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

Ladybird, lady beetle, lady bug

As children, we learnt that to find a ladybird in the garden meant you’d found pure luck. Ladybirds were a good omen and would bear any wish we bestowed upon them. In France, if a ladybird lands on you, when she leaves she will take with her any ailment you were experiencing. In Switzerland it is the ladybird who brings babies, not a stork.

The ladybird family name coccinellids is derived from the Latin word for scarlet which is also where we get the word cochineal. These days, when we say cochineal we’re usually talking about a colour but it used to refer to deeply crimson dye made from the dried bodies of a species of insect.

The dome shape of the ladybird’s body perfectly echoes the aesthetics and shape of a regular shirt button. These buttons, designed and hand-embroidered by Dianne, are only 8mm in diameter. They are six little circles of happiness and good luck. We’re hoping to sell them in sets at a market stall in March.

We’d love to hear your ladybird stories. Do you have a cultural story about the meaning or special powers of the ladybird? Comment below, or email us.

 

To thine own art be true

Dianne was recently commissioned to design and create a promotional poster for an upcoming British Women’s Association charity event. The feature image of this blog post is the ingenious outcome of her principled approach to process.

The poster is consistent with Dianne’s method for all her creative work. It conveys not only the details of the BWA 2019 Recycle-A-Ball, but also evokes the essence of the event too.

The medium is the message.

Remaining true to meaning, while arousing a ‘Mend and Make Do’ aesthetic, Dianne created the poster wholly from recycled, ready-to-hand materials. This artistic constraint was a deliberate ambition of the project.

  • The background is an old tablecloth
  • The paint is mixed from what was available in the studio
  • The letters are left-overs from an iron-on lettering kit
  • The drawing is from free-hand markers
  • The skirt is gathered sheets of newspaper
  • The top is fashioned from packing tape printed with the repeated red word ‘Fragile’

Do you feel compelled to create with materials in harmony with your meaning? If not, try it. You might find that deeper resonance you’ve been searching for. We’d love to hear your ideas on harmony in process and material.

 

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