20th Century, Textiles & Costume

Doilie, doily, doyley, doiley, d’oyley or d’oilie?

I came across a copy of the Girl’s Own Paper from 1912, and was very intrigued by the handwork section, and in particular, by the spellings in the handwork section.

You see, the Girl’s Own Paper spells doily d’oilie.

A d'oilie in fine crochet from the GOM

How peculiar!  At first I thought it might just have been an old-fashioned term for doily, and I have never noticed it before.

To make matters more confusing, the magazines ads spell it d’oyley

An ad for washstand d'oyleys in the GOM

So I thought a bit more, and realised that I was sure I had read 19th century articles about doilies, and d’oyleys, but never d’oilies.

So I did a bit of research, and guess what?  I can’t find a single mention of d’oilies or by that spelling in anything but the Girl’s Own Paper.

A pretty crocheted lace doily from my collection

New Zealand newspapers from the turn of the century spell it doily, d’oyley, doyley, and doilie, with the first spelling being vastly more common, and the last only appearing for a brief period at the turn of the century.

But why all the variants?

I think I have an idea.  The spelling of doily as d’oyley or doyley has become outdated in recent years, but a January 1895 Bruce Herald newspaper carried this article:

The word doyley, now a familiar one with ladies, is derived from the name of Robery D’Oyley, one of the followers of William the Norman.  He received a grant of valuable lands on the condition of a yearly tender of tablecloths of the value of three shillings on the feast of St Michael.  Agreeably to the fashions of the time the ladies of the D’Oyley household were accustom to embroidery and ornament the quit-rent tablecloths; hence these cloths becoming curiosities and accumulating in the course of years, were at length brought into use as napkins at the royal table and called doyleys.

There is another explanation for the origin of the word doily, which might help to explain the variants in spelling.  Apparently there was a 17th century draper in London named Doiley, who gave his name to a cheap but fine wool.  It’s not surprising that, amongst the exuberantly unregulated spellings of the 17th and 18th centuries, one textile named doyley became confused with another named doiley, and the trimmed table mats adopted the ‘oi’

Hmmm..  So it seems that d’oyley became doyley, which picked up an ‘oi’ and was also rendered as doily, doiley, and doilie, and the last was returned to its origin with the addition of an ‘ , becoming d’oilie.  Fascinating.

Detail of an irish crochet doily

I’m not sure why the Girl’s Own Paper devised upon its own distinct spelling?  Was this an attempt to make the doily sound even more elegant and gentrified?  “Add an apostrophe to it Mabel and it will sound French!  D’oilie is tres elegante, no?”

Lots and lots of d'oilies in the GOM

So use whichever you want, as long as you can ignore the fact that most spellchecks only accepts doily!

And for more doily stuff , check out this cute 1940’s d’oyley case on flickr

A doily with a three-dimensional crocus flower border


  1. Elise says

    How about the name being something like ‘eyelet’? After all, ‘oeil’ is French for ‘eye’, and I always wondered if there’s some connection…

    What cool pictures!

  2. Daniel says

    I’ve even seen it spelled doyle in a cookery book, ages ago…

  3. Judi says

    My father’s middle name was Doyle, and I will forever remember his outrage at receiving a tax refund check with his middle name spelled “Doilie.” I’m not altogether certain he cashed the check : )

  4. There is a place called Ascott d’ Oyley, England, I wonder if that has anything to do with lace making or crochet or something. Intriguing though.

    • Elise says

      That’s how they spell it in “South Riding”!

  5. Thank you for this great post about the spelling of the word “doily”. I was going through a pile of vintage/antique patterns yesterday and I cam across som with the “d’oyleys” spelling and I did wonder about it.

  6. Katharita says

    My two cents here have nothing to do with textiles. I have a how-to cookbook published in England in the ’60s, and there are suggestions that certain (mostly fried) foods be presented on “paper d’oyleys”.

    At first I was confused, thinking only of grease absorption. But when I sounded out the word, I realized they were talking about decoration, not practicality.

    I don’t know whether that spelling still persists in the UK, but I agree with your assessment – that “doily” is a corruption of the original, based on the surname of those who developed them.

    Thanks for adding to my research here. And great to discover your blog – I’ll continue to visit.

  7. Laura Shea says

    Just downloaded a copy of some volumes of Weldon’s Practical Needlework. He uses the term D’Oyley throughout both capitalized and lower case.

  8. Judith Pentith says

    lakeland.co.uklakeland.co.ukD’oyleys, as I have always spelt it, can be purchased as ‘sweet’ or ‘savoury’. The sweet variety have elaborate lace cut-outs throughout and the savoury come with a solid centre and an inch or so cut out around the edge. This makes them capable of absorbing some grease, though not terribly efficient.

    I have found it increasingly difficult to purchase d’oyleys recently; are they going out of fashion? Here in West Yorkshire, my local supermarkets no longer stock them but I have found a good source at Lakeland Limited, both shops and mail-order: http://www.lakeland.co.uk +44 (0)15394 88100.

  9. Being a creative craft person who creates colored doilies, I never knew there were so many spelling variations of this “decorative table mat’ which I spell as DOILY, unless my spelling or typing goes a bit haywire and then I throw in another “L”. All very interesting historical information. Thank you.

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