At the beginning the printing technique was inspired by traditional Indian methods. Mechanization then enabled to produce much greater quantities of toile (or cloth). During the first ten years (1760-1770), wood block printing was the only method used and polychrome prints were produced. The cloth coming from France, Switzerland or India was first washed in the river ‘La Bièvre’, then beaten to remove its dressing and dried. Those processes were then mechanized. After drying, the cloth was put into a calender to smooth it.
For the actual printing process, wooden blocks were carved to reproduce specific patterns in relief. ‘Mordants’(starch, iron aceta or alumna) were then applied on to the wooden block, which was then used to print the prepared cloth . Therefore dyes weren’t directly applied on to the cloth but ‘mordants’ were. After treatment, these ‘mordants’ revealed the desired colors.
After printing, the cloth was rinsed in a vat of cow dung and then washed. In order to reveal the colors on the areas stamped by the ‘mordants’, the cloth was plunged into a vat full of dye, made from madder roots. This process is called ‘garançage’. A range of colors was obtained using this technique: from dark red to soft pink, from black to lilac, violet or brown. Since the background would become pinkish, the cloth was laid out in the prairies to bleach. To print patterns in yellow and blue, the dyes were directly applied on to the cloth. Until 1808 green was obtained by applying layers of blue and yellow. In 1808 Samuel Widmer, Oberkampf’s nephew, discovered a green dye that could be applied directly on to the cloth.
After the finishing touches, a last coating was applied to some of the pieces. This coating was made of a mixture of wax and starch. Once coated the piece was flattened through a hot calender. To give a satin finish, the piece was then smoothed using a machine called ‘lissoir’, which consisted of an articulate arm that would flatten the cloth with ‘marbles’ of agate or crystal.
From 1770 onwards, etched copper plates replaced the wooden blocks. This copper plate technique enabled monochrome printing and marked the beginning of printed scenes with characters, which made the toiles de Jouy famous. In 1797, the copper roller (invented by a Scotsman in 1783) was introduced. Productivity was greatly improved using this roller technique: up to 5000 meters could be produced in one day!