Decorating With French Country Fabrics

French Country fabrics as in Homespun linens, Indienne cottons and Toile de Jouy are not only beautiful to behold, touch and feel, but these French fabrics play a dominant role in expressing color and design, thereby lifting other elements in the room.


French Homespun is a name given to French Country fabrics weaved from flax, hemp or wool by rural peasant women in their homes during the 19th and early 20th century. The hemp and flax was grown on small farms, then harvested, retted and spun, ready for weaving, making Homepun fabrics a truly home grown product.

Homespun fabrics

The women would spend winter evenings weaving on narrow hand made looms by candle light, creating solid or striped and checked cloth to be used for bedding, towels, dish cloths, grain sacks and even clothing. The grain sacks would be weaved with a colored stripe pattern down the center or the sides, in order for the farmers to identify their sacks when they were returned from the mill.

The weave, texture and natural shades of homespuns vary and are not as smoothe and regular as industrial textiles. Did you know that the straw colored flecks seen in some homespuns are actually tiny pieces of flax or hemp stalk woven into the textile?

The looms were very narrow, therefore the cloth was not very wide and had to be joined to make larger pieces. That is why it is very common to find homespun sheets with a seam down the middle. The narrow looms were replaced from around 1910 onwards.

Kelsch cloth

Kelsch cloth is another homespun textile mainly used for bedding. The cloth was sewn on three sides into an envelope with ribbon ties to close the open side. This envelope was then stuffed with straw or feathers to make pillows, eiderdowns and mattresses.

Kelsch is made from flax or hemp and is emblematic of Alsace, a region in France bordering Germany. Woven in a plaid pattern, traditional colors are blue or red. Rather like Scottish tartans, patterns and colors identified the families they came from.

Homespuns from France have become treasured French Country fabrics to collect. When collecting homespuns, you are not only buying natural fibre textiles of plus minus a 100 years old that are still beautiful to behold and touch, but also a piece of history and, in my opinion, honoring the women who spent so many countless hours, from sowing the flax and hemp seed to producing such fine cloth.


Toile a Matelas... simply meaning 'mattress cloth' and known to us as French ticking, has two distinctive stripe patterns. One being a design of narrow stripes similar to the traditional ticking used for Grandma's old feather pillows. Remember them? Traditionally the stripe was mostly blue or gray, but today there are various colors available.

Midomi stripe

The second is a design of solid stripes in different widths, traditionally weaved from linen and often in a fine herringbone pattern. Most common stripe colors are blue, beige, gray and taupe. Ticking can also be found with a small floral pattern on a solid background.

French Country ticking is most attractive when used to cover squab and fitted seat cushions, especially for iron furniture.

Other Classic French Fabrics

Indienne Cottons

Colorful cottons, otherwise known as Indiennes, were printed in a variety of colors. The designs ranged from paisleys to small and large floral or botancal prints, including various sized stripes.

Indienne derives its name from the beautiful and brightly colored flower and animal cotton prints, originally imported to Europe through the French East Indian Company from the Indian continent in the 17th Century.

french indienne cotton

These cottons were so popular they posed a serious threat to the silk and cloth industry in France, causing Louis XIV to impose a ban on all manufacture, imports and sales of the cottons, and to seize all stock.

This ban lasted for about 50 years until it was lifted in 1759 with the help of the influential Madame de Pompadour, mistress of king Louis XV. From then onwards the textile industry in France began to flourish.

Toile de Jouy

In 1760 Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf, an engraver and colorist from Wurtenberg, established a factory in Jouy-en-Josas printing French toile fabrics of superb quality with dye fast colors. By 1805 it sprawled over 14 hectares with over 1300 workers, becoming the most important factory in Europe.

blue toile de jouy

Louis XVI proclaimed the factory to be 'Manufacture Royale de Jouy', and later Napoleon presented Oberkampf with the 'Legion d'Honneur' in 1806.

In the beginning, the factory printed woodblock polychrome cottons or Indiennes mainly in botanical and fruit designs, to be used for clothing and some soft furnishing. Designs were printed by hand and were restricted by the size of the woodblocks which were only 40cm by 30cm, producing about a 100 metres of printed fabric per day.

toile de jouy

These fine examples, called Toile de Jouy, simply meaning 'cloth from Jouy', became the most quintessential of French fabrics.

The famous landscape monochromes were printed with figures in pastoral scenes, hunting scenes, chinoiserie, military triumphs, antique follies, and farm life, depicting vignettes of general life in the 18th and 19th century.

At first these French fabric designs seem rather simple with a limited color palette in either red, blue or violet among a few others, printed on a white or cream background. However simple these copper rolled prints may look, the fine line-work art and technique of the old timers were masterful, almost giving a 3D effect, which modern print mills are unable to match.

Oberkampf employed the finest designers and one of the best was Jean-Baptiste Huet, who drew one of the first monochrome Toile de Jouy patterns.

Travaux de la manufacture toile

Known as 'Travaux de la Manufacture', the monochrome was printed in red on a cream background and depicted the making of the cloth at the factory.

Sadly, after Oberkampf died the factory floundered without its founder's strong leadership and eventually closed down in 1843.

Toiles are still produced at present and whether reproduction prints, or modern twists, they are as popular today as they were over 200 years ago.

Other countries and factories in France produced similar toiles, but to this day the name that remains is 'Toile de Jouy'.

Creating the Look with French Country Fabrics

  • Toiles de Jouy, even small amounts, either as centers for cushion covers or tie backs immediately give that French feel.
  • Try not to use synthetic fibres, but rather all natural materials like hemp, linen and cotton, either plain or printed for true French Country style.
  • Quilts made from French Country fabrics and used as throws for chairs, sofas, beds, and day beds create a relaxed and welcoming feel.
  • Plenty of cotton covered cushions in stripes, toiles, florals or checks will express color and design, enhancing the French Country look,
  • For a French farm or cottage look, use lots of white with stripes and plaids in blues and reds. For a French country manor style, use lots of linen, natural or bleached white, teamed with soft toiles, florals and subtle colored ticking.


If unsure how to combine checks, stripes and florals, the safest option is to keep the underlying color theme the same, with no strong color contrasts.

For a comprehensive guide on how to use Toile in your own home, with loads of ideas, practical advice and plenty eye candy, pop over and visit Renate at Dream Home Decorating who will show you just how easy decorating with toile can be.

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