How to Decorate Your Vintage Wedding With Doilies
A Bit of Lace
I used to sit beside my grandmother, watching her time-worn, gnarled fingers as they darted back and forth, her small silver shuttle in hand as she twisted and twirled what I thought resembled kite string, wound in a beautiful geometrically pleasing ball. Long lines of intricate lace would emerge, some scalloped, some straight with beautiful designs. And sometimes that string began spinning itself into an amazing circle of lace, occasionally with raised sections of flowers or fruit, sometimes in white or ivory, other times in different colors depending, on what color thread neighbors and friends had given my grandmother as barter for eggs or a chicken. I always thought my grandmother's creations were beautiful, but never really appreciated the true beauty of the art of tatting, crocheting string into gorgeous lace and doilies, until I was much older. Now, I'm even more pleased that doilies have experienced a huge resurgence in popularity and have emerged as a coveted piece of wedding décor for brides planning a rustic or vintage-themed wedding.
The History of Doilies
How the first doily was made or where they originated is very unclear. Some say they originated in the 17th century with a draper named Doily who sold a beautiful lace fabric that resembled today's doily. Others say they date back even earlier to the 15th century. Several beautiful old pieces are being displayed in museums today as genuine works of art and they truly are, especially considering the first doily artisans had no patterns and made all those complex designs up in their heads as they worked. Regardless of where they came from, they were very much a part of Victorian ladies' handwork in front of "company." Tatting and lace making was acceptable handwork in front of visitors, with menial work such as darning and mending relegated to evenings with the family or to servants.
With so many brides embracing the concept of vintage and rustic weddings and their desire to reuse family heirlooms and items found in antique stores and thrift shops, it's only natural that doilies would become popular. Beautiful and versatile, they are now being used in amazing and creative ways to decorate at weddings ranging from rustic to upscale.
Doilies for Favor Decoration
Hunting for Doilies
If you are as in love with the look of doilies as many brides are, the toughest part will be finding them! You can buy brand new fabric doilies from several linen companies that offer them and paper lace doilies by the thousand from restaurant supply companies, but if you want a true vintage wedding, you need to go for the genuine article and scrounge! That means trips to your grandmother's musty linen closet, questioning elderly relatives and friends, and scouring antique and thrift stores. Half the charm of having a vintage wedding is the time searching and the effort you know that you put into finding each and every item. However, if your Granddma's closet is in short supply of these beauties, there are other places to find them. Wedding classifieds are a good place to start since so many other brides are collecting them as well. You can even find vintage fabric and paper doilies on E-bay, many in the original packaging.
The danger in using vintage doilies is of course finding those that are fragile. You really don't want to use those that are literally hanging by a thread! However, the wonderful thing about the thread from which doilies were originally created is that it was incredibly strong, so doilies generally hold up very well over time. The most common problem that you may find is staining. Some antique doilies have medium to heavy brown staining, almost as if coffee had been spilled on them and left to dry. The question is should you try to remove it and risk damaging the doily or should you leave it and count it as part of the doily's rustic charm?
Doily Table Runner
Removing Stains from Old Doilies
If you are going for a pristine look and simply must remove the staining from the vintage doilies you have collected, use caution! You can't just toss them in the washer with some Clorox and call it done. Old lace needs to be handled delicately. Use a large sink or tub and fill it with water. Let your doilies soak for a while in plain water. You'll be surprising how much staining is nothing but surface dirt. Soaking it will lift some of the staining, but definitely won't remove all of it.
There are several methods available for cleaning the stains from doilies, including dabbing it with lemon juice and laying it in the sun to dry. However, many people claim that lemon juice is too harsh for delicate doilies. Something many have had a lot of success with is products containing a small amount of hydrogen peroxide like Oxy-Clean. You can even use regular 3% hydrogen peroxide yourself mixed in your sink with water.
Wearing gloves, put your doilies in the peroxide and water mixture and carefully swish them around in the water, kind of being your own mini-washing machine agitator. Some people leave their doilies to soak in the peroxide for a couple of days. I would be careful doing this because if your mixture is too strong, it will cause the delicate threads of your doilies to break down. And definitely never use Clorox and water. Harsh bleach will break down the fibers. After soaking your doilies, rinse them thoroughly, lay them flat on a towel, roll them up in the towel to squeeze the last of the water out, then lay them in sunlight to dry. That should help lift out most of the staining, but if more exists, repeat the process and try again.
Doily Favor Bags
Doilies and Fabric Stiffener
Because doilies are made from string, they can be soaked in fabric stiffener and formed into a number of shapes. Using a fabric stiffener like Stiffy or Alene's Fabric Stiffener, soak your doilies in a bowl of stiffener. If you can't afford pre-made fabric stiffener which can be pricey, you can use white glue like Elmer's. If you want to make a bowl from your doily, choose a plastic bowl to use as a form that your doily will fit around when you hold it up against the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Once your doily is soaked in stiffener, take it out of the stiffener and squeeze out any excess. Form it around the outside of the bowl and leave it there to dry overnight. If it won't stay, use clothespins to hold it in place. The next day, simply remove it from around the bowl form and you have a doily bowl! You can do the same thing with a Styrofoam cone to make a doily cone and then you can place real or silk flowers in your cone and use it for a pew marker.
Doilies Used as Chair Swag
I've Collected a Bunch of Doilies, Now What?
There are tons of ways you can use doilies in your wedding, but don't go overboard! Although they are beautiful and you can use them as a kind of theme if you'd like, be subtle. You don't want your wedding to end up looking like an explosion from your Granny's linen closet! A beautiful thing many brides are doing with doilies now if they are able to collect enough is create runners from them. Creating runners from doilies is relatively simple and the best part is they don't have to stay that way after the wedding is over. All you have to do is decide on the length and width of the runner, then start arranging your doilies so they are in a configuration that looks pretty to you. Connect them to each other with a couple of simple stitches by hand. That way when the wedding is over, you can just snip them apart with some nail scissors and reuse them for some other project. (Or give them back to Grandma!)