Joining us today on the QuiltWoman.com blog is Kathleen Khosravi of Olive Leaf Quilts
Toile fabric, with its bucolic country scenes in contrasting colors, is quintessentially French. It fits squarely into the French provincial style. You may therefore be surprised to learn that it did not originate in France. Rather, it was part of the “Indienne” cottons that were imported from India in the sixteenth century. The cloth was an instant success because it was not only beautiful, but lightweight and washable as well. Its triumph was so complete that in 1686, King Louis XIV placed an embargo on the importation of all cottons because they were such a threat to the French fabric industry.
Of course, peoples feelings about the fabric did not change just because it was outlawed by the king. In fact, the quest for it continued to flourish, albeit…quietly.
The ban was lifted in 1759, and French manufacturers realized they should be creating toile patterns themselves. French toile fabric began in the town of Jouy-en-Josas, hence the expression, toile de Jouy. Toile fabric from India was block printed using wood blocks. Production began in France this way as well, but it didn’t take long for the clever French to adapt it to copperplate printing methods, which were new technology at the time. This created sharper, more precise renderings on fabric. In other words, it got better!
So, while the French did not invent toile fabric, they certainly perfected it!
As a collector of French fabrics, I have gathered some beautiful examples. The quilt above, entitled “Etoile,” meaning “star,” was designed to feature a collection of toile fabrics. Black and red fabrics generate lines that intersect diagonally and create checkerboards that move across the quilt. It was created using two traditional blocks, the eight pointed star, and the snowball. Combining these blocks in an alternate setting creates a strong overall design that displays different toile fabrics and provides areas to showcase quilting.