I often go to the outdoor market near my studio. One of the main things I look for is the second hand table full of used linens because it is there that sometimes I can find “centrini”, that is, Italian doilies.
Many years ago, it was quite common for Italian women to crochet doilies. Obviously, they’d make them mainly at home but I have many memories of summer excursions to small villages where women would sit in groups outside their doorways and crochet together as they chatted.
Doilies were made to protect furniture and placed on dresser tops as well as on sofas and chairs. In Victorian England, doilies called antimacassar were made to safeguard armchair backs from the Macassar hair oil men of the times wore. So doilies were not only decorative, they were practical as well.
Then customs and tastes changed and doilies were no longer valued. That’s why they made it to the second hand markets. Luckily, in recent years, they’ve been re-evaluated and old doilies are being used in new ways such as being sewn together to make dresses, tablecloths, lampshades, etc.
Aside from their beauty, there is something else that intrigues me about them. Handwork, since it requires focused attention, is a form of meditation. Without a doubt, working with one’s hands changes brainwaves frequencies transforming the animated beta into a mild-mannered theta. So, at the market, when I look at the second hand doilies, it’s like looking at bottles of tranquillizers. I image a woman sitting in her living room crocheting. Maybe she’d had a busy day answering the needs of others by cooking and cleaning, or maybe she’d had an argument with her husband, or maybe she was concerned about one of her kids. But, whatever the source of anxiety, simply by crocheting a doily, she could, at least momentarily, have some tranquility. Instead of focusing her attention externally, she focused it internally.
Yūgen, a concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics, is an awareness that provokes emotions that can’t be described. It is a feeling that is subtle yet profound.
By buying and reusing these discarded doilies, I hope to magically appropriate some of the tranquility they’d produced for their makers. Thus seeing the handwork of these unknown women heaped together on a counter gives me a feeling of Yūgen.