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Madras Checks, an ubiquitous feature in lungies and handkerchiefs in the city, is also a world-renowned pattern that made its away across the globe

August 17, 2023 12:58 am | Updated 10:35 am IST

With a history dating back to the 16th Century, Madras Checks or the Real Madras Handkerchief came to count ‘Bleeding Madras’ among its many names due to how the dye bled with each wash.

With a history dating back to the 16th Century, Madras Checks or the Real Madras Handkerchief came to count ‘Bleeding Madras’ among its many names due to how the dye bled with each wash. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

What ties several haute couture brands to Madras’ vibrant textile history? A prominent feature in lungies, handkerchiefs and now even in sarees, the Madras Checks pattern is world-renowned and has been adapted into several garments and styles the world over.

When Francis Day first chanced upon Madras, the cloth available here caught his fancy, and the city soon became a British settlement. Textiles from Madras were sought after internationally and exported and were exported all across the world.

With a history dating back to the 16th Century, Madras Checks or the Real Madras Handkerchief came to count ‘Bleeding Madras’ among its many names due to how the dye bled with each wash. In a virtual session celebrating Madras Month, Anita Ratnam, dancer, cultural entrepreneur and social artivist, and Sreemathy Mohan, textile researcher, dove deep into the fabrics from Madras, including the famed Madras Checks, that once clothed the world.

“Checked cloth was everywhere. It was in our lungies, handkerchiefs, and a part and parcel of the textiles that went from the Coromandel Coast. Madras Checks soon took over the world,” said Ms. Sreemathy.

Ms. Anita pointed out how the pattern came to represent a ‘preppy’ style of fashion on Ivy League campuses in America. “In England, people weren’t used to cotton, and the affluent preferred wool and velvet until they realised how comfortable and easy to maintain and wash cotton was. America was still a British colony, and they took to it as well,” she said, and added, “It has once again become fashionable, and American and British department stores have started displaying Madras Checks again,” she added.

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