Vintage doilies

Vintage doilies.

Our client opened a wood and metal, leather-strapped trunk, and neatly wrapped in tissue paper was layer upon layer of crocheted and embroidered handiwork created by her grandmother and three aunts.

The trunk contained hours of labor, a devotion to the hook and needle and a symbol of a bygone era. Most homes our company enters have a drawer, a box, or a bag of needlework hidden from view as if longing to return to simpler times. Such pieces are priceless to their owners, but have marginal value in today’s market.

In the scope of time, crocheting is a relative newcomer. Its growth began in the 1840s in France and England when Riego de la Branchardiére, a seamstress, created pattern books that taught crocheted thread lace-making and other elaborate needlework designs.

De la Branchardiére published a book of patterns that was widely circulated in Ireland during the Great Irish Famine. It was then that Irish nuns began to teach local women and children to thread crochet to make lace, which was cheaper than the traditional bobbin variety. These elaborate works were then shipped all across Europe and America and purchased as Irish lace. The industry was born and the popularity of the art spread.

The doilies, centerpieces, dresser and table scarves adorned the home of the rich. Ladies of leisure claimed the handicraft and resented “the poor folk” who tried to tackle the art. During the mid-1800s, crocheting was considered a craft only for the wealthy, which caused a battle between the classes. In fact, all methods of needlework were taught in schools except crocheting.

Crocheting was considered to be so important that a bride-to-be was expected to have a minimum of ten crocheted pieces stored in her hope chest to be used when she set up her household.

Such pieces were used to protect table and dresser tops and upholster backs of chairs and chair arms, which added a bit of elegance that was necessary to the Victorian home. Over the years, the art grew. Bags, clothing, beaded crochet and artistic and complicated designs emerged during the late 1800s through the 1950s.

Vintage doilies and embroidered scarves are worth more to a family’s history than they are in today’s market. The maker was not laboring over their cherished pieces to make money, but just the opposite. It was a labor of love.

Our advice to our clients is to select their best crocheted piece and place it in a shadowbox frame and write information about it on the back. For example, “the doily or centerpiece was made in 1915 by my grandmother (name). It is 8” in diameter, made from cotton thread. It was passed to my mother (name) in 1971 and to me (name) in 2020.”

In doing so, you have just added provenance to the item which now makes it a genealogical artifact that can be treasured.

— Contact Jeffrey with a question or an appraisal issue: or send your letter to 5525 N. 12th St., Phoenix, 85014.