While you may not be familiar with toile (pronounced twahl) fabrics, you’ve surely seen them, as they’re quite eyecatching. Toile de Jouy, usually shortened to toile, is a pattern that is generally a pastoral scene, such as a couple picnicking by a lake, repeated throughout a white or off-white background. The patterned portion is usually printed in one color, usually a black, deep red or blue.
Toile originated in France in the 19th Century and it can be traced to Jouy-en-Josas, France, where the first commercial plant to mass produce toile began production in the mid 18th Century.
This plant originally used wood block printing methods that were costly and labor intensive. The plant’s owner, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf, uncovered secret etching techniques using copperplated rollers in England. Oberkampf stole the printing secrets, taking them home to France to produce his toiles.
Oberkampf’s toile fabrics became the height of fashion throughout France, and eventually made their way to other parts of the world. They first arrived in the United States when Ben Franklin brought some home for his wife. The height of elegance at this time was to decorate entire rooms in toile fabrics.
While toile has endured for 250 years, its popularity waxes and wanes. It became extremely popular in 2000, and Waverly released a line of toiles that brought them back into the decorating scene. Waverly’s toiles weren’t your everyday French toiles of one color on a crème background, but introduced multi-colored bucolic French scenes on different colored backgrounds.
Particularly popular were prints involving barnyard scenes and anything with a rooster in it. Roosters and farm scenes were popping up in kitchens all over the world, and this previously elegant and formal fabric became a more casual decorating staple.
So where do we stand with toile in the interior design world today? It’s hot, and will always have a place in interior design, but right now it’s being used in smaller doses.
A few years ago, toiles were not only gracing home décor fabrics, but wallpapers as well. It became overused, and people quickly tired of the big doses of toile. Toile creates such an impact, it’s best used in small doses. A quality toile fabric can transform the most drab room when used for draperies, throw pillows or to upholster smaller furniture. The cottage style of decorating in particular made great use of toile fabric and brought it to a more casual style.
Toile de Jouy fabric has been used in decorating for over two centuries, and it will continue to be used. What will change over the years is the colors and uses. Choosing toiles in classic colors and using it in small doses will give you a look to last for years to come.