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Part 11. French Textiles

Part 11 - French Textiles

Vive La France!

This time I am looking mainly at French textiles, this is still the British Quilt Study Group but the fabrics used in our quilts were never confined to those produced in Britain, much less today!

The first book I am recommending is French Textiles From 1760 to the Present by Mary Schoeser and Kathleen Dejardin. Mary Schoeser was archivist at Warner and Sons till she left to write books and this is an intelligent and readable production. The title says it all: the authors cover the French textile industry from before the Industrial Revolution till the mid -twentieth century. Each of the six chapters takes the form of a discourse on that time, bringing together political events with the textile advances in dyeing and fabric/fibre production.  There are pictures on every page and the chapters end with twenty or so more pages of full colour illustrations with long captions as pictorial summary to the era. The chapters are Perspective (1760-1790), Enlightenment (1790-1830),  Industrialization (1830-1870), Retrenchment (1870-1915) and Fantasies (1915-1960). There is also a Preface and a Postscript plus Notes, Picture Credits, Selected Reading, an Index and a brief Subject Index. Many of the selected readings are French but the endnotes, arranged by chapter, are mostly to English sources.

Physically it is a heavy and handsome volume, beautifully and profusely illustrated  (300 illustrations.) It is an intelligent but extremely readable book giving insights to the English textile trade while remaining focussed on the French. As Mary Schoeser writes "never committed so wholeheartedly to exports as the British nor quite so inward looking as the American manufactures, each section of the French industry found its own way"- a way of "both excellence and compromise"

When French textiles are mentioned perhaps the fabric which springs to mind is Toile de Jouy, the familiar and rather fashionable pictorial prints on white. So here is a book to read on the subject-Toile de Jouy by Melanie Riffel, Sophie Rouart and Marc Walter. Subtitled Printed Fabrics in the Classic French Style, this is another beautifully produced volume. Melanie Riffel is curator of the Musee de la Toile de Jouy (near Paris) and this has the air of a museum catalogue.

Thirty six pages of The Prints and their History describe the factory and the fabric manufacture, the remaining hundred and sixty pages are devoted to Toiles de Jouy: The Prints. This latter part of the book illustrates and describes in detail dozens of the prints, subdivided by style e.g. Geometric and Floral, Genre Scenes, Mythological Subjects, Architectural Motifs in the three chapters; The Creative Process, Variations on several Themes and Uses and Trade. There are also a very brief Foreword  (by the Mayor) and Introduction with some useful Appendices. The end Notes and Glossary are brief,the Bibliography is mostly French and there is a ten page list of Designs Printed at Jouy, Surviving Designs and Known Design Numbers. There is a world list of Textile Collections and Where to find Toile de Jouy Today (modern reproductions).

The most suprising fact from the book may be that the main output of the factory was flowery prints so there are lots of these discussed as well as the familiar monochrome designs, all these fabric and design books remain at the museum. The description of the development of the factory plus the concise explanations of printing methods and equipment are excellent.

This too is a really beautifully produced book with two hundred and seventy gorgeous illustrations in full colour. The intelligent text is slightly stilted having been translated from French so it is a book to study rather than an easy read but still highly recommended. Published in 2003 by Thames and Hudson, it is still in print so snap one up now - or put it on your Christmas list!

If all this reading makes you realise that your knowledge of how fabric is printed is rather thin or has wetted your appetite for learning more, can I recommend a somewhat dated book that is still an excellent guide. It is A History of Printed Textiles byStuart Robinson. Subtitled Block, Roller, Screen Design, Dyes, Fibres, Discharge, Resist: Further Sources for Research, this was first published in 1969. However it remains a classic. It was written to be a source book for students so has a thirteen page Notes and References for Further Reading- now a little dated as are appendix II: Museums and Centres with Collections of Textiles, appendix III: Libraries and Booksellers and appendix IV: Educational Aids. As the Quilt Study Group is mostly interested in old textiles, the text deals with the techniques we wish to understand and this book is written to explain. There are occasional line drawings in the text but the bulk of the illustrations are ninety photographs bound in the middle of the book. Unfortunately most of them are black and white, indeed the modern designs may make those readers of a certain age quite nostalgic.

But it is the first book I turn to refresh my memory or resolve a query and judging by the second-hand demand I am not alone. There are three chapters: Origins-the development of block printing on cloth until 1750,then Great Britain: 1750 to the Present Day and lastly, Developments Abroad; Eire, France, Germany, India, Netherlands and Belgium, Russia, Scandinavia, Spain, Switzerland and The United States. The Great Britain chapter is an historical guide through copper-plate and wood-block prints, roller and rotary printing, discovery of mauveine, the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, screen printing, other processes of the nineteenth century and it finishes with textile design from 1939 to the present day. He recommends his companion volume A History of Dyed Textiles for more information when appropriate, I would say I find the 1969 publication date shows more with this book. But both volumes still appear regularly in bibliographies: there has been little to replace them.


French Textiles From 1760 to the Present by Mary Schoeser and Kathleen Dejardin was published in 1991 by Laurence King (London) ISBN 1-85669-006-7 so is just out-of-print. It is not common second-hand; I only found two copies, £35 and £45.

Toile de Jouy Printed Textiles in the Classic French Style by Melanie Riffel, Sophie Rouart and Marc Walter is published by Thames and Hudson (London) in 2003, originally in 2003 by Editio-Edititions Citadelles & Mazenod and in conjunction with the Musee de la Toile de Jouy, Jouy -en -Josas. ISBN 0-50051-149-7, price £36. It is available slightly cheaper second -hand and on the Internet, new from America at £17.

A History of Printed Textiles and A History of Dyed Textiles by Stuart Robinson were published in 1969 by Studio Vista. They are both easily available second-hand at prices from £9 (ex-library) to £30,

Printed Textiles is often the slightly cheaper volume.


If you would like to see what is available today, Christopher Moore is a specialist dealer who has the largest collection of historically accurate toiles in the world. His web site is and includes chintzes and indiennes.

© Brigid J.Ockelton. 2004

PLEASE NOTE - An indication is given of the availability and market price of the book at the time of writing and may not reflect today's availability and price.