past & present: the history of toile de jouy (part 1)

[above: Les Traveaux de la Manufacture (The Activities of the Factory), 1783–84, designed by Jean-Baptiste Huet – 14 different scenes in this fabric depict the copperplate printing process via the Metropolitan Museum of Art]

I so loved digging into tartan that I thought it might be fun to look at some other patterns that we see everyday. (If you have suggestions for patterns to research for future columns, let me know in the comments.) Because March 2010 marks the 250th anniversary of the founding of Oberkampf factory at Jouy-en-Josas in 1760, – we’ll begin with a little look at a well-known pattern – Toile de Jouy.

[above: 18th century French cotton dress via the Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Cotton Banned in France
Before we can get into the nitty, gritty of the pattern, we really need to start with the fabric. When cotton was first imported from India to France in the 16th and 17th century, the light, colorful, and easily washable fabric was a wild success. It was used for everything from clothing to wall coverings, curtains and bedclothes. It was so much in demand, that the French government became concerned about the financial impact that this competition would have on French manufactures of silk, wool and cloth. So in 1686, all cotton was banned in France – production, importation and use. Even with the threat of arrest, the fashion continued – clandestinely. Finally in 1759, when the ban proved impossible to enforce, it was lifted and French factories sprung up to satisfy the demand for printed cotton.

[above: Oberkampf family by Louis Léopold Boilly, 1803]

Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf
– founder of the printed cotton manufacture in
German-born Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf moved to Paris at the age of 20 in 1758. Both his father and grand-father had been in the cloth dyeing business and as a child, Christophe-Philippe accompanied his father on dyeing jobs. In Paris, Christophe-Philippe was rose quickly through the ranks. In 1759, after just a single year working in Paris, he formed a partnership with his former employer, who had advance warning that the cotton ban was about to be lifted and recognized the importance of Christophe-Philippe’s expertise – the two men decided to manufacture printed cotton.

[above: The factory at Jouy, 1807, by J.-B. Huet via the Le musée de la Toile de Jouy (the cloth is bleached by the sun in the meadow – the cloth was spread pattern-side down and sprinkled with water six to eight times a day for six days.)]

The factory in Jouy-en-Josas
Attracted by the clean water of the Bièvre river, the pair set up their factory in town of Jouy-en-Josas. In the early days of the business, Christophe-Philippe worked alone with his brother and the only item of furniture the pair possessed was the printing press – which he slept on at night. The demand for printed cotton was feverish and the company grew quickly. By 1805, the factory employed 1,322 workers. In 1770, after satisfying the 10 years residency requirements, Christophe-Philippe became a French citizen. In 1790, he became the first mayor of Jouy-en-Josas.

CLICK HERE for more about Toile de Jouy

le ballon de gonesse, c. 1784 -The pattern is based on two etching made shorly after the Montgolfier brothers successful ascent in hydrogen-filled hot air balloons

Copperplate Technology = Toile de Jouy!
The early printed cotton was produced using woodblocks. In 1770 Oberkampf began using copperplate printing at Jouy – the technique had been used abroad in England and Ireland for a number of years, but Oberkampf was the first cotton manufacturer to bring copperplate printing technology into France. Because the lines on the engraved copperplates are finer than those on wood blocks, one was able to introduce the effects of light and shade. The copperplates also allowed for a larger repeating pattern. This opened up the possibility for designs – no longer limited to florals or geometric designs – Oberkampf commissioned the best artists to design pastoral scenes with humans figures.  This new style allowed for the fabric to depict major events of the time period such as the first balloon flight (above) or the fascination with Egypt (below).

[Les monuments d’Égypte designed by Jean-Baptiste Huet and inspired by eight engravings after drawings by the painter Louis-François Cassas via the Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Fact to Know

  • In total, more than 30, 000 designs were created at the Jouy manufacture, many of them the work of renowned 18th-century artists such as Fragonard and Boucher.
  • Rue Oberkampf in the 11th arrondissement of Paris is named for Christophe-Philippe.
  • While the phrase toile de jouy literally translates as cloth from jouy, it has come to refer to the single-color print of a pastoral scene (usually) on a white ground

Books to Read

  • Toile de Jouy – This is my favorite of the two books listed here. Both had similar information – I just responded more to this organization.
  • Printed French Fabrics – Toiles de Jouy
  • The Age of Comfort – One of my all-time favorite books – the ins and outs of the fashion of comfort in 18th century France – it has a chapter on the advent of cotton in France.

I vote gingham should be the next fabric investigated — it’s a real classic!


Love this post, so much interesting info…thanks Amy! I always enjoy your posts. I’d love to see some history of the houndstooth pattern/textile.


Great post today! Beautiful examples and great information. Well done!


so glad you guys like this pattern piece- it’s one of my favorites amy has done. i put in a request for paisley, but i’m now seconding the houndstooth idea. houndstooth, please! :)


I love this series- so beautiful and the book recommendations are so helpful for those of us who do not know where to begin the search for more information.


I really really loved this history. My dream would be that you do histories on everything–fabric, furniture, architecture… Love you guys! Oh and I vote for houndstooth.



and the already mentioned houndstooth, paisley, and gingham


The history of Calico is rich. I’m sure your readers would love to read about it.


That dress looks so much like Prada from a few seasons back! Love the wild hot air balloon toile, also.


Very interesting post, thank you! I will think about this story when I am in the Oberkampf neighboorhood in Paris. :)


You might want to look at the textile work of William Morris–he was influential in the Arts and Crafts movement.


Could we have a history of Liberty prints? That would be really interesting, especially as it would include William Morris’s work, as Peggy mentioned above, and I think there might a lot of interest, what with the recent Target collaboration and so on.

I am absolutely loving these posts! Keep up the good work

Kim Huebner

What a great post. The archives of the Oberkampf factory were purchased by Braquenie, now owned by Pierre Frey. We still produce many of the fabrics you show here. Over 200 years later, and people are still decorating their homes with these prints, and modern textile designers pay tribute to them by referencing them in their work. True classics.


My entire laundry room is wallpapered in blue toile with white beadboard half way down, its adorable….i even bought the matching fabric, but i havent figured out if i should make curtains to put on the window above the washerdryer….


Superb piece and imagery, hats off! I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about toile de jouy which has long had a place in my home (fittingly enough as I am based in France). Given the Oberkampf anniversary, all the more interesting…(My vote’s for Liberty prints, I’ve such a soft spot for them.) Again, thank you!


kent henricksen represented by ‘john connelly presents’ has been embroidering on this fabric for a number of years as a means to indicate the cultural and historical significance of the images depicted on the fabrics. they are powerful.


Great history lesson! I had no idea France had outlawed cotton. I’m about to sew some custom toile bench cushion covers this week, so this is perfect timing to learn some new background about this classic print. I especially loved finding out about the copper printing process. Thanks for sharing!

Chelsea Connolly

I’m currently studying interior design, and just completed a huge research assignment all about houndstooth last week. Quite interesting, and such a great print!

Frenchee le Trip

Beautiful post! Please much more like this – history of patterns, textiles, furniture and all the rest. I am reading The Age of Comfort and it has really opened my eyes to why the French have impacted lifestyle. Makes me appreciate my adopted country all the more. Thanks for the recommendation!


Loved it… I lived in Jouy-en-Josas for two years and it was fun to refresh my knowledge on toile de Jouy !

I also vote for a history of liberty, but all of the other ideas sound great too !



so glad you like the column- if you scan the comment above i posted a link to amy’s archives- she’s done many columns already on all sorts of exciting topics, including french chandeliers and louie chairs :)



Good job, how about madras, moire’, batik, bark cloth, damask,or interesting facts about tapestries?


Thanks so much! I love near Oberkampf rue and metro in Paris and always wondered who this person was!


Oh madras would be fun! Would love to know more about herringbone and houndstooth. I have a large piece of toile that is two hundred years old…It’s so worn with love and history- i love it…Just can’t decide what to do with the last of it….hmmmmm

Ellen Lang

What about an article on flamestitch and bargello?


I agree with Clemency; I’ve always been curious about the history of Liberty cotton prints! And I loved this post!

Bee Colman

the toile story is almost my fave. Neck in neck with paisley. I vote for that one next.


what a great post…I find that my cleints either love toile or dislike it very much…freshing up on the history is so very helpful. I personally love it…I could sleep in a room entirely surrounded by toile!

Andrea Collins

I really wanna find some great toile wallpaper. Any recommendations???Links?


Great post! I love the history, I was just on la rue Oberkampf in Paris, fun to learn more about where that name comes from.


That was very helpful thanks. I am a writer and needed to know about toile de Jouy for one of my articles
turquoisemoon co uk


Great information , currently working in soft furnishing thought I should research the history of Toile fascinating stuff !!!! Also researching a design trend for Floristry diploma outside of the floral industry … I think the two blend perfectly