Madras: The Perfect Summery Fabric for Projects at Home
Meet the softer side of plaid: madras. This classic, lightweight fabric is one part prep school and another part camp lodge, but when reimagined in sophisticated hues, it's altogether perfect for summering up your place. Make one (or all!) of these simple ideas, and prepare to feel the breeze.
Named for the city in India where it originated, madras is traditionally made of cotton tinted with vegetable dyes. It was when Dutch traders arrived in India in the early 1600s to trade in the local calico cloth, followed by the British, that madras first became a commodity to be coveted. At the time, the English East India Company sought quality textiles, and stumbled upon a golden find in the small fishing village of Madraspatnam (Madras); the company established a trading post there in the mid-17th century. Madras reached America in 1718 as a donation to the Collegiate School of Connecticut (which is now known as Yale University). The popularity of the name "madras" was attributed to shirt maker David J. Anderson in 1844, even though the material had been referred to as such much earlier.
Flash forward to today, the madras cloth comes in a patterned texture and plaid design, primarily used for summer clothing such as pants, shorts, dresses, and jackets. Our do-it-yourself projects maintain the same characteristic striped patterns and lasting quality—only in new forms at home: table linens, bed pillows, hostess trays and coasters, lampshades, and even wearable accessories. All of them are heirloom-quality and customizable to your preferred colors and patterns.
A bed covered in a riot of different patterns can look busy, but this inviting tumble of easy-to-sew pillows is serene. To create cohesive mix, stick to weaves in the same palette (ours share quiet neutral shades), and use a solid linen spread and shams as the backdrop.
Fabrics, from left: Mood Designer Fabrics #326671 (similar to shown), $14 yd., moodfabrics.com
. B&J Fabrics #120526 (similar to shown), $27 yd.; and #76092672, $27 yd.,
IKEA Delaktig Queen Bed Frame with Headboard, $479,
. Parachute Linen Sheet Set, in Fog Queen, $279,
. Parachute Cloud Cotton Quilt, in Smoke and Blush Full/Queen, $249,
. Williams Sonoma Home Hand-Painted Tonal Abstract Art, $1,250,
A madras tablecloth can set modern scene. It's quick, straight-line stitch: Buy enough yardage to allow for about six inches of overhang, then zip the edges through sewing machine to hem them.
Fabric Wholesale Direct #16114, $5 yd.,
. Vintage ceramic bowls and pitchers.
To fold some personality into neutral place setting, just add colorful madras napkins. They're beautiful and sturdy, whether you're serving special brunch or some messy (in the best way) burgers.
Auntie Oti Madras Napkin, $12,
. Jenni Kayne Sierra Dinner Plate, $60; and Salad Plate, $45,
. Pottery Barn Modern Farmhouse Flatware Set, in Honey (similar to shown), $40,
Carry drinks to the patio on a madras-lined tray, and you'll feel like you're on vacation. Measure and cut fabric to fit the bottom, then brush the tray with matte découpage sealant and place the fabric on top. Press gently to adhere and leave for 15 minutes, then do a top coat and let it dry.
Fabric Wholesale Direct #15980 (left), $5 yd.; and #15981, $5 yd.,
. Muji Wooden Trays, $28 each,
. Vintage ceramic bowl.
Frosty beverages never had more dashing places to sit. Get inexpensive cork coasters, trace them onto few different fabrics, and cut the shapes out. Brush glossy découpage sealant onto the coasters, smooth on the fabric circles, and let them sit for 15 minutes. Then apply a liberal second coat directly onto the fabric and let it dry.
Thirstystone Cork Coasters, $10 for 8,
. For selection of similar fabrics, visit B&J Fabrics,
Cover lampshade in subtle plaid, and give your living room or den a dose of style. Choose a smooth drum shape: The straight and flat sides make it easiest to work with, because you can wrap fabric around it rather than tailoring to it. Cut out a rectangle long enough to encircle it, with an extra inch at the top and bottom. Lay it on an even surface, coat the shade with spray adhesive, place it in the middle of the fabric, and pull the cloth up and round, pressing to adhere and ensuring that the lines on the material stay parallel to the top and bottom of the shade. Hot-glue the excess fabric to the inside of the shade, and let dry.
Mood Designer Fabrics Theory Cotton Plaid, $14 yd., 212-730-5003. Lamps Plus White Hardback Drum Lampshade, 16" by 16" by 12", $50,
. Lostine Bell Skirt Lamp, $665,
. Vintage wicker vase.
Don't toss out any leftover fabric; use it to spiff up summer hat or bag. Snip scrap into a square, and fray the edges by gently pulling few loose threads. Then tuck it into a basket, which you can carry as a purse or chic lunch bag. To customize sun hat (or tote, or keychain, or suitcase handle), fold over a narrow length of fabric and hem the unfolded edge, fray the ends, and tie it on like a ribbon. Just like that, you'll be able to spot your stuff in seconds at the neighborhood pool—or airport baggage claim.
B&J Fabrics #710083172 (on hat), $27 yd.; and #120516 (in basket), $27 yd.,
. Intiearth Cajamarca Hat, $140,
. Olli Ell Big Apple Basket, $35,