The patterns are based on a 1760 innovation in textile printing where manufacturers were able to switch from block printing to a more mechanized copperplate printing. The first factory to adopt this new technology was in Jouy-en-Josas (hence the name), near the French court at Versailles. The technique soon spread through brazen industrial espionage to Britain, and then to Colonial America.
Historically, the patterns were typically black, blue or red on a white or cream background. Subjects included aristocratic figures in an idealized country setting, famous buildings and monuments, and "Chinese" figures in an imaginary landscape of pagodas and fretwork bridges. Today, designers like Manuel Canovas have reinvented the traditional patterns in rich, saturated color combinations, while others have applied a more traditional toile aesthetic to contemporary — even subversive — vignettes.
1. Balleroy by Manuel Canovas, at Cowtan & Tout
2. Paysannerie Toile de Jouy, £60.01/roll at Fabrics & Papers
3. Laura Ashley Toile, $24.65/roll at Creative Wallcovering
4. Belle Fleur #SW6FB2845 by Patton Wallcoverings, $15.94/roll at Sherwin-Williams
5. Muscat in Cherry by Lewis & Wood, £56.10/roll
6. Toile Cornelia in Russet by Marvic Textiles Wallpaper, £34.04/roll at Graham Sanderson Interiors
7. FC50303 by Galerie Wallcoverings, £34.95 at Graham Sanderson Interiors
8. Rococo by Lorca, at Osborne & Little
9. Perroquet by Nina Campbell, featuring an idealized mid-century country life, at Osborne & Little
10. London by Timorous Beasties, featuring urban vignettes like a mugging at gunpoint and drunk vagrants, $242/roll at The Future Perfect
A few artists and designers have found toile to be a medium ripe for cultural commentary, since historically the scenes featured only white people engaged in absurdly idealized pastoral activities. Designer Sheila Bridges created "Harlem Toile" in part to send up racial caricatures and prejudices. For "Spying on China," artist Jessica Smith took the Chinoiseries often featured in antique toiles and added tools of espionage. And Dan Funderburgh took his commission for the Chinatown Soccer Club and created Chinatown Toile, with scenes like a Chinese delivery truck, a grocery, and a soccer player stretching in a park.