Fabric designs that we use today have a rich and long history, dating back to the Middle Ages! Jump into a time-machine with us as we show you where four popular patterns—damask, toile, paisley, and houndstooth—come from and how they were used.
Damasks hail from the city of Damascus, where trading of textiles took place along the silk road during the Middle Ages. Traditionally, the pattern used a single-colored silk with a glossy warp-faced pattern against a flatter background. The original pattern was so highly coveted throughout European kingdoms in the Middle Ages that rulers of kingdoms commissioned monks to steal silkworms from China and to learn the weaving methods. The first damasks used mostly botanical and animal patterns, but today damasks are known to be an elaborate pendant design.
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Translating to “linen cloth,” toile was first produced on canvas in Ireland during the mid-18th century. The pattern features designs that portray French pastoral, Oriental, and mythical scenes. Toile de Jouy, a specific version of toile, was created by the French Monarchy in a small town near Versailles called Jouy-en-Josas in order to compete with printed cottons from India. Most of the images used on Toile de Jouy stem from artist Jean Baptiste Huet, who based his designs on both Oriental and nature scenes.
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Originating from traditional Persian textiles, paisley has become a classic pattern in homes across the world. Its appearance likens to a leaf with a slightly curled & pointed end that is thought to possibly be based on a pine cone, a palm or an almond. Paisley’s name comes from the Scottish town of Paisley, where shawls of wool were woven in the design. Originally used in fashion (Queen Victoria loved the print!), paisleys have now become more popular in home décor and are seen in various scales and colors.
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This classic and preppy pattern also known as dogstooth (puppytooth if small) came from the Scottish Lowlands in the 1800s. Houndstooth has a distinct four-pointed shape that looks somewhat like a tooth, and is most often seen in black & white. Like paisley, this design was first used in clothing. Scottish shepherds would wear it as a wool outer garment, and women would wear it on hoop skirts. Originally made with wool, this pattern now comes in several materials and colors ranging from velvet to wallpaper.
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Photo Sources (in order of appearance):
Italian Silk Damask – NYPL Digital Gallery
Toile – Metropolitan Museum of Art
Paisley painting – A.lain R. Truong