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What Is Toile?
The word “toile” comes from the French word for linen cloth. The word is shortened from the full name toile de Jouy, which means linen or cloth from the town of Jouy-en-Josas, in the suburbs of Paris. Toile de Jouy was a specific type of linen printed with romantic, pastoral patterns in a single color—usually black, blue, or red—on an unbleached fabric.
Although the word toile means fabric, the word toile has evolved to also refer to the original design aesthetic of the fabric. Toile designs are popular for non-fabric items like wallpaper and fine china.
Toile also refers to a test garment pattern makers and designers use to perfect a new design.
What Is the History of Toile?
Printed toile fabric was originally produced in Ireland in the eighteenth century. The printed textile quickly became popular across France, when the German-born Christophe-Philipe Oberkampf opened a factory in Jouy-en-Josas in 1760. Oberkampf’s factory was one of the first major producers of toile. Even though the printed fabric was originally Irish, the textile became known as toile de Jouy or toile for short, eventually spreading across the rest of Europe.
Oberkampf worked with the prolific designer Jean-Baptiste Huet, who is responsible for several of the historical patterns of the cloth. Those initial designs were single-color prints on a white background featuring pastoral scenes, vignettes with people from the French country, and references to European mythology. The subject matter has changed over time, but Huet’s classic, provincial aesthetic and simple, single-color design remains the standard for toile today.
What Is Toile Used for Today?
Toile fabric is used for homewares, like curtains and bed sheets. Toile designs are particularly popular for wallpaper and fine china.
- Window treatments. Toile fabric has been used for curtains and valances since its inception.
- Upholstery. Toile fabric is a frequently used on chairs, pillows, sofas.
- Clothing. Toile fabric is used for aprons, dresses, and shirts. While the clothing can be made out of any type of fabric, the patterns specifically classify them as toile.
- China. Many antique tea sets have single-color pastoral designs. Toile designs are still used frequently on modern fine-dining sets.
- Bedding. Toile designs are popular for bed sheets, duvets, and canopy covers.
- Wallpaper. Toile designs feature often on wallpaper, as the repeating patterns can create a nice accent wall in a neutral space. The fabric and design became popular in France under the reign of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, and the use in the home today is a nod to the monarch’s decorating style.
What Is the Difference Between Toile and Toile de Jouy?
While toile is the shortened form of toile de Jouy, toile can also refer to the first prototype for a garment made from muslin or a similar plain, light fabric. Most designers need to make several toiles before perfecting a design. The goal of a toil is to capture the spirit of the final garment through shape, draping, and fabric choice. This is the first time a designer will see their piece in a three-dimensional form. Toiles are usually made from unbleached woven cotton or single-knit jersey, or they can be made out of muslin, which is a loose woven cotton fabric. These pattern tests are also sometimes referred to as “muslins.”
Fabric Care Guide: How Do You Care for Toile Fabric?
Since toiles can be printed on a variety of fabrics—from cotton to linen to canvas—make sure to follow the washing instructions for the specific textile. Keep in mind when caring for your toile that you don’t want the patterns to fade or bleed. The following instructions are a good general guideline for modern printed fabrics. Historic or heirloom toiles should always be dry cleaned.
- Hand wash toile in cold water, or put the fabric in the washing machine on a cold gentle cycle so the dye won’t bleed.
- Wash toile with like colors, probably other light colored or white items.
- Use a gentle detergent.
- If you opt to hang to dry, do not dry in the sun, so colors don’t fade and fabric doesn’t stiffen.
- Tumble dry on low.
Learn more about fashion design in Marc Jacobs’s MasterClass.