Décor Dictionary: Toile de Jouy

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Toile de Jouy: (often simply referred to as “toile”) is a repeated single-coloured pattern depicting intricate scenes, usually of a pastoral theme (such as a couple having a picnic by a lake). Other Toile imagery include arrangements of flowers and fruit, country or farming landscapes and mythological and period-specific figures. The term derives from French – “Toile” meaning cloth, while “Jouy” refers to the French town Jouy-en-Josas, near Versailles. 

Pssst, wanna know more about Toile? Read this very interesting and informative article: James Russell on the History of Toile de Jouy

[Image Sources: 1, 2]

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History of Toile de Jouy

James Russell on the History of Toile de Jouy

By James Russell

“Saucy!” thought I, as I looked closer at the etched picture that had caught my eye whilst paging through a sample book of Toile de Jouy fabrics. At first glance it was a blue on white monochromatic Pastoral scene of “country folk” frolicking amongst ‘vignettes’ of farm buildings, sheep herding, farming, hunting and the like, but on closer inspection I noticed that one of the young farmers had his hand down the cleavage and was cupping the breast of a maiden, whilst another young lad had his arm up the voluminous skirts of a shepherdess.

Some farming imagery on this lovely ochre and indigo toile fabric.

Modern marketers will tell you that “sex sells” and I’m sure this was as true in the 1700 & 1800’s as it is today. It is also said “that the Devil is in the detail” and I suppose it is ‘the detail’ that first intrigued me about Toile de Jouy. Looking closer at some of the pictorial designs I became interested in the stories behind them. I’m by no means a history buff, but I do have a curious mind that questions.

Les Traveaux de la Manufacture which depicts the actual process of making toile fabrics.

As Europe started trading with India, cotton became a popular fibre for making cloth, so much so that the domestic wool and silk industries in both France & England started to suffer. In 1686 France placed a ban on both domestic & imported cotton fabrics, a ban that was only lifted after 70 years in 1856. After all this time, cotton must have seemed like a brand new commodity to the people of the day! Incidentally, the British also placed a ban on imported chintz (a basic cotton cloth) from 1701, and in 1720 to 1774 on all cotton fabrics, mainly due to cheaper Indian imports (so what’s new?)

On the left: Robinson Crusoe Toile and the right: Le Ballon de Gonesse

Like any entrepreneur, a young German engraver & colourist called Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf and his younger brother, saw the gap and “went for it” setting up a printing press in Jouy-en-Josas, a small village on the banks of the river Bievre, 16.4km south west of Paris. The initial designs, usually of flowers and fruits, were copied from books of engraved prints carved into small wood printing blocks. (One supposes that the laws on copyright were not as strict as they are today.) The clean waters of the (soon to be polluted) river were essential for the mordant printing methods used by the brothers. When they started the factory, the only piece of “furniture” they possessed was the printing press which they used to sleep on at night.

One of Harlequin Fabrics’ bold toile ranges.

The initial printing methods used a mordant, a substance used to set dyes on fabrics. Once printed with the mordant, the fabric was then dyed using various vegetable dyes. The fabric was then soaked in an acid such as stale cow’s urine or vinegar that acted as a fixative locking the dye to the printed mordant area of the cloth. It was then washed in the river to remove the loose dye, and dried on pontoons on the river to let the sunlight work as a bleaching agent on the non-dye fixed areas. This process was repeated a number of times until the background colour returned to white or cream and the print stood out.

Contemporary toile wallpapers. The scenes speak of the traditional, the colourways shouts “contemporary”.

There is a story, possibly an “urban legend” that Oberkampf sent his brother to Manchester to study (and steal) ideas from the Manchester mills. He is said to have written out his findings on pieces of cloth using a mordant solution which was invisible to the naked eye, but when dyed and treated using their printing method, revealed all. Having established that copyright was not sacrosanct, I’m not above believing in a little industrial espionage was amiss.

A contemporary toile in striking colours.

Using only the best quality cotton fabrics and with his Germanic adherence to detail, demand for the printed cloth (toile) from Jouy (de Jouy) grew rapidly and by 1774, only 14 year later, the company was employing 900 workmen. Over 30,000 wood blocks were utilized in the printing of the fabrics until in 1770 Oberkampf introduced the etched copperplate roller technique of printing fabrics. From then until the factory closed in 1843 some 700 copperplate designs were used. For nearly 80 years the designs from Jouy recorded in pictorial form a kind of journalism that depicted everything from historical happenings, travel (popularizing Indienne, Japonaise and Chinoiserie designs that proposed to picture people & everyday life in those far away lands), fashion trends that reflected the fascination with Egypt, inventions such as the flying balloon, politics, the Court & Royalty, architecture, the classics, modern literature and the arts.

Toile de Jouy Inspired Sneakers

By 1810 Oberkampf had made “toile” a household word/name not only in France, but throughout Europe and America as well. In today’s marketing terms this could possibly be seen as one of, if not the first time, that a “brand name” became synonymous with the product, much like we might say Hoover, Durex or Kleenex today. Many of the designs such as “Les Monuments d’Egypte”, “Les Traveaux de la Manufacture” (which depicts the manufacture and printing process of toile de Jouy), “Le Ballon de Gonesse” (depicting the first balloon flight from Paris to Gonesse) and the Robinson Crusoe Toile are considered classic toile de Jouy designs and were bought over by other French fabric companies when the company closed. Many of these classic designs are still in production today.

On the left a contemporary toile with an urban street scene as subject matter. Right, you have this funky scatter cushion from designlemonade.com – a traditional toile with a contemporary print.

Although there were a number of other companies producing printed cotton fabrics in France, England and later America, none were as popular as Oberkampf’s company. The Napoleonic Wars and the self-sufficiency of the American fabric industry contributed to its demise, yet still today companies producing “toile de Jouy” style fabrics continue the tradition of naming each “toile” such as “Glasgow Toile” by Timorous Beasties or the modern version of the “Ballon de Gonesse”. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the balloon flight, the children of Gonesse high school painted a mural of the famous toile as a mural on their school wall. Patrick Frey, then head of Pierre Frey fabrics was so taken with the mural that he bought the rights to the wall and had it converted into a toile.

Here is an awesome local toile design by talented Capetownian, Wendren Setzer (aka The WREN Design). The design is called Darling Toile de Jouy! Love it!

Originally designed as dress fabrics and later used for interior décor, toiles have become perennial, and are now used on anything from wallpapers, ceramics and gumboots to beanbags, directors chairs, lampshades and ‘takkies’. So next time you see a toile being used and are tempted to dismiss it, to take it for granted, to overlook the detail by consigning it to the category of “pretty picture fabric”, look a little closer for the Devil is in the detail along with sex, drugs and rock & roll too!

 Image sources:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

2011 Trend Watching – Part Three

By Marica

Throughout this week we have been chatting about the various trends we have observed in 2011. We kicked off Part One with our favourite Décor Style Trends and discussed our most-loved Colour Trends in Part Two. Today, in Part 3, we continue our Trends 2011 discussion with a look at our favourite Pattern trends of the past year…

Pattern Trends:

Pattern, textile and other surface designs play a larger role in the establishment of interior design & decor trends than we think. It is also no secret that current Fashion Trends have some influence on future Décor Trends. Since Pattern makes bold visual and stylistic statements, it is one of the first elements decor gleams from fashion (after style, of course). Where in the minimalist contemporary trend of the previous 5 years pattern was rarely used, interiors are now filled with gorgeous pattern.

Geometrics:

For the past year everywhere we looked we saw geometric patterns – fabrics, rugs, decor pieces, even in elements of furniture design. This funky change in pattern was a breath of fresh air to the tired trends of yesteryear that contained mostly organic shapes (that is if it contained pattern at all).

The beauty of these trending geometric patterns is that they can take up an array of shapes, forms, scales and cultural influences. For instance – we saw a lot of chinois-inspired lattice, links and brickwork geos; some beautiful and bold nautical stripes; Greek Keys; Moroccan Quatrefoils; Tribal African Geos; and even beautiful rustic Navajo geometrics.

The most popular geos of the 2011 were a lot less complicated – bold chevron and thick herringbone patterns and solid triangles – most of course, in bright daring colours or contrasting black on white.

And while most bold patterns have a definite contemporary vibe, they also signify a return to tradition as most of the geos are historical significant. You know what they say – trends are cyclic and bound to repeat (hopefully with a contemporary twist).

Truly my favourite trend of the past year and happily still going strong – we are going to see a lot more geos in 2012. It’s definitely hip to be square…and triangular…and rectangular…

Toile:

 

Toile has been around for centuries (from the 18th century to be exact) and this highly detailed pattern has always been a favoured addition to traditional and classic interiors. Usually consisting of a white or off-white background on which a fairly intricate scene is printed in a single colour. Toile patterns generally tell a story in pastoral themes such as a couple having a picnic by a lake, fisherman in their boats, or farmers working the fields.

Toile has however received a contemporary revamp in the past couple of years that has boosted it to trend. Now, not only limited to fabrics anymore – we see beautiful toiles on wallpaper in surprising and bold colours. Gone are the boring black/brown on white prints – think pink, shocking pink! With this trendy adaption Toile can now look stunning in even a funky cotemporary interior.

Florals:

The floral trend is back in full force – and it’s probably got the nostalgic trend to thank for it! Entering mainstream trends a year or two ago (although florals has always been on the backburners), the runways are now an explosion of florals in all shapes and sizes.

Bright 80s prints, dainty romantic florals in pastels, big florals in watery brushstrokes, and beautiful vintage prints all provide just the right amount of whimsy. I’ve even seen some interiors that took a rather “Victorian” approach in their use of florals – that is to say florals EVERYWHERE…and bizarrely enough I quite liked it.

Ikat:

Ikat patterns were hot, hot, hot last year.  Essentially a dyeing technique, and similar to the tie-dying process, it is originally produced in several pre-Columbian Central and South American cultures. The technique has however been adopted by many eastern countries. Ikat weaving styles vary widely and many design motifs may have ethnic or symbolic meaning.

One of the main reasons why Ikat enjoyed so much popularity in the past year (other than the fact that it’s deliciously ethnic) is once again bold use of colour. Exotic tie-dye patterns in hot pink, deep blue and bright orange – beautiful! I however think that Ikat has a “shelf-life”, we best enjoy it while we can.

Oh, there are still a good handful of trends we really enjoyed this past year, but since we don’t want to bore you with a long spiel, here in closing are a few images of some other favourites…

Other Favourites…

Use of Typography
Illustration and sketching
Chinoiserie
Animal prints - especially birds and rabbits
Geo 1, 2
Toile 1, 2
Floral
Ikat
Typography
Illustration and Sketching
Animal Prints
Chinoiserie