Thursday, 5 July 2007

The Ruffle

I worked on the ruffled edge pillow top last evening and this morning. I have to say, ruffles are daunting.

I remember those doilies with the big ruffled edge. They were very fashionable for a time in the 60's and 70's in small town Saskatchewan. I couldn't understand what people saw in them. The edge had to be starched to show any of it off, and when it was, It stuck out all over the place, impedeing the setting of anything on it. The only job it had at all was to be a show piece. And to top it off they were and are a bugger to starch. You never ever washed them and when you had to, well, let's just say, washing them didn't happen a lot.

Doilies as some of you might know had a purpose. In the 1870s and 80s right on up to about 1960, men used a hair ointment called macassar. Small doilies, made out of very washable cotton fiber became to rage as a way to protect your better furniture chair backs. Women being very sensible creatures, and seriously into lace, realized these little doilies could also protect furniture from rings made when you set tea cups on them, and so we were off. The modern doily rage was born.

On the prairies, doilies were a were a way to bring the feminine touch into homes when there wasn't a whole lot of time or money for fancy decoration. A generation of women through the 30s hung onto those little doilies as a reminder of pretty things that they could no longer afford. So what the heck was the ruffled doily invented for?

It was invented just because they could, but it says more. It says I have time to sit and crochet hundreds of thousands of mind numbing chains. It says I have the peace of heart and the strength of will to complete several thousand mind numbing chains. I am a woman of industrious leisure. I have the time to starch and stretch and dry these ruffles. My table is a place of leisure and fineness too. These are just some of the things a big ruffly doily said. In 60s and 70s Saskatchewan, ruffly doilies were a sign of changing times.

Most towns and farms had pressure water systems by 1970. Gone were the hand pump households of my girlhood. Women did not have to haul water from a well, or pump and heat water for washing clothing or dishes, or children. And when you were done with all that water, you could just pour it down the drain, because by the same time period you had septic systems rather than the good old fashioned catch and carry and honey bucket systems. Your house had arrived and women put that time to good use, making and displaying ruffly pouffy doilies that were a symbol of leisure and womanly grace.

This pillow top is not a doily, but the simple center embroidered medallion said, ruffles. Since I have a lot of crochet cotton, and am not into doilies, it seemed a good idea. It is, except for that whole mind numbing chain stitch part. In my sincere and very humble opinion, women who enjoy making these are tougher than I am, have more perseverance than I do, and I admire them heartily and I haven't even gotten to the starchy part!

Generations of women, whoever you might be, I honour you. When that ruffly edged pillow is done and is tossed elegantly on its little seat, in my study, I will contemplate your pasts, I will remember what those ruffles really meant, and I will revel in its little hidden history.

**Note: this is not really history, just my version of it.

1 comment:

dmd said...

Love your version of the history of the doillie. We had a dear old babysitter, or at least at the time I thought she was old - she was in her sixties - her home was an old cottage, full of antiques, antique hand made quiltes and doillies on everything. She was one of the original families in the area and was a great source of information, amazingly she went on to live to 106. Your story reminded me of the stories she used to tell.

Love the little reading nook in your den, such a cozy spot to curl up with a book.