Each week I'm going to investigate a different design style, tradition or icon. I thought I'd start off by looking at toile: a classic fabric and wallpaper design which has experienced a revival in the last few years. It's often regarded as a quaint style, but it's always fascinating as every design tells a story. In fact, this one tells the story of Robinson Crusoe!
Toile de Jouy (or toile for short) features a repeated pattern of a complex image, in one colour on a white background. The pattern of the original toiles showed floral arrangements or scenes of contemporary life at the time.
Toile de Jouy was first made in the late 18th century in a French textile factory in Jouy-en-Josas, near Versailles. The word toile is French for cloth or canvas and Jouy, obviously, comes from the name of the town.
The factory, founded by Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf, initially produced floral designs using wood blocks, which limited the pattern to about 10” in size. The Oberkampf factory eventually moved into copperplate printing, which was easier, required less manpower and allowed them to create larger scale repeat areas of up to a yard.
The original toiles depicted idyllic pastoral scenes and a range of settings near the factory in Jouy, showing people hunting, working, picnicking, fishing, drinking, dancing and courting.
Toile de Jouy became very popular with the upper classes and the French royal family were big fans. Other factories produced toile fabrics, but the Oberkampf factory was still regarded as the original and best. Louis XVI awarded the factory the “Manufacture Royale” title to the factory in 1783 and one of the most famous designs, Les travaux de la manufacture (“the activities of the factory”), was created to commemorate the occasion. This design depicts the processes involved in making the fabrics and an original is kept at the V&A Museum.
No history of toile is complete without a mention of Timorous Beasties. The fantastic Scottish design duo brought the toile concept into the 21st century with their Glasgow and London toiles. Just as the Oberkampf designers produced scenes of contemporary life near the factory, so Timorous Beasties show is Glasgow in all its drug dealing, streetwalking, Tennants Super-swigging glory.
You can find out much more about toile at www.quiltersmuse.com , the source of much of the information in this post.
Toile tends to polarise opinions – what do you think? Love it or hate it? Would you use in your home?