Secrets of My Blue Madras Dress

Did you wear a madras dress? Did it bleed?

Popular in the USA in the 1960s this cool summer fabric originated in Madras, India. Loosely woven cotton threads created a plaid patchwork of soft fabric that didn’t cling to the body during sweltering summer days. Some madras was made with dyes that “ran” when the fabric was washed, creating a trendy washed-out look, known as bleeding madras, according to this article in the Chicago Tribune.

I bought into the fad then with a blue madras dress, smocked, sleeveless and zippered down the back. With no cinched belt, the dress felt light and airy – cool. After it was no longer in vogue and looked worn, I used it for home painting jobs.


Before we move into our next home, we want to do some interior painting. Whether I will wield the brush or ask/hire someone else to do the job remains to be seen.

Soon the paint-spattered madras dress will fade into history. I will recycle it.

* * *

The Secret: 

In July 1992 daughter Crista took a time-delay shot of herself wearing my blue madras dress to complete an assignment for her Photography 101 course. “Make sure you are in the picture,” the professor had said. So, with a 35 mm camera poised on a tripod, she snapped a black and white self-portrait in our back yard. Obviously, she didn’t need my assistance, and I didn’t know about the photo until she had it developed in the photo lab dark-room. A selfie before the era of smart phone selfies.

I made one of the prints into a book mark shown here. On the reverse side, I printed a verse from III John 1:4  “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. ~ Dorothea Lange
Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.   ~ Dorothea Lange


It’s no secret that I have paraded a lot of (treasured) stuff on the pages of these posts, evidence that I keep things. With a move imminent, I’m in the mood now though to discard, digitize, or recycle.

When it comes to STUFF, are you a hoarder or a “throw-away-er”? Maybe you fit a different category? Do you have a dress with secrets?


Your opinions are always welcome here. So are your stories.

Thank you!


Coming next: Paring Down and Tidying Up



72 thoughts on “Secrets of My Blue Madras Dress

  1. I love the photo that Crista took of herself in your dress! And what a great idea to make it into a bookmark.
    I don’t think I have a dress with secrets. Perhaps I’ll have to invent one because it sounds so mysterious.

    I guess I hoard some things because I’m not very organized. I have piles of books, papers, photos. . . Someday I’ll get it cleaned up. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you have a writing prompt with the word “dress” in it, no telling what mysterious thoughts will flowout into poetry.

      You don’t have to worry about cleaning up now. But let me tell you, buying another house and selling your own provides a powerful goad – like deadlines your testing service editors set for your submissions. Yes, indeed, creativity and order sometimes clash, as we are both learning these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Marian, I had a pair of madras shorts. Funny you should mention madras. I hadn’t thought about those outfits I wore as a young teen in a long time. I, too, have pared down all the “stuff,” although I am not moving out of my single family home. Still, it feels a lot “lighter” around here and giving away furniture to my sons for their places, felt good as my parents gave me many things when I struck out on my own from lamps and end tables to small carpets. I have to say, however, that I gave away many of my father’s old books, something which I regret. I guess the takeaway is once it’s gone, it’s gone so be careful and think through what you want to keep and what you want to save, although in the end you can’t take any of it with you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are wise, Susan. I have felt gleeful giving some items away, for instance, literature textbooks to budding scholars. (I’ll write about this next week!) Books are the biggest “catch” for me. I guess you’ll have to think that your father’s old books are in appreciative hands. Howell’s dictum “Nothing furnishes a room like books” runs at odds with paring down to make the transition.

      I like that your furniture is finding good homes with your sons, filling a need and extending your legacy. 🙂


  3. Great post! I also love madras and wish it would make a comeback. When I was 15 I had an amazing short madras dress, smocked at the top with an elasticized waist and long bishop sleeves. It could be worn all year in Florida because the fabric was so cool. Funny how we can remember certain special articles of clothing ~ and the memories they bring back!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Researching for this post, I came across so many online outlets that are reviving the madras “craze.” There might be one with an elasticized waist and long bishop sleeves though I don’t remember seeing it. I’m remembering this one because it’s time to pass it on – no, recycle it!. Thanks, Lynn.

      By the way, readers, Lynn writes about trivets. Just click on her name/image and find out more.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hubby & I are currently clearing out our garage of old work files of hubby’s. After up to 50 years, they are no longer needed, and nobody would be interested in them. It is clearing the garage so hubby can build another work bench and, at the same time, relieving us of a burden.
    I know of madras material, but I never had anything like that – it would have been great in the Australian summer heat!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers to your hubby’s garage cleaning. Having a goal like building a workbench speeds the process along, I would imagine. Madras clothing is still available online. When I did a Google search, I thought I’d find lots of historical information, but instead outlets selling outfits popped up.

      You are almost a day ahead of us here in the States, I remind myself when I see your comment, Linda. Thanks for the encouragement to clear out and re-purpose space.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Since I wrote these words, I have recycled the madras dress. Who knows – It may appear in a difference incarnation sometime. Writers, especially, find it hard to part with books. Why, it’s our stock in trade! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s just lovely. I recall trying to get my daughter to wear the blue dress I married her father in. I wanted a picture also. She said, “NO way. I wouldn’t be caught dead in that old dress.” 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your daughter and mine are cut of the same cloth. She made an exception with this dress for the photograph – still puzzles me why. I guess you’ll have to wait for a grand-daughter to bite on the offer. By then, the dress would have acquired a vintage sheen – or not!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your post piqued my curiosity about bleeding madras, so I did a little Google research. Authentic bleeding madras hasn’t been available for more than 45 years! It went out of favor because the dyes used were found to be environmentally unsafe.

    However, a customer was requesting bleeding madras. After much effort, David Wood Clothiers in Portland, Maine was able to locate artisans in India who remembered the process. This time, environmentally safe dyes were used. Producing the fabric by hand is a very slow process; only 4-6 yards of fabric can be produced per loom/per day.

    Finally the first shipment of fabric was received in the USA and sent to New England Shirt Company in Fall River, Massachusetts for construction. The resulting David Wood bleeding madras shirts sold out immediately in 2015. So, since they were so popular, maybe there’s hope for us all that bleeding madras will make a comeback!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, historian, for digging deeper here. Authentic madras is expensive, probably why there are so many knock-offs which have less toxic dyes. I wonder whether you will be tempted to buy an outfit now, Lynn.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Of course I wore madras–mine was a blouse, and I loved it for awhile! You know, I’m finding that once I write about things, photograph them, and preserve them online, it is easier to let go of them. I’m not as much of a sentimentalist as my husband and oldest daughter, but it’s there.

    I think we can let go of the very thin and faded “Survivor” T-shirt Stuart wore for his last day of work yesterday!! It may make one farewell appearance on my blog yet, with his permission.

    My daughter brings me the tiniest scraps of fabric to upcycle in our local Gift and Thrift fabric bailer. Must make a visit over there soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did see Stuart in his retirement regalia on Facebook recently. 🙂

      And I do agree that preserving mementos online makes it easier to let them go. I have a (rather wobbly) rule of thumb now. If it’s flat and light, it may go with us. If it’s bulky, out it goes. Hurrah to your daughter for her resourcefulness. Even tiny scraps add up.


  8. Good morning. What a wonderful post. Crista looks so pretty. I’m sure she got a good grade for that self portrait. I don’t remember these dresses. I know how nice it feels to see your daughter in your dress. True story: the girls were cleaning out their drawers to donate what doesn’t fit. I had washed my clothes and put clean folded clothes in plastic garbage bags so to not hunt down my laundry baskets. Next day I told girls to put bags in car. While driving to Repeat Boutique, I thought let me give this to Gloria my daughter maybe there’s some things she’d like for her daughter. That Sunday at church I see my daughter wearing a dress of mine. I said oh wow I have a dress just like that. You look good in it. She responded yes you gave it to me in the bags of clothes you brought me. My granddaughters thought those bags were for donation. What can I do? So everytime I see her, she is sporting something of mine. I’m just glad she likes my clothes. Have a nice day.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What can you do? Rejoice that your daughter likes your dresses. Apparently, the mix-up was meant to be. Your stories often make me smile – or laugh. Thank you, Gloria. 🙂


  10. Your post brought back memories, Marian. Memories of “stuff” I’ve discarded over the years. My blue and red heavy wool twirling jacket with EOHS emblazoned on the back comes to mind immediately. That went in 1976 or so, to a GoodWill in Ohio. I wish I still had it! And a (very) few of the books I discarded while clearing out my Philly house getting ready for our Peace Corps jaunt. I think of them as friends of a sort. Shared memory friends. But mostly I love the feeling of lightness that comes with clearing out, tossing away, giving away. I love seeing the empty spaces in my surroundings, in my life. Hmmmm.

    And I still love madras. It sings to me of quality. (Though mine didn’t bleed; I missed something there).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your review of things remembered, Janet. I see you as an energetic majorette, something a little Mennonite girl could not aspire to. Whether or not you have a photo of the jacket you gave away, it’s a warm memory.

      I too am enjoying a feeling of lightness as I look left to the bookshelves that have been relieved scores of books. Not to worry, they are not orphans. I found good homes for them. 🙂


  11. I admired the madras that others wore, but I don’t recall having any of my own. I did hand down some items to my daughter, however. She wore one of my cut-off nightgowns for years. I think I kept it along with a few other favorite items in the cedar chest.

    You wove so many quotes, images, and thoughts together into this post. You would enjoy a Celtic knot workshop like the one I took in Lindisfarne. The secret to eternal images: alternate “under” and “over.” I have a blog post simmering on this concept on the back burner. You brought it forward, starting with bleeding Madras. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Alternating “under” and “over” makes for a tight, enduring weave – maybe bleeding, maybe not.

    I am enjoying your trips vicariously as you skim the globe. I know I would enjoy the spiritual aspects of the one to Lindisfarne. Right now, though, my life is structured with 2 M’s: moving and memoir, which has moved (temporarily, mind you) to the back burner. I look forward to your piece on Celtic knots and whatever spiritual application grows out of it.

    I love how the nourishment passes from one to another here. Thank you for yours, Shirley.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Beautiful bookmark – beautiful girl. Just like her Mom. 🙂
    I wore a few dresses as a child that had been my Mom’s, with a smocked yoke and a bow tied behind. I used one of the faded pink dresses to make the dress for a pillowcase doll for my Grandmother. My Mom has it now and it graces the bed I sleep in when I visit.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. That’s wonderful: a dress with a story! If I really like an item of clothing, I will keep it for a number of years, but it eventually goes to charity to be replaced with something equally pleasing. Hope declattering is going well. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Marian — I love that you turned your daughter’s photo into a bookmark. Smart cookie you! I remember having a madras “peasant blouse” that I loved.

    To answer your question, I’m a throw-away-er. The few things I do have, I love. For instance, I have a wide-brimmed, straw gardening hat that’s been around the world with me. And while it doesn’t have any “secrets,” oh the stories it could tell…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My sister made me a two piece going away outfit as a wedding gift. It was a blue-green nubby kind of material and I loved it. When we got to our motel, it turned out that the couch in the lobby was made of the exact material as my outfit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did you hear me say, “That’s amazing!” when I read your post? Your sister had good taste, and you were obviously in style. I won’t ask whether you still have the outfit or not. 😉

      Thanks, Elfrieda!


  17. There’s so much to love about this post, Marian. I had a madras skirt and matching jacket back in the day and I recall the madras craze. I love the photo of your daughter that you turned it into a bookmark with scripture. Beautiful! And then there’s the sifting and sorting. I’ve yet to dig too deeply into the pile of things but I have started the process. I’m thinking doing a little bit at a time will work. I’m
    amazed at the many relics of the past you have shared. So many treasures and I don’t envy you the task of downsizing. Good Luck..I’m taking lessons from you!😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A writing coach we both know says, “By the yard it’s hard, but by the inch it’s a cinch.” Yes, doing a little bit at a time will work. You won’t believe how much accumulates. By the way, it you’re taking lessons from me, be alert for a glitch or two along the way, Kathy!

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Such a beautiful story …I love that dress and all it fond memories . That photo of your daughter that you turned into a book mark is sublime . Please , please don’t throw that dress away I’ll have it tee hee . There is so much love within the fibres it would be a cardinal sin to chuck it . I have never heard of a Madras Dress , my sister might have, she was a teenager in the 60s must ask her .
    I bought a dress in the early eighties when our lovely , poor Princess Diana was all the rage . It was and is beautiful and yet I have never wore …you see the right occasion never came up but I just couldn’t throw it away . When my friend saw it , the one I was bridesmaid for in that photo I sent you , she said ‘ Who do you think you are Princess Di ‘ put me off it a bit . Lynne would have broke her heart if she knew ,because she was only joking . I will try to put a photo of it on my Facebook page , if not I’ll isend it to you via email just for a laugh 😃😃.
    Great post .

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, Princess Diana could wear clothes with verve. Yes, do put a photo of the dress and I will post it on Facebook along with the link to this post. I need a laugh today as I am packing for the move. (Actually, more like sorting through things at this point.) Thanks for our comment and your cute stories. Love them, Cherry!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I didn’t know that that cheesecloth (I think we called it that) was named ‘madras’. I remember those t shirts from that time – cool, light, fresh – hippie-ish especially with tie-dye paint. Maybe it’s not the same thing.

    I’m a bit of both, hoarder and throw away-er. I mean I have audio tapes and luckily a music box that plays them though I don’t know when I last used them. My late mother’s yoga audio tapes I would never throw away 🙂 though goodness knows its been years and years since i last listened to them … Books I’ll donate to the library but not special ones that I know I’ll re-read. I do a clearing of my wardrobe from time to time and donate. Though quite why I’m holding onto a few pairs of jeans I know I’ll never fit into remains a mystery to me.

    Hope it’s all going good Marian!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susan, I’m not sure that cheesecloth and madras are the same fabric, but madras is definitely hippie-ish.

      Our possessions hold emotional sway over us, with origins sometimes difficult to discern. You are smart to discard keep, recycle, donate as you go along. I wonder whether something special happened when you were wearing those jeans – intriguing to ponder. Thanks for stopping by, as always with thoughtful comments.


  20. Mom made me a couple of things out of madras. I don´t recall it running, but it may have. I love the bookmark. The dress will live forever through the pictures. My daughter wore a dress I made for myself years before at one of her graduation celebrations. I was touched she would want to. I think it looked better on her than me anyway. Wish I had a picture of her in it. Yes, I have been called a hoarder (by hubby) but I had to get rid of so much when we moved. I am trying not to collect again. Good luck with your purging.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Purging” is the right word for what is going on in this household. I can imagine with an international move you’ve had to be even more strict with what you keep and/or give away. My daughter never wore a dress I made for her especially for her graduation weekend. I felt bad about that, but the fact that she liked my madras dress a few years later makes up for it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  21. My friend Nancy and I have pictures, too, Marian, but we’ve pinky-sworn to never show them. The summer after our freshman year in college, we worked together at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO. One day Nancy decided to do our laundry while I was at work. She had FOUR pieces of madras clothing, which she divided between the two loads, underwear and shorts and tops. She used hot water to be sure to get everything clean. Need I say more?
    Nancy’s mom had always done her laundry–she lived at home during her freshman year of college–and all my clothes, except what I was wearing day, was fully madras-marked!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Marylin, you take the prize for the best bleeding madras story. When I read “FOUR pieces” followed by “two loads,” I could smell trouble. Poor you, and poor Nancy, who must have been mortified at the result.

      Here’s to teaching students how to do laundry before they get to college. Thanks for entertaining us here so often with timely tales.


  22. When we were living in Florida, I made my husband a “batiked” madras bathrobe for those hot and muggy mornings. It was lightweight and durable and he loved wearing it. It gets much less use now that we’re in the ‘frozen tundra’ of Ohio.

    I don’t think I have a dress with secrets, but I do have a yellow rose-patterned dress in a lightweight cotton that is fully lined in another layer of lightweight cotton. In keeping with the theme, while it isn’t madras, it has that same easy, breezy feel. It washes up like a dream. With a belt and heels, it’s dressy. With sandals, it goes to the park or for a picnic. It manages not to wrinkle too much in a suitcase, so it goes on lots of warm-weather trips with me. It’s a great dress for roadtrips or sight-seeing because it’s so comfortable. I wear it around the house on the weekends sometimes just because it’s so easy to wear. If I want to run an errand, I add a cute handbag, some flats and a great pair of sunglasses and I’m ready to go. It has stood the test of time and when it finally gives up the ghost, I am going to be very sad!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m trying to picture Jim in a madras bathrobe. Very practical for Florida or summer in Ohio. 🙂

      Your yellow-rose dress sounds like a versatile travel companion and flattering to your brunette complexion. Thanks, Karen.


  23. It was interesting to see in my blogger-wife’s post that her old dress was so intriguing to her readers. I hope just because the dress flew away to Madras Land that it means she will still join me on needed painting occasions to anoint another dress to take it place!

    This week when in a fast-food restaurant I was listening to a retired police officer as he asked the manager/owner if he knew what kind of shirt he was wearing–the aged then enlightening the younger about Madras shirts.

    Linda Visman, maybe your hubby can help me with cleaning out my garage – from a working business in a home for 37 years. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I’m a hoarder when it comes to books, but right now I’m feeling it’s time for a good clean out of things that aren’t important to me any more. Some books will go, but very few. I keep the ones I love nearby. They are good friends of mine.

    At the moment I’m working on closets and yes, getting rid of things I no longer use or wear. It’s feeling so good.

    I love the bookmark you made from your daughters photo. What a wonderful way to “save” something that needs to be given away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you can relate to the “lightness of being” that comes from discarding and recycling. But books have their tentacles in me too. Next week’s blog will feature a few I gave to someone special, so they feel like they’re still mine in a way.

      Speaking of books, an advance copy of your book (Woot! Woot!) arrived in the mail yesterday. I can’t wait to read (and later review) it. Just part way down the road you have traveled, I appreciate the stamina and creativity to get this far. Thanks for chiming in here, Joan.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Oh my gosh, you zoomed me into my past. Yes, I wore a madras dress much like yours. Loved the thing. But I never hold onto things – I’m sure it was gone by the time I was out of college. The fact that you still had yours, and your daughter could take such a beautiful photo wearing it. Wow. That says something for those who keep things waaaay past their prime.
    And I love love love the bookmark that you made. How did you do that? What on-line service did you use ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The bookmark is dated 1992, before online services. I believe Crista must have made smaller prints from the original she took for her class. Then I simply cut one of the prints into a bookmark size, sacrificing much of the landscape on either side. Nothing professional – just home-made.

      Keeping things waaaay past their prime is both a blessing and a curse. The bookmark is skinny and flat, but we are faced with too many other gawky artifacts now that we are packing to move. It’s enough to make a grown woman cry. Thanks for asking, Pamela! 😀


      1. So, you’re an artist as well as a writer. That bookmark is really special.
        Yes, five years ago my guy and I moved from a 5-bedroom, 2 acres much-loved home to a much-smaller empty-nested place. The packing, the giving up, the giving to, was extremely difficult, and extremely gratifying. I hope you feel the lightness of being that comes with it soon.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. My husband is an artist, my son is an artist teacher/photographer. I do the best I can with my iPhone 6.

          Yes, I am experiencing “lightness of being.” However, I think it is “bearable,” unlike what the book title suggests.

          Liked by 1 person

  26. I’m not familiar with Madras Marian. But making the bookmark was an excellent idea.!
    I’d hate to call myself a hoarder, maybe more of a packrat, lol. But after several moves, we learn to let go. And digitalizing is a great way to keep some thing in more compartmentalized, space saving manner. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I don’t think of myself as a hoarder, but I neglected dealing sorting and tossing after Vic died–except his clothes. That I did right away. First grief and learning to live at my home on my own. Then writing, publishing, and promoting a book along with writing articles, blogging, and you know the rest. So here I am trying to fill or shred one box or at least one file full a day. Already behind, but it’s happening a little at a time. A one or two year project.

    Today new rugs are being installed in the downstairs of my home–needed since before Vic died. That meant I had to clean off surfaces in the office. I filed many papers, recycled many, but I ran out of time and some ended up in boxes to be gone through before setting anything on those clean surfaces again. Fortunately the living room didn’t have piles.

    Are you sure your daughter doesn’t want that dress? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Writing kept you sane apparently as you tried to find your balance in a new life. I can’t imagine dealing with such a cataclysmic event without the venting that comes with writing.

    You are taking measured steps toward whatever comes next. Brava! You’re probably not really behind, just sizing up the enormity of the job, a feeling I can definitely relate to now.

    Crista says No to the dress!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I’m a bit of both. Mother was a hoarder and I try hard to to be that way but I do seem to accumulate a lot of things. Currently I’m going through my vast collection of clothes, bags and shoes and selling them on eBay. The problem is, once I’ve taken a photo and written a discription I love them all over again and want to keep them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s a push/pull operation full of conflicting emotions. I have sold one item on eBay, but it’s so much trouble to bundle stuff up and mail it. Because it was a valance window treatment it was bulky and difficult to mail. Still, I got some $ $ out of it.

      I’m glad we have this connection here.

      Liked by 1 person

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