throw pillow can lent a elegant touch. My girlfriend used starch and shaped a doily over a glass bowl to make a pretty, decorative fruit bowl. I have also seen doilies made into a throw for a sofa and for dining room table runner. They aren’t just your great-grandma’s doilies anymore.

LisaLou
Post 4

When I was helping my niece decorate for her wedding, we used some paper doilies under a centerpiece on each table. These helped protect the table and also added a little decoration.

Clean up was easy, because you just threw them away when you were done. This was a small, casual reception so they worked great for what we needed.

julies
Post 3

My grandmother was an avid crocheter and I have several doilies that were made by her. The patterns are intricate, the colors are varied and they are very beautiful. She got to the point where she didn't like working with such fine yarn and I can understand why.

I enjoy having these handmade doilies and keep two of them on an antique buffet table, which adds to the charm. These are keepsakes to me that I will always have, but I cannot imagine that I would go our and purchase doilies today.

JaneAir
Post 2

@indemnifyme - I knit also and I don't have any desire to knit a doily either. However I recently saw a circular shawl pattern that was based on a doily pattern. The pattern had been upsized for the shawl and I must say it looked quite charming. I would definitely consider knitting something like that!

indemnifyme
Post 1

I'm a knitter but I've never gotten around to knitting a doily pattern. A lot of those doily patterns are very pretty but look like they would take a lot of time. Also, I just don't really have any use for one because my home is decorated in a modern style.

I also recently ran across a pattern for an antimacassar and I've been curious about what it was ever since. I image there wouldn't be much practical use for an antimacassar anymore either but it might make a nice decoration.

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