Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Toile de Jouy – Part 1: Use and History


by Mia Madrid

The expansive collection of garments and textiles held here at the Design Center is a treasure trove for students and textile enthusiasts alike, but it also presents a challenge in archiving, organizing and storing these pieces. When processing donations, the question becomes what to keep and what to pass along because we want to safeguard an inventory of items that is well organized and easy to access. This semester, my main project is sorting through one particular closet in a room we call “The Wallpaper Room.” The closet in question is home to 6 shelves, each holding at least 8 large archival blue board boxes. Their tags read anything from “Ikat Study Box Wovens” to “Printed Silk, 30s and 40s,” but currently I am focusing on a box labeled “Rolled Textiles – Toile de Jouy.” 

Although many may not recognize the name, most people are familiar with the iconic single-color, intricate, illustrative scenes printed on plain linen or cotton that are characteristic of Toiles de Jouy. They came into fashion in the mid 18th century, and have had more recent bursts in popularity seen in 1970s blouses, and on runways in the 21st century. They are also known as interior design features – often in extreme maximalism – covering walls, bedspreads and curtains all at once. Part of what distinguishes Toile de Jouy prints is that they are storytelling devices. The Design Center’s collection of Toiles de Jouy offers a representative sampling of the range in themes depicted within these remarkable textiles. They can be floral, geometric, mythological, pastoral, political, and even tell stories of war, love, and enterprise. While sorting through our pieces, it became clear that a deeper knowledge of the history of these fabrics is essential to appreciating their importance and place within our collection.

image from House and Garden

Toile is a French word for cloth or fabric, and the term originally indicated a pattern resembling woven fabric as contrasted with the net ground in lace, but it later took on a more general usage as Toile de Jouy, which were printed linen fabrics made in Jouy-en-Josas, France (Tortora et al 582). When looking into the history of Toile de Jouy, I learned that a French-German industrialist by the name of Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf  was integral to the creation and popularization of this fabric. The East India Trading companies began importing Toiles peintes, or painted cottons, to Europe in the late 16th century (Riffel et al l3). Known widely as printed calicos, these fabrics were sturdy and easy to clean, making them extremely popular for garments and interior furnishings. In fact, they became so highly sought after that they started impacting the sales of traditional French textiles such as silk and wool cloth, and the corporations that manufactured those materials demanded the French government take action. In 1686, “the Conseil d’Etat passed a decree prohibiting the importation, production and use of printed calico” (Riffel et al 13). This remained the case for three quarters of a century, but given the high demand for the textiles, and the unenforceable nature of the decree, it was lifted in 1759.

Just as the restrictions were finally being removed, Oberkampf arrived in Jouy-en-Josas, France with plans to start a printing company to create what, for centuries to come, would be known as the Toiles de Jouy. Using wood block printing techniques from India, and then a more precise technique involving engraved copperplate printing, Oberkampf’s technicians printed tens of thousands of lengths of cloth each year. The factory in Jouy sold so many textiles that it received the title of Manufacture Royale in 1783 and Oberkampf was awarded Legion d’Honneur by Napoleon in 1806. The robust success of the factory and of the textiles themselves carried it through the tempestuous years of the French Revolution and through a temporary closure during the Napoleonic Wars of 1814-15 until it finally closed after 83 years of production in 1843 (Riffel et al 15).

To read about the Toiles de Jouy we have here in the Design Center collection, come back for part 2…

T&CC 1976.57.58

Works Cited:

Kingcome, Gavin, and Elfreda Pownall. “Imogen Taylor’s Bedroom Decorated with Toile De Jouy Wallpaper and Matching Fabric from GP & J Baker.” House and Garden, Conde Nast Britain, 20 Jan. 2021, Accessed 2 Mar. 2023.

Riffel, Mélanie, and Sophie Rouart. Toile De Jouy Printed Textiles in the Classic French Style. Thames Hudson, 2003.

Tortora, Phyllis G., and Robert S. Merkel. Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles. Fairchild Publications, 2005.

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