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French Tablecloths of Provence - History

Provence Tablecloths


Provence French Tablecloth


Provence French Tablecloth

For many people, just the sight of these brightly coloured tablecloths with their distinctive patterns of olive branches, vines, sunflowers, lavender, lemons and cicadas is enough to trigger longings for the south of France.  The intense sun-drenched colours of these vibrant, bright fabrics are an iconic symbol of Provence. However, they were not originally created in France.

These exotic textiles first arrived in France from India in the early 17th century mainly through the port of Marseille. Les indiennes as they were known, were an instant success in Europe for clothing and furnishing. These luxurious fabrics were light, bright and importantly, colour fast and the French loved them.  Responding to demand, the French soon started producing their own version.

The booming import trade didn't go unnoticed. In 1664 King Louis XIV had his Minister of Finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, create the Compagnie des Indes (East India Company) in order to take a controlling role. Armenian dyers and fabric makers were brought into Marseille to share their skills with local producers. Originally the dyes were obtained from natural materials and each colour in a design was applied with separate woodblock impressions. 

Les indiennes became all the rage at the French court. The new style was satirised by Molière in a production of his comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670), in which the playwright himself played the vulgar nouveau riche merchant M. Jourdain in a dressing gown made of the fabric - with the pattern printed upside-down. 

However, not everyone was happy.  The French silk and wool manufacturers suffered with the new, cheaper competition and several factories in Lyon were forced to close. In 1686, they successfully lobbied the government to stop the importation and production of les indiennes

Les indiennes manufacturers simply dodged the law by moving to Avignon as this belonged to the Vatican and was under Papal rather than French jurisdiction.  The ban only increased the enthusiasm of the public for these brightly coloured materials. 

Officially the ban lasted 73 years, and when it was lifted in 1759, les indiennes took off again and were incredibly popular for the next century. Easy to wear, wash and maintain, they were traditionally used in Provence for household goods including tablecloths, bedspreads and clothing.

Women wore skirts, scarves and aprons, sometimes of different designs all at once, while men wore colourful waistcoats and kerchiefs.

Artisanal production was hit hard in the aftermath of Europe's industrialisation, and many small companies closed down. But today les indiennes are more popular than ever in Provence and many of the companies have long and proud histories.  

The tablecloths in our online shop are produced by a family owned business in Nice, Provence.  Opening their doors in 1933, for the last three generations, the company has been making authentic quality Provençal tablecloths and fabrics to delight locals and tourists alike. 


Click here for a Buying Guide to Provencale Tablecloths - learn about designs, sizes, fabric treatments and their care.


Warning:  Beware of imitations.

Some companies have copied the traditional Provencale designs and have them printed onto lower quality fabrics in Asian factories. Watch out for the words “French inspired” or the claim that the product is simply “imported” as it is most likely imported from China!  Not what you were hoping for.

If you’re shopping for authentic French table linen and the prices seem really cheap, it’s probably because they are made in Asia and the fabric is a low quality copy.


Would you like your own authentic French tablecloth from Provence? To see the full range in our online shop, click here.