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Getting crafty at the table

Repurpose a selection of op-shop glasses and delicate doilies to create a fabulously dramatic late-night table setting

Repurpose a selection of op-shop glasses and delicate doilies to create a fabulously dramatic late-night table setting

Photography by Aimee Carruthers

Doilies are highly intricate, small and often round mats for the table. They’re typically made by crocheting, knitting or tatting fine cotton or linen thread, and were originally named after the fabric made by a 17th-century London draper called Doiley. Their main practical function was to protect the best Sunday furniture from scratches or marks. But they also provided women with the chance to showcase tiny samples of their nimblest handiwork.

Judging by the quantity and variety of doilies that my grandmother had at her disposal, doily-making was a favourite pastime. She had doilies she’d whipped up herself and others made by women in the family, going back several generations. The word doily used to mean ‘genteel, affordable woollens’ and I wonder if, for some pioneering women, doilies represented a way of imposing a small bit of domestic order and feminine civilising influence over their challenging and often rough New World surroundings.

Although our ancestors might have had only a basic tea chest for a side table, if they added a delicate doily it was made a little more refined – and must have helped afternoon tea to seem just that little bit more like it was done back in the home country. Modern reincarnations of these old doilies, seen on t-shirts, cushion covers and elsewhere, seem a fitting tribute to the creativity of these women from times past.

Natty napkins
Choose a remnant of bright fabric and cut into six even squares. Fold each edge 1cm over and iron flat. Fold over another 1cm to hide the raw edge and iron flat before hand- or machine-sewing along each edge to create a neat finish. Find a doily that’s made of a series of distinct crocheted or tatted shapes. Use small scissors to separate them where they will not fray. Hand-stitch a doily sample onto the corner of each hemmed napkin to make a set. Doily-tastic!

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Extraordinary table runner
Shop around and you can pick up exquisitely crafted doilies for less than the price of a coffee. Look for a variety of sizes and patterns. If necessary, soak the doilies in an eco-friendly whitener to brighten, before rinsing and drying flat. Carefully iron them to get a really flat finish. Lay a selection out on a table and stich together in places to create a gorgeous table runner. Use over a plain dark tablecloth for maximum impact.

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Crazy candlesticks
Poke around garage sales and opportunity shops to find a collection of delicately etched crystal stem glasses in an assortment of sizes. Create your own set of eccentric dinner party candlesticks by glueing a selection of the glasses together in a stack. Use a clear-drying glue and start with the largest glasses at the bottom to ensure a stable base. Add clean-burning beeswax or soy candles, cut to size. We used Trade Aid beeswax candles, available online at www.tradeaid.org.nz.

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