The Tale of Toile
Updated: Feb 11
(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
Toile de Jouy, sometimes abbreviated to simply “toile” is a type of decorative pattern on which a repeated pattern depicting a fairly complex scene, generally of a pastoral theme such as a couple having a picnic by a lake or an arrangement of flowers.
The pattern portion consists of a single color, most often black, dark red, or blue. Greens, browns, and magenta toile patterns are less common, but not unheard of. Toile is most associated with fabrics (draperies and upholstery in particular, especially chintz), though toile wallpaper is also popular. Toile can also be used on teapots, beddings, clothing, etc. In upper-class (primarily American, but also northern European) society, toile is often seen on dresses or aprons used at such events as country-themed garden parties or tea parties.
Toiles were originally produced in Ireland in the mid-18th Century and quickly became popular in Britain and France. The term, Toile de Jouy, originated in France in the late 18th century. In the French language, the phrase literally means "cloth from Jouy-en-Josas", a town of north-central France.
Although it has been continuously produced since then, it experienced a marked upsurge in popularity around the year 2000. Previously only a decorating design, designers have been recently experimenting with toile-patterned apparel as well, although toile-patterned shirts were widely worn in the 1970s.
Toiles were very popular during the Colonial Era in the United States and are highly associated with preservationist towns and historical areas such as Colonial Williamsburg. When Williamsburg saw a re-popularization in the 1930s, so did toiles, as they did again in the 1970s in celebration of the United States Bicentennial.
Toile de jouy fabric originated in France in the 1760s. The original patterns usually depicted pastoral scenes; today there are many pattern choices and colors available. Here are dozens of ways to use toile to enliven a room, including decorating tips.
The French patterned cotton fabric known as toile de Jouy got its start in 1760 at a textile factory in the village of Jouy-en-Josas, southwest of Paris near Versailles. "Toile" simply means "cloth" in French, so that toile de Jouy literally means cloth of Jouy. But known more commonly by its shortened name, toile doesn't refer to just any cotton print from that region of France. Toile has a distinct look, even though it is available in a range of colors and patterns. The original 1760s patterns usually depicted pastoral scenes of the French countryside. Then more exotic Chinese themes became popular, as did famous moments from history. All were hand-drawn in a curvaceous style with fine detail that was then etched onto wood blocks and printed onto the fabric.
Tip: Take toile to the walls to create major character in a plain box bedroom, then repeat the pattern in tiny doses--on the neckrolls and bedskirt to tie the space together.
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