Chinoiserie: A Symbol of Elegance and Exoticism

The way Chinoiserie imitates Asian art and design has made them incredibly popular in recent times. Their design can add a bit of exotic charm to any room, furniture, or clothing. Usually, the designs include charming lush gardens and embellished finishes.

Contrary to popular belief, Chinoiserie is not just from China. Where does it come from, and how did it acquire its name? Also, how can we effectively use Chinoiserie fabric and take care of it so it lasts longer? You’re about to find out.

What is Chinoiserie?

Chinoiserie fabric

The term Chinoiserie comes from the French word ‘chinois,’ which means Chinese or ‘after the Chinese taste.’ It is a form of western interpretation or imitation of Chinese and other Asian countries’ arts and designs. The design often depends on the country the designer is trying to imitate.

Chinoiserie designs can appear on several things like wood, paper, glass, and fabric; Hence Chinoiserie products include textiles, furniture, porcelain, and pottery. Chinoiserie can appear in several textiles like silk and cotton.

Although the Chinoiserie was popular in Europe, it wasn’t the only continent that produced the design; other countries in Asia were also producing Chinoiserie designs for the European market. Design usually consisted of what the British thought represented Chinese art.

Common motifs of Chinoiserie included fantastical oriental scenes, sinuous stylized floral designs, and birds on tree branches. These designs were usually ill-informed and made from rumors and the imagination of their designers.

A brief History of Chinoiserie

Europe’s interest in Asian and Middle East design started in the 14th century when Italian explorer Marco Polo returned from his adventure on The Silk Road with stories of exotic cultures and samples of beautiful art. By the 16th to 17th centuries, demands for Indian and Chinese products had soared.

Although trade between Europe and other Asian countries had been booming for centuries, the Europeans knew nothing about Asian culture except what they saw on imported merchandise. In the 18th century, European designers began imitating Chinese art and motifs to serve the surging demand in the market.

Because they didn’t know much about Chinese culture, some designs were wildly inaccurate and even mixed Chinese themes with those of Japanese, Indian, and other Asian countries. The product came to be known as Chinoiserie (resembling Chinese). They became increasingly popular amongst the aristocrats and other well-to-do members of society.

By the 19th Century, Chinoiserie was out of fashion, and demand plummeted. Later in the century, it had a small revival that lasted until the 20th century but never really hit the heights of the 17th-18th centuries. It is still associated with interior design and fashion until this day.

How to Produce Chinoiserie Design On Fabric

There are three main ways of creating Chinoiserie designs. You can hand draw designs onto the material, embroider them, or print them directly. 

Hand drawing Chinoiserie designs is the most tedious and time-consuming method. But it is a common method of making Chinoiserie designs. To get it right, the designer outlines the scene or motif he wants to create on the material, then picks a color palette and painstakingly paints each design using special brushes.

For embroidery, the designers make use of a needle and threads. They draw a faint outline of the design on the material and then weave the thread in a way that follows the outline using stitches. They either use hand embroidery or machine embroidery. Cotton fabric is the most preferred fabric.

Many designers also print their designs on the material directly, and they could use stencils or digital printing in this method. In this case, the textile workers pretreat the fabric to enable them to absorb dyes better before imprinting the design.

With the stenciling method, textile workers lay the fabric on a flat surface, place the stencil on it, and run the dye over the stencil. Tiny holes in the stencil allow the dye to recreate the design. In digital printing, the designer creates the design on a computer before feeding it into a machine that applies it to the fabric.

Types of Chinoiserie Fabrics


The classification of Chinoiserie designs is based on the type of motif. Sometimes, the color of the motifs also contributes to each type. There are three main types of Chinoiserie- the blue and white style, the Toile de Jouy (or landscape) style, and the blossoming tree style. Most Chinoiserie designs combine two or more motif styles.

The Blue and White Chinoiserie Designs

The blue and white Chinoiserie design is a form of design that uses a monochromatic blue design to create motifs of different types. The background of the material (whether fabric or porcelain) is always white, while only blue ink is used to create the design.

The motifs of blue and white Chinoiserie vary. Some of these designs depict trailing branches and sprigs with leaves and flowers. The plant and floral-themed motifs are usually sprawling and evenly distributed against the material.

Other motifs common with the blue and white Chinoiserie are geometric labyrinth-like lines and shapes that mostly depict Chinese symbols and letters. On occasion, blue and white Chinoiserie may include little scenes of Chinese streets and buildings like pagodas and pavilions. The design is more commonly found on porcelain vases and works well as a form of interior decor.

Toile de Jouy Chinoiserie Designs

This form of Chinoiserie design can be both monochromatic or multi-colored. Monochromatic toile de Jouy and the blue and white porcelain styles have similarities. Both design forms reflect nature (like trees, flowers, and birds) and public buildings (pagodas and pavilions). However, toile de Jouy focuses more on the inanimate objects in nature like rivers, clouds, mountains, hills, or creeks. 

The toile de Jouy Chinoiserie design also depicts every scene of Chinese life, such as figures playing, walking, and working. They also depict lush gardens and parks which surround bridges or public buildings. 

Details such as shrubbery, grasses, and foliage are also colored. With multi-color, the toile de joy offers more details and gives a room or fabric an exotic feel. They are mainly used on porcelain, plates, and fabric.

The Blossoming Tree Designs

This type of Chinoiserie depicts the branches of trees and other animals (primarily birds) who reside within them. Usually, the motif will include the ground from where the tree sprouted; they may sometimes also include people. The motif is a seamless repeating pattern easily replicated side by side.

Many blossoming trees’ designs can be traced back to 18th and 19th-century techniques. Many designers recreate the designs by painting each tree by hand or using embroidery to depict the sprawling trees. They are mainly used to create murals or exquisite wallpapers.

Uses and Applications of Chinoiserie

Chinoiserie design

Chinoiserie has a wide range of applications, and these have been further spiked by growing interest in design. Some of the applications include:

Interior Design

The use of Chinoiserie in interior decoration has a long inconsistent history. Chinoiserie was in vogue from the 19th century down to the 1920s; it had a resurgence during the 1980s and 1990s and is in fashion once more.

Interior designers use them to make wallpapers, porcelain planters, upholstery covers, murals, jars, and vases. The more common designs are the monochromatic blue and white design and the toile de Jouy design. Their sprawling designs produce a charming focal point to a room when combined with floral arrangements.


Chinoiserie furniture has a solid aesthetic feel about them that is hard to resist. Some pieces range from wooden desks and chairs with golden accents and hand-painted landscapes to cabinets and floor screens. 

Other Chinoiserie furniture includes vanity tables and cabinets, sideboards, and commode. These pieces of furniture are often covered with breathtaking scenarios. Designers often used the blossoming tree and toile de Jouy designs when decorating furniture.

Ceramics, Statues, and Figurines

Ceramics and Figurines are also a part of the interior decor but deserve to be treated separately, and this is because you can also use them outdoors. 

Statues modified with blue and white Chinoiserie can line the steps of houses, while large figurines can stay in lobbies. Whatever you choose to use them, they also add a touch of aesthetic beauty to the home.

Caring For Chinoiserie 

Chinoiserie is found on a vast array of materials, so presenting a specific outline for care is complicated. However, you can take some basic precautions to keep your Chinoiserie lasting a long time. Some of them are:

  • Avoid exposing Chinoiserie material to direct sunlight as it can lead to fading.
  • If you are using Chinoiserie furniture, wipe the water off immediately to prevent cracking and a lackluster appearance.
  • Dust wallpapers, upholstery covers, and other materials regularly to maintain a clean surface and prevent dust buildup.
  • Use a dry cloth to wipe surfaces and a soft toothbrush to clean curves. Damp is dangerous for most Chinoiserie furniture.
  • When dealing with Chinoiserie fabric, use the same care procedures for cotton, silk, and ditsy printing materials. Ideally, you want to wash the fabric as little as possible.
  • Use a high-quality clear paste wax when polishing Chinoiserie furniture. Avoid using water, oil, or solvents on the surface.

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