How to Preserve and Use Grandma’s Doilies

Nostalgia – I am just one generation removed from a time when my people covered the tops of almost every piece of furniture with doilies! I don’t want to recreate that era in my home, but I would still like to display a few of these intricate pieces of art.
Here are a few ways I have either done this (or might try someday):

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1. Mount a doily in a metal ring. To do this, lightly spray the doily with spray starch and press flat, using a pressing cloth. Center the doily on the inside of a metal hoop that is big enough! Using crochet thread, stitch the doily to the hoop at all the points.

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2. Tack a doily to a stretched piece of fabric, then frame the fabric in some manner, such as inside quilt hoops.

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3. I used to make small crochet snowflakes for my Christmas Tree. I used a white glue and water mixture to stiffen them. Some of them yellowed, and some of them didn’t – don’t really know why. I probably should have used a cornstarch stiffener.

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4. I used cornstarch stiffener on doilies, then pinned them on a wall. The stiffened doilies look quite dramatic on a dark wall!

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5. Stitch the doilies onto contrasting plain fabric and use them as a block for quilts or as cushions.

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6. Doilies can be tacked together into “fabric” that can used as runners on tables or draped onto furniture.

7. Doilies could be pressed between two layers of glass. You can buy picture frames that work that way. I haven’t tried to do this, but I would suggest using the cornstarch recipe below to stiffen the doily. When it was dry, I’d carefully brush on a small amount of some more cornstarch stiffener  on one side of the doily to use as a glue. I’d mount the “glue” side of the doily onto one of the pieces of glass. When that was dry, I would finish assembling the frame. Be sure to leave an air gap between the top glass and the doily.

8.  I have several tables with glass tops. I could lay the doily, and maybe a few old photos of grandma on the table top, then cover it with another piece of glass, being careful to leave an air space between the two pieces of glass.

9. Doilies can be used with other archival materials to make a collage for a scrapbook.

10. Doilies can be starched into a bowl shape.

11. Doilies can be hung at different heights from a rod to form a wall hanging or lacy curtains.

Washing the Doilies
I hand washed them in cold water and Woolite. Some of them had stains on them, so I soaked them in a mixture of Woolite and OxyClean in hot tap water. The stains gradually lightened. It might take more than one soaking.

Corn Starch Stiffener
Apparently Corn Starch Stiffener is the best archival method to starch doilies because it can be washed out. Handle the doilies carefully when they are stiffened, because they may be more brittle.
– To make the stiffener, add 1 part cornstarch to 6 parts cold water. A small batch of 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 6 tablespoons water would stiffen three or four doilies.
– Stir until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. Then heat the mixture over a medium low heat until it thickens. Stir frequently, but not too vigorously, while heating.
– It can also be heated in a microwave, as long as it is in a bowl that is much larger than the mixture, and you check and stir the stiffener every 15 to 30 seconds or so.
– Let the mixture cool for a few minutes. Then dip the doily in the mixture until it is thoroughly coated. Carefully wring out the excess, and blot between paper towels. Or, with your fingers, “paint” the mixture onto the doily until it is coated.

Blocking the Doily
There are many methods of blocking the doily until it dries. Some involve plastic wrap or tin foil and pins. But the easiest method I have found is to simply lay the doily out onto a melamine work surface. Carefully stretch it until it is evenly arranged, then leave it to dry. I tried laying it on a piece of glass to dry, but that didn’t work because it stuck to the glass too well. I had to get it wet again to remove it. The melamine is slightly textured, so the doily doesn’t stick nearly as firmly but still sticks well enough to keep it stretched. I suppose the degree of “stickiness” would also depend on how much stiffener had been used on the doily.

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is Nostalgia.

Post 58

17 thoughts on “How to Preserve and Use Grandma’s Doilies

  1. Your family doilies are beautiful. Such tiny details so clear and crisp. I really like the snowflake ornaments idea and the framing them to hang on the wall. All your ideas are wonderful. I would have never thought of most of them. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I also have a Lane chest filled with old linens and am trying to use them. The tablecloths and napkins are easy, but I didn’t know what to do with the doilies. Thanks for some great ideas.

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  3. Why two pieces of glass? Do you need to have air for the doilies or pictures?
    Also, I just starched some doilies on the bottom of hard plastic bowls, WOW did they stick…guess next time I’ll use plastic wrap under them…I did manage to get them off..I have many doilies, I love crochting them…when I was very young 5 or 6 my great Grandmother had many, many ,many doilies and I vowed that when I grew up, I would have doilies just like Grandma…unfortunately I only have one item that Grandma made, her apron that was only worn when you sat down to eat supper…she had full aprons that she wore while cooking, these were made of regular material and crocheted aprons that were wore only for looking pretty! I really enjoyed your ideas and look forward to seeing more

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    • I suppose you wouldn’t need two pieces of glass if the doily stuck to the glass with the corn starch stiffener. If you did use two pieces of glass, though, you would want to leave an air space so that the thread didn’t get flattened. Air circulation would also deter mildew.

      Thanks for sharing your stories about your grandma and her apron!

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  4. Thanks for all these ideas. I am thinking of making a quilt top with some of mine, inspired from looking out airplane windows over farm sprinklers, the rounds you see in fields and some of them not complete circles. I have at least one tub full of doilies. I like your table runner idea where you have them creatively linked to each other. I think I’ll try some layouts in this vein for runners and quilt tops. Glad I found your blog while looking at weekly photo challenges.

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    • Welcome to my blog! I like the idea of a quilt top! I can see where your inspiration came from – those big round patches in the fields are quite a surprise to see from the air if you don’t live where that kind of irrigation is done.

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  5. Thanks for the great ideas. Your doilies are lovely! I have a bunch of them squirreled away but I never think to display them. I want to learn how to crochet…someday.

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    • Hope your un-squirrel and crochet days arrive soon!
      My very favourite display is the one on my red wall. When I started to crochet, I started by making ‘snowflakes’ for my Christmas tree.

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