Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Touch of Elegance: Shelf Trim

Lovely readers, what do you know about lace edging on shelves? I've taken a recent interest in this topic, and here's why:

Ever since Caroline from Caroline's Clothing left me a comment on one of my recent posts about how she loves edging like this on vitrines and cabinets with glass doors and actually reproduced this effect on the buffet in her kitchen, I've been scouring the internet to find out more about this tradition.

(Caroline, to answer your question, this photo was taken in a local antique store. I snapped this picture to remind my future self to try this out if I ever get the right cabinet!)

From the calendar "Aus Großmutters Küche" by Christa Versley, Korsch Verlag

But it seems very little has been written on this topic! So I'm going to offer every bit of knowledge I've acquired about decorating shelf edges, and in exchange, I would love to hear anything you know about this topic! (See the end of this post for more details.)

Apparently shelf decorations can take two forms:

  1. lace or a ruffle is used to be tacked or glued onto the edge of a shelf in a cabinet or closet ("shelf edging" or "shelf trim")

  2. or

  3. a shelf is covered with a cloth that ends with a bit of lace or a ruffle that hangs off the side ("shelf lining" or sometimes also "shelf trim")

Shelf Edging / Shelf Trim

Doll shelf from Rapunzel Minis

The oldest variety of edgings to be tacked onto the edge of a shelf were strips of cloth lace, as with the first photo in this post, the photo above, and the one directly below.

Available in Europe on eBay

Source: Jans Minis

Isn't the china hutch for a dollhouse picture above just delightful? I found this picture at Jans Minis, where you can go to buy the knitting pattern for this miniature lace.

Some modern manufacturers aim to recreate this aesthetic with vinyl "lace" that can adheres easily onto a shelf edge, as in this example:

Source: Eastlake Victorian blog

Some creative crafters have come up with another way of decorating shelf edges in a similar way using paper trim cut to look like lace:

Source: Just Something I Made

Apparently this idea is not so new after all! Fran Manos from Something for (almost) Nothing posted her experiments with making paper lace edging in a blog entry I highly recommend reading. She starts off with a quote taken from "From the Banks of Plum Creek" by Laura Ingalls Wilder that is so appropriate to this topic that I would like to include it here:

...Ma brought out two long strips of brown wrapping-paper that she had saved. She folded them, and she showed Mary and Laura how to cut tiny bits out of the folded paper with the scissors. When each unfolded her paper, there was a row of stars.

Ma spread the paper on the shelves behind the stove. The stars hung over the edges of the shelves, and the light shone through them.

Source: Something for (almost) Nothing

Doda from Doda's Creative Wanderings uses a somewhat simpler but nevertheless attractive method to make her paper shelf edging: decorative paper punches. The result is quite attractive:

Source: Doda's Creative Wanderings

Lace isn't the only ornament used for shelf edges. Take a close look at this picture of a linen closet in a New York apartment from 1925. Notice how cloth ruffles are used instead of lace?

Source: Museum of the City of New York, via Pretty Little Houses

Many of the examples of ruffled shelf edging I've come across online are of the vinyl variety and appear to date to around the 50s, like these:

Available at itsybitsandpieces's Etsy Store

Available at kmichel's Etsy Store

Available at IndulgeYourShelf's Etsy Store (love that name!)

Available at SherryAnney's Etsy Store

You can also find decorative bands with patterns that attach to the edge of a shelf in lieu of true lace or a ruffle, like this from the Swedish designer Lotta Kühlhorn, available at Curiouser and Curiouser:

Available at Curiouser and Curiouser

And check out this original packaging for a paper shelf edging band, taken from the delightful blog The Kitchy Collector Home of C. Diane Zweig:

Source: C. Diane Zweig

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Shelf Lining / Shelf Trim

Lace shelf decorations could also be attached to a cloth shelf liner. This piece of plain fabric was as wide as the shelf itself, such that the lace sewn onto one of the edges would hang attractively over the side of your cabinet shelf.

Source: Cabin & Cottage

Available at HarrietsDaughter's Etsy Store

Another type of shelf liner has an edge that ends not in lace, but in a ruffle cut directly into the cloth itself and embroidered.

Available at MiLady's Vintage Linens

Beautiful Art Nouveau shelf lining Recently sold on eBay

As with the shelf edging above, shelf liners need not be made of cloth. Here is what looks to be a 1970s take on this tradition using paper instead of fabric.

Paper shelf lining available at 1 Stop Retro Shop

A question for you

Yes, I know more about shelf trim now than when I began researching this topic. (And hopefully you do, too!) But many questions remain unanswered: When did this tradition begin? Is it more of an Old World custom, or was it in widespread use in the New World as well? When did it start to fall out of fashion?

That last question should not imply that shelf trimming is totally unheard of today. Careyann from Pretty Little Houses includes some examples of lace shelf liners and edgings in modern magazines like Martha Stewart and Country Living in her post on linen closets. Still, I strongly suspect this decorative technique was in more widespread use in previous decades.

So, my lovely readers, I will ask you when and where have you encountered shelf trimming. What do you associate it with? Have you ever tried to put edging on your own furniture, and if so, how did it turn out?


  1. I don't know anything about it as a tradition but it's very pretty.

    1. My Grandmother had edging on her shelves in the kitchen and I loved it. She also made little curtains that were hung on string and could be opened and closed as they had no doors on their cabnits back in the 1930's & 40's. I still use the shelf edging in paper lace but did not think they made it any more. Some of my shelves have fabric lace. So many lovely honemaking ideas from our past.

  2. Hallo und vielen Dank für den Tipp - result, ha!

    VLG, nic

  3. If you read Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, they built a Whatnot shelf for the corner and edged it in little points with newspaper and then varnished it.

    1. Well, I did not know that. Sure enough, the Wikipedia entry for "What-not" mentions this passage!

  4. I just found your post, I have been trying to get some information on vintage paper shelf edging/trim. I just bought 3 lovely rolls of (I think) German edging. You can see on my post here
    There is not a lot of info out there that I could find. Really enjoyed running across your post.

    1. Thank you a hundred times, Helen, for coming here to share your blog post. I am astounded at how unusual your find was——never have I encountered anything like it, especially with the combination of color and embossing to create a real "lace" effect.

      Lovely readers, head on over to Helen's blog and take a look! Here's a hyperlink to the post in question.

  5. I tried to respond to your e-mail, but I think you are set to a no-reply blogger. The older lady that sold them to me said she brought them over with her from Germany (I think maybe her husband was stationed there at one time). I am taking her word that they are and looking at the quality I would tend to believe her. Thanks for the info you provided and I quite enjoyed your post.

  6. I have used this in my powder room. There was a window to the outside in the space that was converted to a half bath and the folks that did the renovation boarded up the window and built narrow shelfs in the opening. They have no doors so I painted them white and found some shelf edging at Walmart (several years ago). I edged the shelves and had enough left over to replace it one time. So now I am on a search to buy more and found your blog. I think I am going to try the vinyl edging this time. It would make cleaning the shelves easier.

  7. I was born in the late 1950's and well remember visiting my (paternal) great grandmother's house on Sunday afternoons. In her kitchen she had a china cupboard, painted white, with glass doors, where she displayed all of her glassware. It was always edged with "lace" that she crocheted using very fine crochet thread......usually white, but sometimes in the soft variegated pastel shades that were popular at that time. It would then be starched to hang properly and secured with thumb tacks. My grandmother immigrated to the US from Hungary in 1918 when she was about 17 years old so I don't know if this treatment was something that she brought with her from "the old country" or something that she adopted as a custom in her new one.

    I also remember my mother using the paper shelf liner with the edge that folded over the front of the shelf to create the "edging". In later years, she used the self-adhesive plastic ruffles. This was placed even in cupboards and closets without glass-front doors to serve as a little touch of "pretty when one went into the closet or cupboard.

    My husband and I are currently renovating the kitchen in our 100+ year old home and trying to stay as close to "period" in appearance as possible, hence my interest in shelf edgings. Many thanks for the ideas and resources.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Since you mention it, starching the lace before applying it to the shelf edges does make a lot of sense, both since it will hold its shape better and because it will be more resistant to dirt (that was one of the advantages of starching collars back in the day...).

      If you ever post pictures somewhere of your renovated shelves, please feel free to post a link here. Good luck with the work ahead of you!


The Hausfrau eagerly awaits your thoughts.