With Bastille Day approaching tomorrow, we are reminded of all things French: excellent food, wine and fashion. Speaking of fashion and textiles, this year marks the 250th anniversary of the founding of the original Toile de Jouy textile factory. This factory, more than any other in Europe, became associated with the classic Toile de Jouy fabric designs.
“Toiles” as most Americans refer to them, are an 18th century genre of textile, that originated in France. These calico textiles are usually monochromatic in color (e.g., a blue print on a white background) and depict country scenes, characters or beautiful florals. They are common today in the form of bed-linens, curtains, decorative accessories and even fashion design.
Up until the middle of the 18th century, only labor-intensive hand-blocked textiles were available. However in 1752, the process of machine printing fabric from engraved copper plates was invented in Ireland. Now larger quantities of fabric could be produced more efficiently. The printed textile industry in the 18th century was similar to the electronics industry today in that it was strategic in industrializing a nation’s economy. During this century textiles, more than furniture or cutlery, were the most valuable household assets.
In 1760 Christoph Oberkamp, a German immigrant to France, established the first factory of roller-printed textiles in the village of Jouy-en-Josas. The factory was located conveniently just three miles from the Court of Versailles to service the French King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. The factory successfully competed against the traditional wool or cotton industries. Its’ Toiles became extremely popular and were used in fashion and to cover furniture and bedding.
More historical facts are detailed in Anne de Thoisy’s new Museum Guide book titled “La Musee de Toile de Jouy” which is available on the museum’s website under (www.ToiledeJouyMuseum.fr). As curator of the Toile Museum, Anne’s “obsession for toiles” lead her to assemble, organize and display one of the most extensive collection of all things Toile in Europe.
If you are planning a trip to Paris, a day excursion to the Toile de Jouy Textile Museum is well worth the time. This trip can be conveniently coupled with an afternoon visit to the Court of Versailles nearby. These exquisite museum collections reveal to the visitor the important contributions of France to European culture of the 18th-century.
Toiles are still relevant today in the field of design and are considered “classics” that have stood the test of time. These “storied fabrics” reflect the times, lives and culture that created them and are as popular today as they were 250 years ago!