Toile de Jouy
If you’ve ever visited a Colonial America site such as Williamsburg, you’ve seen toile. Originally known as Toile de Jouy, toile is a small decorative repeat pattern of a complex scene, usually printed in one color on a white or cream background. Traditional designs depicted mythological or pastoral themes such as landscapes with animals, picnicking couples, or floral arrangements. However, toile just as often depicted more modern events such as hot air balloon voyages.
Toile was originally produced in Ireland in the mid-18th century but quickly became popular in England and France. Toile de Jouy translates to “cloth from Jouy”, a small village southwest of Paris where Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf established a factory for printed cotton in 1760. It became a decorating staple, used in both fabric and wallpaper and was introduced into the American colonies by Benjamin Franklin, who in 1770, while in England, bought a bolt to bring back to Philadelphia as a gift for his wife.
Ever since, toile has come in and out of fashion. The style saw an upsurge in popularity in the 1930’s with the popularity of Colonial Williamsburg and in the 1970’s during Bicentennial celebrations. Toile once again grew in popularity at the beginning of the 21st century.
Lately designers have rediscovered and reinvented toile once again, using colored backgrounds and creating more modern images, often with tongue planted firmly in cheek. For instance, at flavorpaper.com you can find a design inspired by SanFrancisco Bay area legends such as Joe Montana and Angela Davis. Another modern toile design is a Brooklyn inspired pattern that depicts everything from Coney Island to pigeons to Notorious B.I.G.
Toile has been around for hundreds of years, and it appears it will continue to go in and out of style for years to come.