History Of Madras Cloth

Indias contribution to the sartorial world includes the humble hand-woven Madras cloth known as Madras Checks
Stacked madras tablecloths. Photo Credit Shutterstock
Stacked madras tablecloths. Photo Credit Shutterstock

Madras Checks and its influence of men&rsquos clothing went as far as Paris and America. In 1960s, ad Guru David Ogilvy advertised it as a shirt &ldquoguaranteed to bleed." Also known as Madras plaid or simply Madras Cloth, this fabric has a traditional pattern characterized by colorful, woven checks or plaids. The name "Madras" itself refers to the city of Chennai, which was formerly known as Madras. The fabric's roots can be traced back to the handwoven textiles produced in the region of Tamil Nadu, India, particularly in and around Chennai.


The traditional method of Bleeding Madras entailed dyeing hand-woven white cotton fabric (referred to as gada) in a blend of aliziru (a hue resembling rust red), indigo (blue), and myrablum (a mixture of yellow and white)&mdashall derived from vegetable dyes. The cloth's warp and weft were meticulously woven by hand, intertwining two distinct colors, and subsequently subjected to washing. With each subsequent wash, the colors would gradually blend and bleed, resulting in a charming faded appearance.

A Brief History

As far back as the 12th century, Madras was exporting un-striped gada for the making of head dresses in West Africa and West Asia. Centuries later, it is said to have caught the eye of Americans visiting the Caribbean and it made its way to North America. In the 1800s, weavers of Madras cotton started imitating Scottish tartan weaves worn by the Scottish regiments stationed in Madras. The tartan pattern is a juxtaposition of unevenly placed stripes criss-crossing at the right angles. This version of gada became renowned as the Madras Checks. .&rdquo The authentic Madras check has an identical pattern on both sides of the fabric. In fact, it stands as a prime illustration of a truly sustainable textile that possesses remarkable softness and breathability, perfectly suited for the hot and humid climate of coastal regions.

Today, brands such as Ralph Lauren, come out with Madras plaids called checks in Chennai and Bleeding Madras in America. A little town near Oregon in North America has even been named Madras. The Madras Bermuda shorts were also once in trend on American university campuses. In France, Madras has come to mean any checked cotton fabric. 

Where to Find Authentic Madras Checks

One of the best places to visit is the George Town area in Chennai. This bustling neighborhood is known for its textile shops, where you can find a wide variety of fabrics, including Madras checks. Many shops in George Town specialize in traditional textiles and offer a range of Madras check fabrics in different colors and designs. In particular, you can explore the iconic shops on Anderson Street, Mint Street, and Naidu Plaza. These establishments have a long-standing history in Chennai's textile trade and are renowned for their collection of Madras checks. Here, you can find both ready-made clothing items made from Madras checks and the fabric itself, allowing you to create your own unique garments. Moreover, Chennai is also home to several government-sponsored emporiums, such as Poompuhar and Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation (TANHOD), where you can find authentic Madras check fabrics. These emporiums aim to promote traditional Indian crafts and offer a wide range of textiles, including Madras checks, directly sourced from artisans.

If you're interested in experiencing the heritage of Madras checks, a visit to Chennai's George Town area and these emporiums will provide you with an array of options to explore and purchase this vibrant fabric pattern.

Madras Cloth is also available to buy across all big brands such as Uniqlo and Ralph Lauren. 

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