As a title for this pattern, I have chosen to reproduce a “chef de pièce”: appended at the beginning and end of the printed fabrics, it became obligatory in France by Royal decree in 1785. These banners enable us to follow the evolution of the company name. This one was printed between 1789 and 1792, the golden age of Christophe Philippe Oberkampf, the sole owner of the manufactory at this period. Later on, the names of Widmer then Barbet de Jouy would join that of Oberkampf.
On the fabrics, the size of the “chef de pièce” was roughly 3-3.5cm high and could vary between 26 and 43cm in length. To make a satisfactory title with regards to the size of this work, this one measures 4.5cm high and a bit over 50cm in length.
Among other things, during my first visit to the museum I was immediately drawn to this magnificent cloth illustrating and called the “Trades of the Manufactory” (opposite page). It describes in an organised disorder the different stages of printing the Toile de Jouy fabrics. I have chosen those that pleased me the most and that give a good overall layout. This choice is subjective and by no means exhaustive.
The most difficult was to achieve an effect as close as possible to the weft of the fabric when embroidering in cross stitch. Unsatisfied with my first attempts, I decided to break against traditional cross stitch codes by associating two colours in the same cross and, especially, not stitching all the crosses in the same direction. Same thing with the numerous half cross stitches, also not all going in the same direction. I find the end result pretty convincing.
It is from the “Trades of the Manufactory” cloth that I gave the Toile de Jouy aspect to this work. As you will see further on, the factory produced many other fabrics than the “character” prints. Here is shown the method of WOOD BLOCK PRINTING. Before printing, the cloth goes through different stages of preparation, each one essential: multiple washes to get rid of any trace of primers. These washes took place in the small Bièvre River, reputed for pureness of its water, and one of the criteria for the choice of the factory. This is followed by singeing on a sheet of hot copper to rid the cloth of any fluff. It is then re-washed and passed through a mangle to flatten the fibre. It is after this that the mordants (fixatives) are printed, another stage requiring several operations. Here they use a plank of engraved wood, a technique used from the start of indienne prints in France. Printing on copper sheets arrived in 1770 but is not represented here in my interpretation. This was followed by copper rollers, a technique imported from Great Britain.
After printing the mordants, it is the GARANÇAGE which reveals certain colours. The base of the mordants contains aluminium oxide salts or colour-free iron, which fix the colour during garançage. This operation consists of soaking the fabric in a bath of boiling garance roots. Garance is a plant known in English as Rose Madder, known for the red colour of its roots, often used in dying. Garançage is a colour developer, the colour being in function of the composition of the fixative, only highlighting reds, pinks, mauves, browns and black. During this operation, the fabrics are attached to a reel, seen on the left, which enables a consistent colouring. As for the small hut on the right, this is to keep the fire burning to boil up the solution. The clarity of the printing depends on the consistency of the mordants, which is why they are thickened with different gums. These are then eliminated by “bousage”: the fabric is soaked in a cowpat bath to get rid of the thickeners. The garançage obtains colours called “bon teint” (colourfast), which withstand washing and ultra-violet light. The inferior “petit teint” is totally the opposite.
See the Garançage of Toile de Jouy cross stitch pattern.
After the process of « garançage », the parts without any fixative remain pink. The cloth has to be spread out in the nearby fields to WHITEN in the sun. It is moistened with water seven or eight times per day during several days. This is what we see in the forefront. In the background you will notice a building where the cloths are hung to dry.
In the museum there is a delightful watercolour showing this manner of drying the multicoloured cloths.
During the glory days at the manufactory, the attics of the “grand bâtiment” (large building), which measured 111 metres long, were reserved for drying the cloths. A long chain of dormer windows in the roof enabled the air to circulate.
See The Whitening of Toile de Jouy cross stitch kit.
Because garançage is limited in colours, the cloth then goes to the print factory for application of the greens, yellows and blues. These colours are applied by the “pinceauteuses” (paintbrush ladies). They even used their own hair for the brushes! In 1793 there were 300 pinceauteuses at the manufactory. Until 1808 when Samuel Widmer (one of Oberkampfs nephews) invented solid green, they painted a layer of yellow followed by a layer of blue to obtain this colour. The final touch is given by glazing: a layer of wax and starch passed through a heated calendar. Some pieces were even polished with an agate stone to give sheen and shine to the colours.
From 1780 to 1805, over 1000 workers were employed at the manufacture, 1400 if you add on the Chantemerle textile mill in nearby Essonnes, created for cotton weaving.
See the Painting the Toile de Jouy cross stitch pattern chart.
On the left, M. OBERKAMPF is represented in the company of his son Émile. On the right: Jean-Baptiste HUET (1745-1821) at work. The partnership with renowned artists, as well as celebrated chemists
such as Gay-Lussac and Berthollet contributed to the celebrity of the manufacture.
One of the main difficulties was to find the right colours: the original having been printed in one colour in different densities, it was necessary to find the same effect using three colours of thread. The result should, as well, be a subtle balance of gaity and a slightly faded fabric effect. For my tests, Mr Oberkampf in person seemed the perfect person to help!
Version N°1: using Retors du Nord 2028 (rust), 2469 (rosewood) and 2479 (powder).
A bit dreary and the colour contrast doesn’t work.
Version N°2: using Retors du Nord 2028 (rust), 2033 (gladiola) and 2469 (rosewood).
Too dark and the shading is too emphasised.
Version N°3: using Retors du Nord 2032 (andrinople), 2469 (rosewood) and 2535 (blush).
The overall effect is too bright and too modern.
Version N°4: using Retors du Nord 2033 (gladiola), 2469 (rosewood) and 2447 (pink).
The perfect combination, with the slightly faded red tone of the 2033 matching perfectly the Jouy red colour.
Even if red is the colour which comes immediately to mind when thinking about Toile de Jouy, this was not the only colour at the manufactory. We also find blue, violet, bronze and brown. These small colour samples remind us of this.
Even if the expression “Toile de Jouy” brings to mind the fabrics printed with characters, mainly intended for furnishings, they also produced many other motifs.
To accentuate the sample aspect of the Bonnes Herbes and Mignonnettes, these motifs are embroidered on different linen fabrics and then sewn onto the main piece. All is explained on the back of the large pattern chart. Go to the feature The fabrics printed at Oberkampf manufactory at Jouy.
When indiennes were used for upholstery, they were decorated by two types of borders: a large scale one for wall hangings and a smaller motif for chairs and curtains. The border around this piece of work is an interpretation of a model printed at the manufacture.
This work of art will take roughly 250 hours of embroidery. Let start !