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Decorating Articles
  Decorating with Toile Wallcoverings & Fabrics
Decorating with Wallpaper By Jaima Brown (ARA)

View all Toile Patterns.

Toile, the subtly elegant printing technique that tells stories in engraving-like detail, traveled a fascinating history of its own to become the enduring favorite of designers, decorators and homeowners everywhere.

Toile, pronounced twal, is an abbreviation of toile de Jouy. The name comes from Jouy-en-Josas, France, where the first plant to commercially produce this type of printing was established in 1760. The initial toile was a monotone, one-color print, rendered in intricate, engraving-like detail on a white or cream-colored background.

Typically, the images were scenes that told a story. Drawings might retell a myth about Roman gods, or chronicle ships' sailing adventures, or simply depict days in the life of a French farming family.

The triumph of toile as today's decorative darling is far from simple, however. When Christopher-Philippe Oberkampf opened a print shop in France in 1760, reverse images for toile prints were carved into wooden blocks. Ink was applied to the blocks and then transferred by hand to un-dyed cotton. Only the rich and the royal, including Louis XVI, could afford the results of this painstaking process.

Later, in a stunning example of industrial espionage, Oberkampf discovered in England the secrets of etching designs onto a copper-plate roller. He and his brothers wrote the directions for this process on cotton percale fabric, using an alum solution tinted with red dye, and then dipped the fabric in vinegar to render the writing invisible until after they crossed the Channel. By utilizing their stolen information, the Oberkampfs significantly expanded both their market and their fame. Napoleon himself bestowed on them the Legion of Honor.

Still later, in an unrelated but ironic twist of fate, British troops destroyed Oberkampf's factory in Jouy-en-Josas. Brokenhearted, the printmaker died shortly afterwards.

Today, toile triumphs, but only the engraving-like quality of the printing method remains true to its original. It is not uncommon for contemporary toiles to be printed in more than one color and appear on a colored background. The themes now encompass just about any subject that strikes a wallpaper or fabric designer's fancy.

An exotic combination of parrots, pineapples and palm fronds, for example, grace a tropical pattern in the Vintage Tuscany wallpaper and border collection from S.A. Maxwell Co.'s LV Emmert Studio. This theme enhances all design styles, from contemporary to traditional, and is especially well suited to today's popular bamboo and Oriental furnishings. It exemplifies toile's ease of use in all settings.

A more traditional toile appears in Winnetka, another collection from L V Emmert. This features a classic repeat of laurel leaves, each underscoring etched renderings of a rooster and other French country scenes. The slightly crackled background adds the patina of age.

In another toile, small birds flutter among flower-bedecked boughs, all in a blue and white pattern that looks as if it were etched in ink on a rich, cream-colored background. This is from Kenilworth, a collection from Maxwell's Patricia Kent Studio, and was based on a document antique fabric pattern.

Because toile patterns can make an elegant design statement all by themselves or provide a unifying backdrop for other patterns in a room, we include at least one toile in many S.A. Maxwell collections. On wallpaper, the simplicity of images, rendered in the characteristic etched form of a toile, brings pattern to a wall without interfering with other design elements.

From a distance, toiles first emerge as a pleasing overall background design. On closer look, as these subtle images come into focus, they engage the onlooker and become as interesting as an engraved art print. Few other design techniques can accomplish the dual role of creating both an unobtrusive, elegantly discreet setting for all of the objects and furnishings in a room, and, at the same time, lend distinctive, standalone art to that interior.

Try on a toile by locating a retailer that carries the Vintage Tuscany and Winnetka collections from the L V Emmert Studio division of S.A. Maxwell Co., or Kenilworth from Maxwell's Patricia Kent Studio. To find the retailer nearest you, call 847-932-3700 or visit on the Internet. Courtesy of ARA Content EDITOR’S NOTE: Jaima Brown is director of design for S.A. Maxwell Co.

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