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Piña Weaving

Oct 10, 2023

The piña cloth is a light fabric popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is unique to the Philippines and has been used to make traditional garments for centuries. The fabric is handwoven by artisans in the Philippines, most of whom are in the province of Aklan in Western Visayas.

The pineapple was first introduced to the Philippines from the Americas in the sixteenth century. Since Filipinos have already been using plant fibers to weave different types of fabric, they quickly adapted the pineapple fibers to create piña fabric.

Piña weaving was first done in the 1570s. To produce the light and airy fabric that we all know now, weavers used a special type of pineapple, which is the Red Spanish pineapple. It was planted in the shade and mostly used for its long leaves. Because of the special care it took to plant and harvest the plant, it was a very expensive fabric.

Since its first production, the piña cloth has already been deemed highly valuable because of its meticulous and laborious production. Artisans would take a week to design and weave the fabrics and it could take up to a month for a single item to be completed.

Piña cloth weaving, as discussed above, is a very laborious process. It involves five steps to complete.

The first step of piña weaving in Aklan is called pagkigue. This is where the mature leaves of the Red Spanish pineapple are harvested. The leaves’ outer coating is then scraped using a blunt tool to reveal the fibers.

Two types of fiber can be harvested from the pineapple leaves. The first is called bastos, which is characterized by its coarse and strong properties. It is often reserved to make durable materials, such as string and twine.

The second grade of fiber extracted from the leaves is liniwan and can only be harvested after several rounds of intense scraping. This is a much finer material, so it is usually used to make the piña fabric.

The next two steps of Aklan weaving involve hand-knotting and trimming the fibers to prepare them for weaving. These processes result in a long, seamless thread that is wound onto spools to be used for crafting garments and other products. To prevent the fibers from tangling, artisans mix them with sand when not being worked on.

The final piña weaving process before it’s sewn into garments is paghaboe. This step involves taking the piña cloth and weaving it on a loom that has two upright treadles.

Before the piña cloth is made into garments, it needs to be mixed with silk or polyester. This is because the fabric in itself is stiff and translucent and may be uncomfortable to wear.

The piña fabric immediately matched the popularity of imported cotton and silk, which were two of the most readily available fabrics during the time. This is mostly because of piña cloth’s ability to handle intricate embroidery, adding to its beauty and sophistication. It even surpassed the handiwork of intricate laces from France and Spain.

The piña cloth was even highly coveted by the most affluent in Europe. They sought after its unique quality and sheer beauty, even going as far as wearing the piña fabric for important functions.

The piña fabric is versatile and can be used to make different kinds of products. One of the most popular uses for this cloth is piña ensembles. Also called Maria Clara, these ensembles consist of a blouse or camisa with a bell-shaped sleeve and a long skirt or saya. The outfit was completed by a square piece of cloth, also called panuelo, which is often folded and placed over the shoulders to act as a shawl.

Males also wore garments made of piña fabric in the form of barong tagalog. This traditional shirt is lightweight and embroidered with intricate patterns. It is often worn to formal occasions, such as weddings.

Piña fabric is used to make accessories like handkerchiefs, purses, and bags. It is also used to make bedsheets, linens, and tablecloths.

Piña weaving products are made unique through the different embroidery motifs used to decorate them. These motifs are inspired by nature, such as flowers, leaves, and vines. Most of the time, these designs are left to the imagination and creativity of the embroiderer and weaver, adding to the charm of piña cloth garments.

There are two types of handiwork often applied to piña fabrics. The first one is calado, which involves pulling selected threads from the cloth. This process leaves spaces in the fabric that is then used for intricate embroidery patterns.

The second type of handiwork is sombrado or shadow work. It uses a combination of reverse embroidery and cutwork to create patterns in the fabric. This process is more intricate than calado as it requires the use of a needle and thread.

The production of piña cloth has steadily declined starting from the early twentieth century. This is due to the advancements in fashion technology, making the production of different textiles much faster and cheaper. Nowadays, there are only roughly 150 Aklanons who are still actively hand-weaving piña fabric compared to 300 during the peak popularity of the textile.

However, this doesn’t mean that the piña fabric is completely obsolete. In fact, a moderate revival of the cloth has begun in the late twentieth century.

Many people have started appreciating the appeal of the fabric once again and designers have even begun incorporating them into modern clothing. The only difference is that contemporary piña cloth is usually blended with silk (piña seda). This change has made the fabric much more versatile and affordable.

To help revive the industry, a piña-weaving competition is held annually. This has gained traction locally and with international audiences, helping keep the traditional handiwork alive. It showcases the skill and craftsmanship of the weavers and ensures that piña fabric weaving will be remembered for generations to come.

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