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From chenille to chinoiserie: a guide to timeless fabrics

We explore the true classics of the fabric world

From chenille to chinoiserie: a guide to timeless fabrics

Some fabrics come and go, and then there are those stalwarts that have stayed with us throughout history, defying changing fashions to gain their status as design classics. What sets them apart? Their beauty and their versatility; an adaptability that makes them as relevant today as they were when they were first invented. The better the quality of the fabric, the more enduring the design – so shop from a brand you know will deliver first-rate examples of your chosen style, be that a beautifully printed toile or a tactile chenille. Here, we celebrate some of the timeless treasures that continue to shape our homes, and our wardrobes, today.



Toile: timeless scenes and delicate charm


Linwood | Omega Prints | Japanese Garden | Jade


Toile first became popular in France in the late 18th century, although it actually originated from Ireland, when in 1752 a copper plating technique was devised by Francis Nixon that made it possible to produce delicate prints depicting romantic pastoral scenes. The technique was quickly adopted by the French, with the largest factory, Oberkampf, opening just outside Paris in Jouy-en-Josas – hence the name, toile de Jouy. Marie Antoinette adored these timeless fabrics, both for her wardrobe and her home, and the rest, as they say, is history. The traditional way to channel toile is to use a sea of monochrome print on every surface – from the walls to the windows to the bed – and this aesthetic still has its followers, particularly those wanting to emulate a country house style. Those with a penchant for a more contemporary approach tend to use the fabric more sparingly, for a statement piece of upholstery, for example, or as a striking window dressing. Multi-coloured prints are another way to bring a modern edge to toile, such as this Japanese Garden printed velvet, which was inspired by a striking fabric from the 1940s. Paintwork in a deep grey helps the rich colours of the print pop, while the velvet adds to the sense of opulence.



Damask: regal elegance and luxurious opulence


Linwood | Miletto | Waterfall


Named after the city of Damascus, where these timeless fabrics were both produced and traded from mediaeval times, damasks in fact originate from China, where they were first woven centuries earlier, possibly even during the Tang Dynasty. They are defined by their symmetrical, mirror-image foliate patterns picked out by a combination of matte and shiny threads, which gives them a lustrous sheen that exudes a sense of opulence. As a result, damasks were adopted by the chicest of homes and wardrobes, and designers still turn to these timeless treasures when they wish to create a touch of regal luxury. Our Miletto damask is woven in a viscose and linen mix to showcase the elegance of the stylised botanical design. It is perfect for smart upholstery and also looks stunning made into curtains or as a floor-length tablecloth on a decorative side table.



Gingham: classic checks and playful simplicity


Linwood | Danube | Oatmeal

Fantastic for bringing a breezy aesthetic to both our homes and our wardrobes, gingham is one of those timeless fabrics that instantly evokes a feeling of familiarity. It was first imported to the UK by the Dutch in the 17th century when it was originally a woven striped fabric, but by the mid 18th century, the mills of Manchester were producing it in the distinctive three-tone checked design we now know as gingham. When Brigitte Bardot famously wore a pink gingham dress to her wedding, France almost ran out of stock of the fabric, and gingham is still a fashion staple, proving the ideal choice for everything from pretty sundresses to informal shirts. The relaxed nature of its design also makes gingham hugely popular in interiors, where it brings a sense of nostalgia to country homes and relaxed townhouses alike. Use it in a simple scheme to introduce just a touch of pattern – here, a Roman blind in our Danube linen in Oatmeal works well with the room’s pared-back aesthetic – or use it to help ground an exuberant print. The possibilities really are endless.



Dobby weaves: intricate textures and subtle sophistication


Linwood | Bryher | Blush

The unsung heroes of the fabrics world, dobby weaves are a style of patterned weave consisting of small, repeated geometric designs. These timeless fabrics first emerged in the UK in the 1840s when looms were created that allowed the weaver to raise and lower the warp threads individually in order to create small, distinctive patterns. The result is an interesting, textural fabric that adds a touch of sophistication to fashion pieces – think fine dobby weave blouses, for example – as well as soft furnishings. Our classic Bryher dobby weave features a neat geometric print that looks chic on upholstery or curtains, and also translates well into smaller pieces such as cushions, a footstool or a fender. Available in 28 sophisticated colours, it is ideal for creating a scheme that exudes quiet elegance.



Florals: vibrant beauty and natural splendour

Linwood | The English Garden | Kitty | Blue Green

When it comes to exploring the greats of the fabrics world, florals really are the timeless treasures that have never lost their appeal. The ability of botanical prints to bring a sense of nature to the home – and, indeed, to fashion – lend them a joyfulness that is as relevant today as it was centuries ago. And with climate concerns and sustainability at the forefront of our minds, floral fabrics are more important than ever, helping to bring a calming feel in a world of so much uncertainty. Designs range from ditzy prints – perfect for the nostalgic, cottagecore aesthetic – to exuberant designs that truly bring a room to life. Witness the uplifting feel of Kitty in this bedroom scheme: the pure linen fabric in a classic tree of life design features a colour palette of greens and blues that perfectly picks out the hues of the sky and trees outside. An inspirational way to begin, and end, the day…



Chenille: plush softness and luxurious comfort


Linwood | Faroe


Chenille is believed to have originated in France in the 18th century and this would explain its name, which is French for caterpillar, whose somewhat furry appearance the fabric is supposed to resemble. It was first introduced to the UK by Scottish mill owner Alexander Buchanan, who mass produced the fabric to create “fuzzy shawls” for his customers. Chenille’s soft, cosy feel quickly made it popular both in the world of fashion and interiors, and it is still much loved for its textural qualities. Our Faroe wool chenille summarises its timeless appeal, with its neat, small-scale herringbone making it an adaptable design for both upholstery and curtains. Beautifully tactile yet incredibly durable, it comes in an array of neutrals as well as gorgeous jewel tones.


Chinoiserie: exotic allure and Eastern inspiration

 Linwood | Belleville | Louis | Moonlight


Chinoiserie is a style that developed throughout Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, when increased trade with China resulted in a fascination with all things East Asian. As a result, European manufacturers began selling products such as furniture, textiles and art that aimed to mimic their Chinese counterparts, although reimagined through the prism of a Western lens. The pandemic saw a resurgence in Chinoiserie, as designers turned to exotic fabrics and wallpapers to capture the feel of far-flung lands. Our Louis pure linen fabric in Moonlight is a bold floral print that nicely evokes this sense of escapism, making it an arresting choice for upholstery or curtains. A wonderful way to inject a touch of opulence into an interior.


Jacquard: intricate patterns and textured sophistication

 Linwood | Cosmos | Nova | Blush


Jacquards are another of those timeless treasures that are perfect for bringing a sense of understated glamour to a space. Their name comes from the jacquard loom on which they are woven, invented by French textile artisan Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1804. Like damasks, jacquard fabrics feature raised motifs that give them an inherent elegance, endearing them to interior and fashion designers alike (Marc Jacobs is a particular fan). Thanks to their structured nature, jacquards translate beautifully into upholstery, adding a sense of formality and glamour: imagine this contemporary jacquard, Nova in Blush, covering a chic banquette or a neat slipper chair. And it would also look glorious made into curtains, where the light from the window will nicely highlight the two-tone pattern.


We hope our round-up of some of our favourite timeless fabrics has given you inspiration and remember, many of these designs can be mixed together: use a simple dobby weave to bring punctuation to an exotic Chinoiserie print, or counter the sleek glamour of a damask or jacquard with a textural  wool chenille. Whatever you choose, you can rest assured that these fabrics are not fleeting fashions, but designs that you will treasure for years to come.