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

Private dreams in public spaces

The private dreams we hold for ourselves can be the most timid, submissive and easily silenced part of ourselves.

Monica is happy to report that after many empty intentions, and several false starts, she submitted an embroidery for judging to the Royal National Agricultural Show. She did not win a ribbon, nor was she awarded a place, but her work was framed, and hung, as though it belonged and deserved to be there.

The best thing about realising her aspiration, about turning this small dream into application, is not the sense of achievement but the new space that opened beyond the ‘I wish I could…’ and the ‘One day I will…’. Seeing the artwork hung in this peculiarly special venue opened a door into new chambers of possibility that Monica never realised were there, all the while waiting for her.

Check back with us in February 2020, or sign-up to have these posts emailed directly to you, as rumours indicate Monica may have something spectacular taking shape on the hoop.

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