Dripping Doilies

My grandmother's doilies
My grandmothers (and their mothers before them) crocheted doilies. I must have inherited every single one of them, because two drawers are overflowing with this dainty stitchery. It was hard to appreciate the beauty of them, because they were wadded into the drawers. Most of them hadn’t been washed in half a century … and there was little trace of the starch that my grandmother had used to cause them to keep their shape. “Starch is what I need,” I decided.

Starch??? Oh, my Thunder. I don’t keep that stuff in my house! You see, I remember starched clothing (my memory is not that far gone). Did y’all ever have to suffer starched clothing?

My Mamaw starched everything. When she starched a shirt for you, my grandmother did a fine job. When she got done with it, that shirt was as stiff as a board. When you put it on, your arms stuck out straight from your sides. Walking in your starched shirt and your starched blue jeans, you looked like a zombie. You could scare people half to death by tottering along calling out “Brains! Brains! Anybody with a brain in their head would flee in fear, because they knew that the creases in your sleeves were sharp enough to slice those brains right out!

Mamaw even starched our underwear! Have you ever tried to sit in starched underdrawers? Nobody has to tell you to sit up straightthat’s for sure. You can’t do anything but. Mamaw always wondered why we threw our dirty clothes under the bed. Well, duh! Just about the time they got pliable enough to wear, she took them away to wash them again.

I laugh when I remember that Mamaw used to tell us that “Ladies sit with their thighs together.” Of course, these days when I sit that isn’t a problem (wild horses couldn’t pry these Thunder Thighs apart), but back then it was nearly impossible to get your thighs together with that starch so strong.

You can probably see why I don’t have starch at my house. I had no plans to pay good money for starch, since I have no desire to use it for anything but these doilies, but a quick search on Google told me that perhaps the cornstarch in my pantry would work to help these doilies keep their shape.

No, I don’t plan on having a house that drips with doilies. I want to use some of them as part of the centerpiece vignettes at our son’s wedding (my grandmother would roll over in her grave if she knew I was going to put cowboy boots smack dab in the middle of them). Since it’s too hot to work outside, I decided to set myself to the task of restoring these doilies to their former glory.

Perhaps you are one of those people who don’t appreciate lacy doilies? Stop for a minute and think about the work they represented. Women back in those days couldn’t go out and buy items to beautify their homes. They used their hours to create their own beauty (instead of mindlessly watching another episode of Desperate Housewives). Even if you don’t like doilies, you should have one around your house to remind you of the creativity and industry of our forebears. In fact, drape a doily over your television screen to remind you that there are other things you could be doing that might create lasting beauty!

I’m here to tell you that I experimented with the cornstarch and discovered that it works quite well. In fact, I learned that you can starch a doily enough to keep the shape without turning it into a lethal weapon! Just use a couple of tablespoons of starch in a big bowl of water and soak the doilies for a moment. Voila! If my grandmother had only known …

The next step is to find my iron, and remember how to use it, so I can spiff these doilies up properly. Where did I hide that iron?

hand iron hiding on the bookshelf

  10 comments for “Dripping Doilies

  1. June 23, 2010 at 8:02 am

    If you really have a LOT of doilies, good ol’ Argo gloss starch is still available. My grandma didn’t do doilies per se, but she was really–REALLY–into crocheted place mats. Most were oblong, worked in a sort of filet pattern. Some were oval and very lacy. The drill went something like this:
    1. Wait until a hot, sunny day.
    2. Wash the place mats.
    3. Iron them very lightly to sort of get them in shape.
    4. Pin and block them to pieces of corrugated cardboard kept for this purpose.
    5. Let ’em dry in the sun until they’re as stiff as boards.

    As far as ironing is concerned, no one could iron like my mother-in-law, who passed away about thirty years ago. When we were newlyweds, we began the tradition of having Thanksgiving at our house, and my in-laws would drive down from Philadelphia for a few days. Mom LOVED to iron, and she would always call me up ahead of time and say, “Just sprinkle the tablecloth and napkins and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. I’ll iron them when I get there.” And she did, gladly.

    • August 10, 2010 at 11:11 am

      Your mother in law would have come in handy while I worked on those doilies! Ironing never ever appealed to me!

  2. June 23, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    What a treasure! Doilies your grandmothers made. What an art.

    I have a few doilies I have collected over the years. Mostly from thrift stores. They are so intricate and beautiful.

    Your doilies will be a nice addition to the centerpieces.

    • August 10, 2010 at 11:13 am

      Thanks, Sheila. Too bad I don’t have any made by the kid’s grandmothers. They are family heirlooms to me but not to him.

  3. June 23, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    I remember doilies being all over the place, on the arms and backs of chairs and sofas and on every single flat surface. All of them lovingly shaped in patterns and as stiff as boards.

    I’m pretty sure my grandma used to starch her doilies with sugar. I can see how that would make them stiff, but I always wondered about attracting critters. Now, I’m curious

    • August 10, 2010 at 11:14 am

      Stiff as boards is right! I can’t imagine how much starch our grandmothers used. My grandmom had them on the backs of chairs so that the pomade in the men’s hair wouldn’t stain the fabric!

  4. June 24, 2010 at 5:47 am

    My Grandmother on my Mom’s side made many of these doilie thingys. I don’t know what happened to them. I’d like to have some, or one, as a keepsake.
    This weekend, I’ll be in Chicago at my sister’s place. We are having a mini reunion of the cousins on my Dad’s side of the family. I know there are boxes that we will be going through. These are the boxes of things left behind by my Mom when she passed last february. WEe’ve already found the flag that was given to my Mother by the VA when my Dad passed in 1983. There may be some of these in those boxes. We’ll see.
    My Mom didn’t use starch. My Dad was a blue collar worker and wanted the softer more plyable material I guess. But she did iron EVERYTHING! Including the underwear!


    • August 10, 2010 at 11:17 am

      I hope you find some more keepsakes that touch your heart among your mother’s things. No one needs as many doilies as I have, but one or two doilies are nice to have around for remembrance.

  5. June 24, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Your doilie picture caught my eye. I have a few doilies around from my husband’s grandmother. She reminded me of my mamaw who died way too young. They were both industrious, hard working women, and they made do with what they had. And they never rested! My husband’s grandmother used to crochet onto pillow cases. When she died two years ago at the age of 93, she had just sent a shipment of those pillow cases to some soldiers overseas. Such a great generation!

    I’m thinking of framing it and hanging it up. I don’t want it ruined! I’ll need the starch for that, though! lol!

    Oh, and she also hand made a Raggidy Ann doll for all of her great-grandaughters, complete with the hand-sewn heart.

    I need to finish my quilt.

    • August 10, 2010 at 11:19 am

      Oh, I remember the Raggedy Ann dolls. And did you get a “sock monkey?” That was a tradition in our family. I love all the work that the women did back then. You are right. They never rested.

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