On Doilies

Today I discovered something that changed my life.  The scales have fallen from my eyes.  Mind blown.  Everything is changed, changed utterly.

I found out what doilies are for.

Doilies – [also  doileydoylydoyley, or even erroneously d’Oyleyd’oylie according to the OED] are weird lacy napkins-type things that look like soft tea-saucers.

My childhood was haunted by doilies – specifically by the doilies that adorned my Auntie’s sitting room – every table, every chair, every solid surface had one – one long runner-one along the back of every armchair, one small round one on the arm of each chair, one underneath every ornament on the mahogany shelf, one in every place where you might conceivably put down a cup or rest your hand. Even the lampshade had lacy etched glass that look (to my young and foolish eyes) like a see-through doily. The only thing Auntie hadn’t got was a doily-shaped ceiling-cosy.  I’m pretty sure she would have got one too if she knew where to buy them.

I always thought they were pointless – worse, they were a nuisance.  They were always slipping onto the floor and crinkling up and then they’d have to be taken away and washed and fresh doilies, stiff from the hot press[1] would be laid down.  I hated them.  And the doilies hated me too.  I only had to look at them and they’d get grubby.  Then I’d get blamed.  When it all was the doilies’ fault.  Or, really, let’s be honest, Auntie’s fault.  She bought the doilies in the first place.

But then, today while doing some teaching prep[2]: a revelation. Once upon a time, doilies had a function.

[In the 19th century home] coal residue was omnipresent, both as dust when coals were carried to each fireplace and then, after the fires were lit, as soot thrown out by the fire, blackening whatever it touched.  The most common system of protection was to cover whatever could be cover, and wash the covers regularly. (Judith Flanders, The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed (2004), 10)

Doilies were part of a whole system for fighting against coal dust

 …housekeepers simply had to accept that soot and ‘blacks’ [flecks of coal dust] were part of their daily life.  Latches to doors – both street and inner doors – had a small plate or curtain fitted over the keyhole to keep out dirt.  Plants were kept on window sills to trap the dust as it flew in; or housewives nailed muslin across the windows to stop the soot […] tablecloths were laid just before a meal, as otherwise dust settled from the fire and they became dingy in a matter of hours. (Flanders, The Victorian House, 70-1)

Far from being totally useless, doilies are exactly as useful as houseplants.

Actually, there seems to have been a craze for putting aspidistras and doilies together.


There’s even a doily on the cover of Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying


I think I’ll do a post about Aspidistras soon.  Flora Klickmann had some very severe opinions about them.  Maybe I’ll even design a doily based on an aspidistra.  Probably not though.

If you do decide to make a doily, there are some really beautiful patterns out there.  As well as crochet patterns for home-decorating doilies like the Crocus Doily from JoAnn and  this giant crochet rug made out of t-shirt yarn, there are lots of patterns for knitted lace shawls like the gorgeous Queen Anne’s Lace Shawl from Men Who Knit, Jared Flood’s lovely Hemlock Ring Blanket, and these doilies from Yarn Over. I’m sure any one of them could be adapted to make a fine ceiling-cosy.

I’m still slightly afraid of doilies so I won’t try making one anytime soon.  Maybe when I buy an aspidistra and need some to stand it on, I’ll give it a go.

This week, I’ve been mostly working on winter scarves  (woo! Layers!)

This one is based on Rose Anne’s Braidheart pattern.  I made one ages ago in a dark charcoal grey and I wear it all the time so I decided to make something of a similar weight and style.  I’ve also started working on a shawl pattern from the book I found in the bin.   It took me a while to decipher the handwriting and make sense of the pattern but I’m getting there…slowly.


[1] A hot press is like an airing cupboard but in Ireland.

[2] Real work, I swears it on the precious.

The Ragnar Blanket

We love Vikings.  We love their literature, their art, their stories and legends.  We love that they came and settled in our part of Ireland (Fingal means ‘blond strangers’ and lots of the town names have echoes of Old Norse and Icelandic in them).  So when Vikings became a TV thing, we loved that too.  Naturally, my heart went out to Floki, the poetic and demented ship-builder.  But Karl was all for Ragnar.  Because Ragnar kicks ass.  And, before he kicks ass, he wraps himself up in a snuggly blanket and thinks about just how much he wants to kick ass.


Once Karl saw the blanket, he knew he had to have one.  And I knew I had to knit it.

Sadly, we never get another good look at Ragnar’s blanket.  By squinting at my screen I deduced that it had textured bits and cabled bits.  I drew up a sort of pattern that included a couple of small cables and a big central cable.

The finished product looks like this:

Then I went searching for some authenticish Viking-type yarn.  I wasn’t about to fork out for Lopi for something as big as the blanket (4 foot by 6 foot if you please) so I went looking for undyed yarns.  I found this undyed Jacob’s yarn.  It’s scratchy and full of VM and weird bits that I’m pretty sure came from other sheep that the Jacob attacked and murdered.  It stinks of sheep.  But it’s a great colour. And there’s half a kilometer of yarn in each cone.  My blanket used nearly two kilometers of yarn.


Charts One and Three are worked over 8 rows and so will be repeated twice for every one repeat of the central cable pattern.

The central cable pattern I used is modified from the wonderful Viking Bag pattern on Ravelry.  There are many examples of this woven cable but this is by far the best example. The designer, Karen, kindly put the pattern up online for free here.  I used the big cable from the bag (28 stitches) and then added a purl stitch either side to make an even 30 to allow for a little more space between the cable and the slip-stitch pattern panels.  You could use any large cable pattern that you fancy though – just remember to adjust the total number of stitches if you do!

Slipped Stitch pattern:

  • Right side: Slip 1, K1, YO, PSSO
  • Wrong side: Purl all stitches


Cast on 196 stitches and work one row as follows – knit 2, purl 11, place marker, knit 70, place marker, purl 30, place marker, Knit 70, place marker, purl 11, knit 2

This establishes the blocks for your cables and for slip-stitch sections

Work one row, knitting the knits and purling the purls and turn work ready to begin charts.

Work Chart One over first 13 stitches

chart one

Work Slip-Stitch Block one:  *Slip one, Knit One, YO, PSSO* repeat to next marker

Slip marker, Work Central Cable pattern over next 30 Stitches, Slip marker,

Work Slip-Stitch Block Two: *Slip one, Knit One, YO, PSSO* repeat to next marker

Work Chart Three over remaining 13 stitches

chart Three

Now, it’s a matter of working these 16 rows until you run out of yarn or patience or both.

Finally, work your rune-chart.   Runes are important.  The Old Norse speakers of Medieval Iceland and Scandinavia loved marking things with runes.    Including insult-poles or níðstöng.   Obviously, when Winters last for months and months, tensions can build up. Rather than go and murder your neighbour straight away, it’s best to egg him into attacking you by making a níðstöng and setting it up in his front garden. I think of this as medieval equivalent of ringing someone’s bell and then hiding in the bushes giggling when the answer the door.[1]  Other uses of runes include graffiticommemorative stones and generally telling people who owns what.[2]

For me, it’s not enough to write something in modern English using runes – that’s just silly – so I called in the troops (Thanks, Kyle) and got this: Jóna gerði þessa fyrir Karli inni Kráku or“Jane made this for Karl the Crow”.

Each of my runes was 10 stitches high and between 1 and 8 stitches wide.  I made a pattern on some graph paper. I just managed to squeeze all the characters I wanted into the 196 stitches on a row.  I’m not mad on the result as it is a little…subtle.  I will stitch over the runes in red.

Here are the rune-staves from the Furthark – my attempts at charting them are below!


Edit: here are the Futhark Charts as promised!

[1] I know that I shouldn’t think of Vikings as a bunch of bold children but I can’t help it. I found out they wore mittens.  I can’t shake the image of then dangling on strings out the bottom of their sleeves.  I bet their mothers made them bring hankies when they went raiding and everything.

[2] I bet their mammies wrote their names on the inside of their jackets too.