A Love Story Told in Toile

I think I have always been a little bit in love with toile. Even before I knew what to call it, I was drawn to the scenes of country life depicted on it: so calming and reminiscent of times gone by, in which people actually slowed down to take in the world around them.

As a young wife and mother, I sewed my little heart out in our first house, covering benches and making big comfy throw pillows out of a red toile fabric, bringing a bit of France into our Florida cottage. They matched the dishes we’d inherited from my husband’s English-Canadian grandmother depicting British castles on ironstone made in England. While the bench and pillows are now long gone almost two decades and several houses later, the dishes are still on display in our china cabinet and in use quite frequently. In more recent times (and homes), I’ve used several varieties and colors of toiles to create curtains, make other pillows, and line cabinets. There is just something timeless and cozy-yet-sophisticated about the patterns that draw people to them.

The word toile (pronounced “twall”) means “linen cloth” or “canvas” in French. The full and proper name of the cotton fabrics first produced in the late 18th century with scenes repeatedly scattered across them was “Toile de Jouy”, literally meaning “fabric from Jouy” – the town of Jouy-en-Josas outside of Paris. For more on the full, rich story of toiles and how they’ve been witness to and recorded history, shaped movements, and changed in modern times, check out http://patternobserver.com/2014/09/23/history-surface-design-toile-de-jouy/.

A wonderful book recounting the textile genre’s history and showcasing examples is Toile: The Storied Fabrics of Europe and America by Michelle Palmer.

Fast-forward to this past September and an amazing trip that my husband Chris and I took to the Cotswolds in England with dear friends. A few days were spent in London before heading back home to Tallahassee, and our in-the-know friends made sure we took in the London food scene at several choice restaurants and bars, which will most likely be a future blog post by Chris! One such establishment was the North Bank Restaurant near St. Paul’s Cathedral, overlooking the Thames with a view of the Millennium Bridge.

After taking in the scenery (and the drinks menu), we were drawn into the background design on the menus and on the wallpaper. Upon further inspection, we realized that it was a toile depicting a modern London, a London complete with scenes one might expect, like architecture, old and new… but also showing an edgy reality: a homeless person on a bench, a possible drug deal, a hold-up. Wow!! My mind was blown. Toile has changed!! (Upon research, I have found that this quirky toile was designed by a Glasgow firm named Timorous Beasties; love their name!)

This got my mind spinning, and my hands drawing after we settled back in at home in Tallahassee. An idea like this had been nagging in the back of my mind for years, but had lain dormant until now… a toile of Tallahassee.

I adore my adopted hometown, the beautiful capital city of Florida. It possesses a deep, rich history (and much of our family’s history as well) that is so much fun to share. Did you know that the first Christmas service observed in North America occurred here (Hernando de Soto and his 600-man army were encamped in what is now downtown Tallahassee)? Or that the State Seminary West of the Suwannee was founded in here 1851 by Francis Eppes, grandson of Thomas Jefferson (you know it now as The Florida State University)? Or that, on the short drive north to the Georgia line through rolling red clay hills covered in Long-Leaf Pines and Live Oaks dripping with Spanish moss, the Tallahassee area is home to dozens of quail-hunting plantations?

As a tribute to the town I’ve called home for a good part of three decades, I have designed a toile that shows some of its iconic sites and scenes. Depicting venues running the gamut from the new amphitheater at Cascades Park to the 1600’s-era Mission San Luis, I’ve brought my sketches together in a design that tells the love story of a town full of history, canopy roads, magnolias, rolling hills, beautiful architecture, gardens, and hip new hang outs.

Our family’s new business, The Hare & The Hart, has produced several options for displaying your love for our hometown beyond (but including) the traditional fabric: wallpaper, gift wrap, tote bags, mugs, phone cases, etc. The possibilities are endless, and that’s what inspires and excites us! We are continuing to develop products and more designs (check out our daughter Maddie’s “Woodland Creature” series!), including currently working our line of Hometown Toiles™, starting with Toile of Tallahassee™.



At The Hare & The Hart, we live a life that is English at heart with a Southern soul (and a French twist!), and we are thrilled to debut our toiles and other lines that embody all three! - Amy