It's 2007, and I'm watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry's got detention, and we are in the quarters of the exquisitely evil Grand Inquisitor cum Headmistress, Dolores Umbridge. It's perfectly Victorian, with lots of kitschy little plates with mewling kittens on them, and lots and lots of doilies everywhere you look. Umbridge, played by the talented Imelda Staunton, is in full-on Nurse Ratched mode, putting the screws to Harry in what is so far the best HP movie yet.

And I'm sitting there thinking oh my god, look at the doilies! and hoping the camera will pan over to give me another look at them because I want to see if the art director went with authentic period patterns or 21st century types. I could imagine Dolores going either way, really.

And what does this scene demonstrate, aside from the fact that DejaMorgana is exactly the kind of fiber crafts dork you don't want to see Harry Potter movies with? Why, that DOILIES ARE PURE EVIL, of course!

But they aren't really. In fact, doilies are a lot of fun to make, fiendishly challenging to design, transcendentally elegant and mathematically graceful. They are numbers dancing in the form of stitches - chains and single crochets, picots and bobbles following strict mathematical progressions to form true curves and ripples of lace in an ever-growing circle.

Similar to mandalas in form, they have a hypnotic effect on the crafter, resulting in whole evenings lost to memory, spent drifting in crochet nirvana, adding one more round... and one more round... just one more round to see how it looks, and then I promise I'll quit....

Crochet may not be a very practical craft, but it can certainly be a beautiful one. And doilies are the ultimate expression of this. We don't make doilies because they're useful. Go make a toolbox or something if you want utility. We're preaching beauty here.

(Which is one explanation, although certainly not the only one, of why there aren't many men who crochet.)

I'm sure many a girl in Edwardian Britain came to absolutely despise doilies after being forced by their hopeful mothers to make dozens of the wretched things as a showcase for their breeding, taste and command of the basic womanly skills. Luckily, things have changed, and now we only crochet if we want to. This makes all the difference in the world, similar to how your perspective of the Lord of the Rings depends on whether you belong to the generation of free spirits who read it by choice because it was the bestest heroic fantasy series ever written, or the poor souls who were forced to read it in school because it was Classic Literature.

You can knit doilies, too, but they don't look right. They come out all spiderwebby and mad. They're mad because deep down inside they know they're not as good as crochet doilies. Sorry, knitters. But at least you can do proper cables.

The question that most people have on their minds is, what do you do with a doily anyway? Surprisingly, even a lot of knitters and hookers don't know what you use doilies for. So I'll tell you: you put them under things. Under vases, plates and fruit bowls, under ashtrays and tea trays. Little ones under glasses of bourbon, big ones under big, manly bottles of bourbon. Really big ones are tablecloths. You can't handle that yet. Don't get crazy. Drop the hook and step away from the thread now.

Damn kids, always biting off more than they can chew. I'll show you how it's done. Just one more row....

Doi"ly (?), n. [So called from the name of the dealer.]


A kind of woolen stuff.

[Obs.] "Some doily petticoats."


A fool and a doily stuff, would now and then find days of grace, and be worn for variety. Congreve.


A small napkin, used at table with the fruit, etc.; -- commonly colored and fringed.


© Webster 1913.

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