Where does madras fabric come from?
Madras is a fabric with a silk warp and a brightly colored cotton weft, forming checks or stripes. This fabric comes from the city of Chennai (4th largest city in India today, a fishing town) in South India formerly called Madras, capital of the state of Tamil Nadu.
It was made with dyed banana threads which broke very quickly, and the material from the banana tree left a special smell on the fabric. These banana threads were mixed with cotton, before it completely replaced it, so this cotton and silk fabric was subsequently manufactured in Europe.
This fabric was imported to the islands in the 18th century by the English, well before the first Indian migratory influxes for labor in the West Indies, which explains its presence in the headdresses and Creole outfits worn by free blacks . then worn by the white bourgeoisie at the time of Napoleon Bonaparte and Victor Hugo and finally by the former slaves freed in 1848 .
It was therefore worn by the Creole population of the Lesser Antilles, its light and fine cotton fabric creases easily, it is woven in several colors which form checks and designs mainly used as everyday clothing.
It was necessary to make a distinction between the madras woven with flat threads having bright and varied colors (red, dark blue, and pink resulting from the crossing of red threads and white threads) and the handkerchief woven with twisted threads coming from the England.
Madras, like the Indian handkerchief, have small holes along the edge made by points which stretch the fabric on the loom. The distance between two holes is called " a coujou " in the West Indies, for a long time the piece of madras was bought by coujous.
So the handkerchief cost half as much as madras or its colors were dull and pale so it was necessary to find a way to make it more attractive by painting all its pink parts with a mixture of gum arabic and chrome yellow called " calendage ". .
It is probable that the fabric originally came from Palicat near Madras, we speak of a Paliacate handkerchief, it would subsequently have been given the name of the largest city in the region, which was called Presidency of Madras, but the fabric was also made in the city of Madras for export.
It is unlikely that the fabric appeared in the colonies as early as the 17th century, as the word appeared in the French language at the end of the 18th century, unless it was an export of palicate subsequently named madras .
The English having the monopoly on the madras trade in India, will send cotton to weave them in the madras style, the French will dye and weave the cotton in Rouen considered as the French capital of madras.
Little by little, madras became democratized by affecting white women, then black women of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyana, English colonies like Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Mauritius, the bright red and yellow colors , green blend perfectly with black skin and have a symbolism. The mosaic of colors coming from its mixtures reflects the history of the ethnic composition of Creole societies which experienced a large mixing of their populations.
The Madras is very anchored in West Indian culture and is worn as a costume on festive days, on special occasions (balls, weddings, communions, baptisms,) it is often decorated with white lace.
The madras headdress was a symbol of dignity in India, which was adopted in the West Indies and diverted into a romantic code. It is worn by women in traditional clothing and when they wear a headdress:
- a point means that his heart is up for grabs.
- two points mean she is taken but men can try to woo her.
- three points mean that the woman is married and close to an affair.
- four points mean she is married, but open to a new lover.
Madras, today, is available in various forms of textile accessories, and for interior decoration representing a part of the West Indian and Creole heritage.
Looking to match your earrings to your madras dresses here are some ideas where to look:
diamond-shaped madras earrings.
circular madras earrings.
madras teardrop earrings.
Here's how you can tie your hair with the madras style here:
Madras turban to tie any type of hair.
Here is a style of bag in the same theme that can be worn with any type of classic clothing:
blue madras tote bag made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.