Crochet doily: a humble and enduring form

Today’s beautiful photographs shows some of Dianne’s contribution to a collaborative art project, Retro Galactic Communitree, installed in 2017-18. While part of the strangeness of the project generates it appeal, today’s post delves into the history of how a tree may come to be cloaked in looped yarn. When we look at the project we recognise a distinct crochet form from the past, the doily.

The crocheted doily, a small starched mat, reached production heights in the 1930s and 40s. Doilies were made by women in their home. The popularity of doily making is attributed to women’s desire to temporarily break from the weighty reality of economic depression and the volatile political environment. Rationing strategies of this period shaped the rise in doily as the small round mat could be made with a simple tool and minimal yarn.

The domestic commonness of doilies tends to mask their versatility and ingenuity. Doilies were often used as a table mat to protect wooden furniture, as chair covers such as an antimacassar, as covers to protect bowls and jars of conserves and chutneys, as plate ornaments and a framing device under cakes and sandwiches, and as cushions and bedspreads.

Doilies of this time were often made using one monochrome colour such as white or bone. This simplicity in colour is counter-balanced by tremendously complex geometric patterns in design. Doilies are deceptive; as a small-scale object they can appear to be a quick and easy project. Yet, this false sense of simpleness and ease betrays the skills of tension and stich which are only visible in a doily when absent.

Crocheted doilies have undergone a revival in recent years. Where original production in the 1930s and 40s reflected ideas of industrial processes and modernist ideals of precision and symmetry, many of today’s crocheted doilies seek to represent community, connection and the values of women’s hand-crafted labour. Doily yarn-bombing brings together ideas of protective cloaking, holding together and loops that gather women from the past and the present.

crochet 2

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