Historical notes and reading list page 1
The importation of silks from the East to Europe dates back to the days
of the Roman Empire. The overland trade routes that spread from Asia to the
European countries were a conduit for textiles, spices and other exotic
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Crusades and religious conquests of the Middle East spurred the flow of Eastern goods into France. The designs and colors of the Eastern yard goods were sources of inspiration to the fledgling French textile companies. During the next several centuries, the growth of the French textile industry was spurred on by demands of the wealthy in France and by orders for cloth from the king's court and from the papal court which was located in Avignon, France.
By the mid-17th century, France was a major importer of foreign-produced cloths. Its own textile industry had grown, but was struggling to compete with goods produced in Italy and the Far East. During the 1680s, King Louis XIV, who wanted to produce a more favorable balance of trade for France, created new laws which were designed to decrease imports of foreign yard goods and to promote the French silk industry by improving the quality of goods produced and thereby, to increase the export of French textiles.
These laws were designed to regulate and improve the quality of silks and other cloth produced in France. The new regulations delineated many of the technical aspects of silk production such as the exact fiber content, the number of permitted errors in any production run and the number of threads in the warp and weft. Furthermore, the laws defined the artisan jobs and divisions within the textile industry and also divided the industry between the various regions in France. The result was an increase in both the quality and the quantity of French silks.
Oddly enough, during the same era, a law designed to specifically protect
the silk industry from competition was passed - which prohibited the
manufacture or sale of printed cloths. Needless to say, many merchants found
(illegal) ways to work around this restrictive ban which was
finally lifted in 1759.
From the date of this repeal until the first World War, the French textile industry produced some of the most glorious textile designs and motifs in the world with an unequaled confidence, inspiration and imagination.
If you would like to learn more about French textiles, here are a few of
the books that I find indispensible:
French Textiles - From 1760 to the Present by Mary Schoeser and Kathleen Dejardin, Lawrence King, 1991
Toile de Jouy - Printed Textiles in the Classic French Style by Melanie Riffel, Sophie Rouart and Marc Walter, Thames & Hudson, 2003
Textile Designs by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers, Harry N. Abrams, 1991
Printed French Fabrics - Toiles de Jouy by Josette Brédif, Rizzoli, 1989
Painted and Printed Fabrics by Henri Clouzot, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1927
Les Etoffes - Dictionnaire historique by Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier, Bernard Berthod and Martine Chavent-Fusaro, Les éditions de l'amateur, 1994 (French)
Piqué de Provence, collection by André-Jean Cabanel, Brunschwig & Fils, Edisud, 2000 (French)