The Poetry and Psychology of Doilies By Suzann Thompson and Sandi Horton
I’ve been casually interested in psychology for a long time. That interest bumped up a notch when the works of Carl Jung (1875-1961) came to my attention. His ideas about symbolism, fairy tales, and dream-interpretation aren’t always well-regarded by scientifically-minded persons, but I’m fascinated!
In an effort to reach into his own and others’ unconscious minds, Jung employed mandala drawing. A traditional Buddhist mandala is a circular drawing or construction representing the universe. Jung encouraged clients to draw mandalas over a span of time, as a measure of personal development. He and the client studied the differences in style or content of the mandalas for indications of the client’s changing sense of self.
In 2016, about ten years after my introduction to Carl Jung, I was hard at work on the Celebrate Doilies history and art exhibit. The show featured my doily-inspired art and stories and photos of doily heritage. After one of the many occasions I took to tell people about the exhibit, poet Sandi Horton introduced herself to me. She had lots of family heirloom doilies, but instead of telling me their stories, she proposed to write poems about them.
Jung used the word “synchronicity” to describe events in life that aren’t planned, but seem to be connected, or events that mirror a person’s state of mind when they happen. Meeting Sandi was the first in a long line of synchronous events, which became clear when I found out she also studied the works of Carl Jung.
These four mandalas were created by Sandi Horton using markers, tempera paint, or oil pastels.
What is a mandala? How do you make one? What is its purpose?
A mandala is the drawing or painting of a circle filled with colors and images. Psychiatrist Carl Jung spent years studying his own mandalas. He discovered they were transformative in his personal development as well as comforting to create.
The circle is Jung’s archetype of a whole, united self. Every culture around the world uses the circle in a similar way, making it a universal concept. Creating mandalas optimizes personal benefits from internal organization and can help us handle crises or upsets more readily.
To create a mandala, you need paper, pencil, and something to add color such as crayons, markers, colored pencils, or paint. First you trace a large circle on a piece of paper using a plate, bowl, or anything you can find. Then without using too much thought, start filling the circle with color. You can draw pictures, objects, patterns, geometrical shapes, or just doodle. Sometimes soft music can be played in the background. It’s best not to talk until the circle is completely filled with color. Then, reflect on what you have created. What do you see in the finished circle that can give a clue to your current situation in life? The more you look, the more you will see. Think in terms of symbols like you would use when reading literature or looking at art. Give your mandala a title with the date it was made. Over time, your mandalas can provide insight with an array of possible meanings.
Creating a mandala can relieve tension similar to making a doily. Your energies are focused on the creation, not the outside world. We turn inward and begin to feel peaceful. This can be very relaxing and energizing at the same time. We experience opposites to discover a new completeness.
We have an intrinsic need to be circular. Every culture in very generation creates art in circles. In ancient times, we find rock carvings of circles. Circle dances and fire circles have an important place in creating harmony in our community. Individually, we experience introspection as we create mandalas or doilies. We satisfy our creative side while finding comfort and meaningfulness in our circular creations. Circles are symmetrical and have a center representing a symbol of wholeness. The art inside mandala circle does not need to be symmetrical.
The Craft Yarn Council, among others, has published research about how knitting is good for our brains. A study in The British Journal of Occupational Therapy concluded that “Knitting has significant psychological and social benefits, which can contribute to wellbeing and quality of life. As a skilled and creative occupation, it has therapeutic potential — an area requiring further research.” Crochet undoubtedly has the same benefits. (Find citations and links below.)
In interviews for Celebrate Doilies, I heard many reasons why people crochet: “there wasn’t really anything else to do” (my Aunt Sue Thompson Brown), or doilies create “instant home” (doily collector Sharla Riddle). On the other hand, Horace Callaway, a construction worker who lived in Rising Star, Texas, crocheted to unwind after a hard day’s work.
I have found comfort in knitting and crochet during difficult times in life. So I wondered how crocheting might be comforting to some of the pioneering and farming women I learned about through interviews for the Celebrate Doilies exhibit. Farming life was hard and unpredictable; parents often buried sons and daughters who didn’t live to adulthood.
Could crocheting a doily have represented something that was at least within a person’s control? They knew if they kept at it, a doily would eventually be finished. If they followed the directions, the doily would turn out well. If they starched it and pinned it out nicely, the doily could be near perfect—a piece of extravagance in a plain life, “instant home,” a visible sign that a mother (or father) wanted to make home more inviting, and had the skill to do it.
All that psychological thinking reminded me of Jung’s mandalas. Can we use his ideas about mandalas to understand more about doily crocheters? Can we draw conclusions about why we are drawn to certain doilies, whose circular design is very like a mandala? Could we guess why some people are fascinated with filet crochet (a gridded pattern style) while others are drawn to round, mandala-like doilies?
I made a game of guessing the motivations of people who crocheted the doilies on “Constant Comets,” one of the artworks in the Celebrate Doilies exhibit. The wall hanging is an interpretation of one of my recurring dreams about stars frolicking across the night sky. I used several doilies with star motifs or shapes, which came from different sources.
The doily at lower right has an almost quilt-like star, except that it has seven points. Did the original crocheter think about the heavens when she chose the pattern, or did it remind her of a quilt pattern?
How many vintage doily crocheters knew that pineapples were symbols of welcome and hospitality? A crocheter may have chosen the pineapple motif doilies on the wall hanging to make her home feel more welcoming to family and friends—or she may have known that pineapple patterns are very satisfying to crochet.
Long after “Constant Comets” was finished, I realized the yellow and white doily with the fancy edge (middle right-ish), looks like a circular saw blade. Did the original maker wish symbolically to cut through something? The fog? Or cut to the chase?
I’m glad we have these doilies, these beautiful reminders of people who created beauty, no matter what the inspiration. Seeking the symbolism and unconscious motivation may give us a greater understanding of vintage doily makers, but I’m sure that the act of seeking will deepen our understanding of ourselves.
Destiny by Sandi Horton
The black star watches
Two comets fly by
Illuminating the galaxy
“I wish I could fly
I never go anywhere”
Complains the black star
The golden stars reply
“Meteors are just ‘icy, dirt balls’
We are bright stars”
“But I am a dark star” said black star
“Be patient, dark one,” the Creator responds,
“That’s not your destiny…
Everyone has a dark side
On the other side
You are the brightest star”
In his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung quotes Goethe’s Faust, where mandalas are described as “Formation. Transformation, Eternal Mind’s eternal recreation.” Jung goes on to write, “And that is the self, the wholeness of the personality, which if all goes well is harmonious, but which cannot tolerate self-deceptions.”
Doilies are kind of like slow mandalas, made stitch by stitch instead drawn with pencil and paints. Making them is good for our health. A doily is practical and a thing of beauty. If we look deeper into our own minds and motivations, we might even find that a doily represents “the wholeness” of our personality, which if we are lucky, won’t tolerate self-deception.
What more can we ask of a favorite craft?
The Black Eyed Susan doily, crocheted by Charles Etta Dunlap Thompson, Suzann’s grandmother.
Filet crocheted doily, maker unknown.
“Constant Comets” by Suzann Thompson. Sandi Horton wrote “Destiny” for Suzann’s “Crochet Comets” wall hanging. “Everyone has a dark side…” refers to the unconscious element of our minds and behavior.
A doily from Sharla Riddle’s collection.
Citations, Links, and More
Definition of “mandala” from The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Vol. 1, ed. Lesley Brown, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993.
C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffe, translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Vintage Books, div. Random House, Inc., New York, 1989, page 196.
The Celebrate Doilies exhibit will be at the W. K. Gordon Center for Industrial History in Texas (Mingus, Texas) through March 15, 2018. After that it moves to the 4 North Event Center in Comanche, Texas, March 19-25. Please visit www.textilefusion.com/exhibition-schedule for hours and other details.
About the Authors
Suzann Thompson is the creator and curator of the Celebrate Doilies exhibit. Her website is www.textilefusion.com.
Sandi Horton has studied Jungian Psychology for decades. She participated in the Winter Intensive Study at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland in 2017. She earned a Master of Science in Educational Psychology from Baylor University in 1991. Sandi’s poems have been published in numerous journals, anthologies, and books since 2001. She has taught numerous workshops/classes on creating mandalas with adults, writing poetry, and painting for children. Follow her at www.facebook.com/myhouseofpoetry.