Vintage Doily Afternoon Tea Embroidery Upcycle

Upcycle an old doily with some simple embroidery and a fun tea quote and motif.

It’s time for the Sustainable Craft Challenge, when I join a group of creative crafters to bring a craft idea with a sustainable twist. This month the theme is TRADITION.


I racked my brains for an idea to fit the Tradition theme this month. I wanted to share something connected to a British tradition, something I’ve done since my childhood and still enjoy today.

First I considered doing something connected to Bonfire night, also known as Fireworks night. It’s coming up soon on the 5th November and all across the UK we have bonfires and fireworks. It’s a slightly grizzly thing to celebrate as it’s all to do with the trial and execution of poor old Guy Fawkes after he and his buddies tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament and the King back in the early 1600s. I’m not sure anyone really thinks about the origins these days though. There are a lot of large organised firework displays, usually raising money for charity. When we were kids my mum always provided tomato soup in a mug, jacket potatoes wrapped in foil and a gooey cake called parkin which is similar to a ginger cake. The trouble with this idea is that all my memories and connection with Bonfire night traditions are food based and this is a Craft Challenge!

I thought about Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday but that’s another food based tradition and I’ve already shared the recipe for traditional pancakes before.

Boxing day, the day after Christmas, is another tradition that I don’t think is worldwide. It’s just a public holiday though, when people generally lounge around recovering from Christmas excesses and eat leftovers. No special things to do or craft for. I think originally it was something to do with wealthy people giving boxes of gifts of money to their staff or boxes in church where people gave donations.

Then I remembered one of my most favourite British tradition, afternoon tea! I absolutely love afternoon tea. It’s a totally unnecessary and pointless meal which makes it the perfect treat. Tea - love, sandwiches - love, cakes - love, scones - love! I can’t think of a better way to treat a special friend than to sit with them for an hour or two, chatting whilst drinking tea from fancy cups and eating loads of little tasty things. Bliss.

As well as the fancy but unnecessary food and the “all you can drink” tea the other afternoon tea essential for me is the table setting. You really do need a tea pot, pretty cups and saucers, a cake stand ….. and doilies …. lots of doilies!

I have acquired quite a few old lace and crochet doilies and table mats etc over the years. Some were my grandma’s and others have been given to me by friends, usually when their parents have passed away or been downsizing, in the hope that I can do something with them.

I decided to give this rather tired looking doily an afternoon tea makeover. This doily looks handmade, it’s a pretty border crocheted onto an oval of damask. The crochet pulls the fabric centre of the doily a little too tightly making it wrinkled and a little uneven and some stitches have broken so the motifs have become separated in a few places.

The first thing I did was to give the doily a wash in a gentle hand wash solution, then I smoothed it out as evenly as possible to dry on a towel.

Once dry I pressed the doily carefully with the iron.

Now it is ready for a quick repair and some fun afternoon tea themed embroidery.

First the doily repair

I used regular sewing thread to stitch the doily motifs back together in the 2 spots where they had come part. I checked the rest of the doily and luckily there was no other damage.

Embroidering a tea quote

I doodled my own simple teacup and wrote the phrase “There is always time for tea” around it. You can print this to use yourself here.


Next the design needs transferring to the fabric. I used my favourite “window transfer” method.

Once the design is transferred to the fabric you just need to embroider it. I only used the most basic of stitches here and used 2 strands of embroidery thread throughout. A double running stitch for the letters and cup outline and a lazy daisy for the flower on the tea cup. The dot of the i is a small french knot.

I have a guide to stitching simple embroidery stitches if you are a complete beginner.

A tiny design like this is a great way to use up small pieces of embroidery thread that is left over from kits or other projects.

Once the embroidery was complete I removed the erasable pen. I’d used a frixion pen this time and that disappears when you apply heat. This doily needed one more good press with the iron so I was doing 2 jobs at once.

I mentioned at the start how the centre of this old doily wrinkled a bit, this is because the crochet is a little too tight around the fabric oval. I just used my iron to smooth it as best I could and wrangle it into the best shape possible. This is an old doily and I love the character and history of an old handmade piece like this. It’s not a valuable antique, but it has charm. If I wanted perfection I buy something new and machine made, but that’s not what I was going for or what this challenge is about.

Once the doily was embroidered and as smooth as it was ever going to get it was time to break out my beautiful tea set for afternoon tea. This tea set has made several appearances on my Instagram, it is just SO pretty. It belonged to my Grandma; she and my Granddad had it for their 50th wedding anniversary. Each member of the family bought a different bit so they ended up with the whole set. I remember getting the milk jug. It was a gift to both of them but no one was under any illusion, this tea set was really my grandmas! My granddad would have been ok drinking his tea from a jam jar, and he just wanted my grandma to be happy.

I am so thankful to have this lovely tea set. My grandma used it every day but I do save it just for special occasions - like a fancy afternoon tea.

Alternative tea themed quotes

  • Tea revives you

  • A cup of tea is a cup of love

  • Happiness is a cup of tea

  • Tea … best drink of the day

  • Tea time anytime

  • A cup of tea is a hug for your insides

  • You, me and a cup of tea

So there you have it, a fun way to give a new life to an old doily. Perfect for continuing the wonderful tradition of afternoon tea.

Now let’s take a look at the other projects shared for the Sustainable Craft Challenge.


Our Good Life: Halloween Scenes on Thrift Store Paintings

Purple Hues and Me: DIY Paper Mache Pumpkin Centerpiece

Decor Craft Design: DIY Halloween Haunted House Sign

A Rose Tinted World: DIY Halloween Bowling Game

Mimi, a great name for Grandma: DIY Bubbling Cauldron

You might also be interested to see some more ideas to use old doilies: