There are some fabrics that really grab my imagination and inspire me, and toile is definitely one of them.
Toile, or toile du jouy (to give it its full name) is a traditional fabric of French design, featuring one-color pastoral scenes on a white or cream background. The word ‘toile’ literally means ‘cloth’ in French and the material takes its name from the village of Jouy-en-Josas, where it was first produced commercially back in the 1700s.
Toile has a subtle elegance that I simply adore, and I love the fact that it comes from such a rich historical background but still looks beautiful in contemporary settings.
There’s such an interesting story behind the development of this lovely fabric. Toile was first produced in 1760 in the Oberkampf factory in France. It was printed using wooden blocks that were only about 10” big, each one engraved with a mirror image of the finished design. The printing process was so long and tedious that prices had to be kept high; buying toile was only possible for the very rich or royal.
But the owner of the factory, textile entrepreneur Christophe Oberkampf had a plan to mass produce toile. In England, he had discovered the secret of copper-plate roller printing, and in a stunning example of industrial espionage, smuggled the information out by writing it on cotton fabric using ‘invisible’ ink.
Christophe Oberkampf, founder of the first toile factory
With the new method he had learnt, Oberkampf took his toile business to new heights. But his fortunes fell as quickly as they had risen. In an unrelated but gruesome twist of fate, British troops ended up destroying his factory in Jouy-en-Josas, and the printmaker died soon after, brokenhearted by the destruction of his life’s work.
Luckily there were many others who took up the production of toile, and today you can find these designs on fabric, paper and even ceramics! You can’t miss the distinctive style – joyful country scenes, always with a sense of frolic and carefree abandon.
So how do you use it? Well, the great thing about toile is that you can incorporate as little or as much as you like into your living space.
What do you think: Too much? Or do you love it?
There’s something about this style of fabric that makes it work even where some other design would look like “too much”. It doesn’t overwhelm a space. Artwork looks beautiful layered on a toile wall, like in this image:
But if you’re just looking for a little touch of toile, you could try a pair of pillows or a bed covering.
In my own house, I am so inspired by toile I had an entire sofa upholstered in this beautiful fabric!
Oh, how I wish I could commission a custom toile, depicting a modern day in our lives. I would be under a tree in the garden, with my two boys, my two basenji’s and my laptop of course!
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