Thursday, July 16, 2009

French fabrics

“Like the sirens calling to Ulysses, the French are drawn by the lure of fabric,” writes Cheryl MacLachlan. “No single element defines the character of the French home more than the abundance and variety of its fabrics.” In Bringing France Home, MacLachlan identifies the the “four quintessentially French fabrics"--toile, jacquard, petit point, and the provençales.

The French girl in me adores toile. Properly identified as toile de jouy, this fabric originated in the village Jouy-en-Josas in 1759 when a new process for printing on cotton was invented. Traditionally printed in red or blue, toile is now printed in all colors—green, violet, yellow—and is not limited to fabrics. While I have a beautiful blue and white toile boutis on my bed, I also have a yellow and blue toile Thibaut wallpaper in my powder room.

Even more colorful than toile, are the indiennes provençale fabrics we associate with Provence. Originally block printed in India and imported to France, these fabrics were once banned because of the impact of their popularity. After the Revolution this fabric fell out of favor, until the 1930s when it was manufactured again by the Deméry family in what is now the world famous company, Souleiado.

Jacquard, named for its inventor Joseph-Marie Jacquard, refers to the woven designs created on a special loom. Jacquard weaves are appreciated for their intricate and complex designs, which often result in rich, heavy, elegant fabric used in draperies, upholstery, and bedspreads. However, one of my favorite jacquard textiles are lovely cotton tea towels, woven by Tissage Moutet.

Once a craft practiced by only men, petit point later came to be associated with noblewomen and a proper upbringing. Following the Industrial Revolution, more women had time on their hands and petit point grew in popularity and was most often used to fashion pillow covers or cushions for a chair.

Fascinating histories, lovely fabrics, and another way to add a touch of France to your home, n’est-ce pas?


  1. I love toile; it's such an unabashedly feminine fabric. I have often thought that if I lived alone, my entire house would be toile, roses, feathers, pillows, and the colors of macarons. But I have a husband and a son, and the cheery, saturated reds and yellows of Provence were a happy compromise.

    I have scads of Provencal fabric that I intend to sew into napkins, now that I've learned how to do mitered corners.

  2. I appreciate your remark about your husband and son, as toile does tend toward the feminine. But the provencale fabrics are so beautiful that you can't possible be unhappy with those colors!

  3. Im refinishing a vanity and stool. I think I want to do toile on the bench seat. We'll see.

    Fascinating post

  4. I'm on the hunt for a very neutral pale toile in beige tones. I know it's not an exciting color but it would go fabulous in my kitchen.

  5. Madame, are you looking for toile in wallpaper or fabric?

  6. Madame, that is a harder color to find since Toile is traditionally a darkish color printed on a creme background. I have seen yellow however, but not beige. One place you might try would be Ballard Designs.

  7. I love French fabrics and wallpaper, so beautiful!

  8. I am an artist and need some small samples (4"x4") of French fabric. Where can I order some? I love the French fabrics.

    Susan B

  9. J'aime beaucoup!!