Toile is popular patterned print that touts a time-honored heritage. With a provincial aesthetic comprised of pictorial scenes with intricate illustrations, its patterns have been prized for several centuries. Today toile continues to thrive, with its pastoral prints perpetually popping up across the design industry. The information below briefly traces the history of toile, highlighting its longstanding legacy and ever-evolving subject matters.
Featuring delicately detailed depictions of the bucolic French countryside, toile takes its name from the village of Jouy-en-Josas in France, where it was first popularized in the 1760s. The word toile itself is derived from the French word for linen cloth. Traditionally, toiles portrayed pastoral scenes and vignettes of people populating French landscapes, as well as some references to European mythology. Typically printed in red, blue, or black, on an unbleached white background, toiles were most often monochromatic with carefully crafted graphics that were repeated to render a whimsical pattern. “When printed toiles were first invented in the mid-18th century, they created an aesthetic revolution in textile design, which could only have happened with the new technology of engraved copperplate printing using colorfast dyes,” says Lorraine Lang of Scalamandre. “Their creativity is told in pictorial story, by exceptional drawings that reflect the cultural tastes and political celebrations of their times.”
Contemporary Use of Toile
Since its inception, the toile pattern has evolved to portray more contemporary themes. While continuing to hint at the unique history behind its preeminent patterning, modern adaptions include a myriad of new motifs and more playful subject matters such as colorful cityscapes and culinary scenes, as well as exotic Chinoiseries settings. Its elegant motifs can be seen cladding copious contemporary interior elements from wallcoverings and upholstery to fabrics and fine China, not to mention that toile is also known for its use in fashion textiles. “Today, we see a resurgence of the toile, following traditional design’s reemergence,” says Lang. “Our ever-evolving printing technology, which is digital, allows for the beautiful line drawings of the toile, while manipulating the prints and colors and making them our own.”
The 18th-century patterns still offer an ideal way to infuse classic character into any space, with unexpected whimsy and flair. Though its focus has fluctuated over the years, the unique aesthetic of toile’s playful provincial patterning has remained a steadfast standard in design.