What is toile?
A French word meaning ‘linen cloth’ or ‘canvas,’ toile a type of canvas-like fabric that has been a popular decorating element since the mid-1700s. The term toile refers to a pattern repeated on the fabric. Typically, the pattern depicts a highly complex, detailed, pastoral scene.
Toile has a long history across Europe and the United States. The fabric originated in Ireland sometime during the mid-1700s and eventually became an extremely popular decorating element across Britain and France. Despite its Irish origins, the term ‘Toile de Jouy,’ meaning ‘cloth from Jouy-en-Josas’—a suburb of Paris—originated in France during the late 18th century.
After several hundred years of history, toile has a reputation as being a snobby or outdated decorating element. Its popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years—with major surges in the 1700 and 1800s, Colonial America, the 1970s, and again in the 2000s—but toile has remained a classic decorating element that can still be found in homes across the world.
Brook Isle’s Woodland Toile
What we love about toile is that it tells a story in detailed visual pictures. You might look at an older Toile de Jouy fabric, for example, and try to imagine where the people are going, how hard they are working, or what they are building. Each individual scene is nestled into the next scene with bits of white space surrounding it and isolating it. We are proud to have created our own, original woodland toile. You won’t see a bunch of ‘old-timey’ people on horses or carrying water to a well. You will find four lovely woodland scenes: A fox hiding in grasses with pheasants nearby, two turkeys meandering over a covered bridge, a wolf and her pup walking by an overgrown stone cottage, and a buck and young deer enjoying a waterfall.
Christian Dior created an exotic jungle toile in 2018 and used it heavily across canvas purses, blouses, skirts, dresses, shoes, and scarves. It was central to their line that year, and they even posted gorgeous, animated videos about how it was made: ink brush on paper. Since then, they seem to have continued to feature it and have even declared it “A timeless House motif” on their site. Nike created a toile pattern of skeletons laughing and playing sports on little patches of grass with trees and released a white golf shirt that featured the drawings repeated in black ink. These were both well done. What I’ve noticed about other attempts is that there is oftentimes not enough thought put into how the scenes can fit together to become spaced consistently (and ultimately a successful repeat pattern). Not to brag, but what is magical about Brook Isle’s Woodland Toile, is that each scene was carefully drawn with lots of beautiful detail, but also specifically constructed with the finished toile pattern in mind.
How to decorate with toile
Are you sold yet? Toile has been typically used on upholstery and soft surfaces in the home. Some classic uses of toile include upholstery for chairs, sofas, and other upholstered furniture, curtains, and bedding. Over time, designers began to incorporate toile into other home goods, like wallpaper, china, pottery, and artwork. And now it’s on golf shirts, shoes, and pajamas!
Incorporating toile into your decor can give your home a cozy, French Country vibe. If you’re new to decorating with pattern, try adding toile throw pillows or blankets to your sofa or bed. Or for major impact, you can use toile wallpaper to create a statement wall in your living room, dining room, bedroom, or small bathroom.
Believe it or not, toile can be a lovely neutral pattern element to enhance any room. It’s not so specific that it can’t be blended and combined with other patterns. A defining hallmark of toile is the even distribution of pattern. At a glance, it is almost like a solid–much like soft gray stripes can feel almost like a solid gray. To help you see some of the possibilities, I highly recommend “10 Ways to Decorate with Toile from the AD Archives”. It’s a wonderful article by Architectural Digest that will get you inspired about toile. I admit that I personally need to drum up more courage in decorating my own home. I need more joy, more color. And as Architectural Digest says, “Toile is the perfect way to add detail and classic character to any space”. It is not easy to try new things or make bolder choices in your home, but in the end, what you see every day should make you smile.