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Annie - San Francisco, CA

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Wednesday
Aug252010

Toiles on the Brain

I don't know why, but I simply cannot stop thinking about Toile de Jouy lately. This is odd because while I love its history, design, and long-standing appeal, I have always found that when it's used, it tends to be over-used. For some reason Toile de Jouy is synonymous with "heavy-handed". One is nice, but layers upon layers is just too insane.

Um, yeah.

Usually depicting a pastoral or allegorical scene, toiles are leafy and narrative - like a Fragonard painting on a textile for the home. Later on, toiles picked up on the Oriental trend with Chinoiserie pastorals in bright reds and deep blacks. This was especially the case as 20th century textile designers adapted toile prints for barkcloth fabrics.

According to the fabulous textile tome Textile Designs by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers (a must-have book - go buy it now!), the first toile was actually created in Ireland by Francis Nixon of Drumcondra, in 1752. It wasn't long before the French caught on to the printing technique and began their own production at the famous Oberkampf mill in Jouy as early as 1783. "Oberkampf hired the best artists of the time to design these prints...the toiles made his name - they were what today would be called his luxury line." The museum of Toile de Jouy is in the town of Jouy (near Versailles) at the Chateau Eglantine.

A colorized version of a famous Oberkampf toile, depicting the process of making Toile de Jouy.

Toiles are sometimes associated with Spode or Burleigh tableware collections, which isn't entirely wrong. Both the textiles and pottery are printed with copperplate techniques, with a similar look and motifs in the design. The pottery is a transferware however, and the textile is printed.

I do think that in smaller doses it's incredibly chic and a lot of fun. It's not exactly modern, but it's two-toned patterns add a lot to an otherwise-boring room - as long as you keep everything else really simple and clean. For me, I'm thinking maybe just a toss pillow or two will be a new way to tie my apartment together.

This is great, but even a little bit of the so-called "classic" blue & white makes me want to cry. To me it always looks like an unhappy tea service.

These are some naughty kids playing on this toile!

I loved this idea of coloring in a black & white toile, as seen on Cumbersome.com. Simple, modern, and playful! While classic toiles depict just one or two colors on a plain white or cream background, the newer toiles combine colored motifs on colored backgrounds, making them more vibrant and less stodgy. But, the influx of pink-and-black and pink-and-green "preppy" toiles hurts my eyes (and brain). Some of these new toiles get so far away from the original spirit of the textile that it's just plain wrong. A good toile should have the essence of the classic somehow; this type of textile is not meant to be dumbed-down!

Cliché anyone? This is absolutely awful.

I do love this yellow & black toile for some reason - maybe because I need something to punch up my reds a bit? Too bad this is a wallpaper...

I guess I'm drawn to toiles because there's something familiar and eternally elegant about them, but at the same time they have a sense of humor. Their opulent motifs can only be taken with a grain of salt, or the room would be very serious indeed. I'm going to keep noodling on toiles in the hope that I can sort out a more modern take, and I'll keep you posted!

Images from The Design Vote, a photo of Red on Red by Stephanie Hoppen, Cumbersome, and internet searches.

Reader Comments (2)

Gosh, I learned so much from reading this. Why go to art school when I can read P&C? I agree that it is best in small doses.
August 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatie
I love the subversive toiles where the designer hides little modern things in the design of the toile. So fun!
August 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjill

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