“Biennial culture is already almost irrelevant, because so many more people are providing so many better opportunities for artists to exhibit their work.”
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW YORK CITY –– More than a month after Iloilo exhibitors introduced hablon, the weaving of fabric using locally made fibers such as piña, abaca and cotton in an exhibit at the Philippine Center here, weavers from Kalibo, Aklan and embroiderers from Lumban Laguna introduced piña-seda (pineapple and silk cloths from the tropics) or Hibla ng Lahing Filipino Traveling Exhibition in the same venue.
The exhibition, jointly spearheaded by the National Museum of the Philippines (Pambansang Museo) and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda, started on July 24 until September 7, 2018.
Dr. Ana Maria Theresa Labrador, National Museum of the Philippines assistant director, said they launched the US exhibition in Washington D.C. from June 11 until July 16, 2018.
The piña-seda exhibition will continue at the Hamilton Library, University of Hawaii’s Manoa in Honolulu on September 17 until November 17, 2018.
“Our primary goal is to promote common fibers handwoven and turn into textiles like bark, bast, cotton, abaca, and pineapple,” Labrador explained ina speech July 24.
They are also studying looms and weaving technologies, added Labrador stressing that they do weaving demonstrations and embroidery workshops during the exhibition period at the same time.
Rose Arances, Legarda’s chief political affairs and project officer, emphasized that “traditional textiles are ties that bind. It links the past to the present and brings together cultures, which, no matter how diverse, has a commonality.”
Reading Legarda’s speech, Arances said, “traditional textiles bring together industries, communities, and people. A fabric or a garment is a synergy among workers and artisans. It is a product of diligence, hard work, and passion.”
Several hands are needed to make one fabric alone.
For piña, if the farmer is also the reaper, and the weaver is also the warper and loom dresser, it will take at least 4 people, including the designer and sewer, to bring piña to fabric, Arances stressed.
For the silk, at least 8-9 people are needed from farmer to fabric, if all are within the same general location.
For piña-seda, that would be 12 people to produce the fabric, plus 3 for embroidery including transport, and 2 for designer and sewer. This means that a handwoven piña-seda blouse with embroidery would entail at least 17 people to complete.
According to the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI), there are currently 1,277 weavers in the Philippines and 494 groups involved in the handweaving sector.
Arances added: “Imagine how many more families and communities we can support if we continue to promote traditional textiles.”
Pineapple fiber is considered to be more delicate in texture than any other vegetable fiber. It is extracted from the leaves of the pineapple plant, particularly the Red Spanish variety, which has leaves that yield excellent fibers for handweaving.
The pineapple plant is not indigenous to the Philippines. It is believed that the Spaniards brought the plant to our shores. The beginning of pineapple cultivation in the Philippines also marked the start of the craft of piña cloth weaving in the country.
Handwoven piña cloth with intricate embroidery was greatly prized then. In the 1860s, many European royalties received gifts of piña cloth originating from the Philippines from loyal subjects to commemorate momentous occasions.
However, the eventual influx of cheaper and imported machine-woven fabrics and the foreign influence on Philippine fashion resulted in the decline of the piña cloth production, which is a laborious and time-consuming method.
In a bid to revive the industry, government and private sectors implemented the Pilot Production of Piña Fiber and Cloth in the Province of Aklan in 1989.
Aklan has been known as the center of piña fiber and cloth production since the Red Spanish variety is mainly found in the Panay Island. But there were also efforts to propagate piña fiber and cloth production in other provinces such as in Antique, Guimaras, Capiz, Palawan, Negros Oriental and La Union.
However, production in Capiz, Negros Oriental and La Union ceased for various reasons. But it has made considerable progress in Palawan.
In terms of decorticated piña fiber, production is mainly in Camarines Norte and very limited quantities in Cavite and Rizal.
Based on 2014 statistics, there are 2,086 hectares of pineapple farms in Camarines Norte, 67 hectares in Palawan, 21 hectares in Aklan and 3 hectares in Antique, which are sources of piña fiber. These farms employ 1,370 farmers.
When piña-seda weaving was introduced in Aklan in 1998, customers reportedly preferred this over pure piña since piña-seda is cheaper but its beauty and texture is also at par with pure piña.
The shift to piña-seda from pure piña was reportedly caused by difficulties in the supply of Red Spanish pineapple leaves, likely due to the shortage of knotters.
Piña-seda or pineapple-silk is a handwoven fabric made from hand-scraped piña fiber blended with silk to produce different texture and design.
Aside from being lightweight, the combined property of pineapple and silk makes the fabric not too stiff compared to pure pineapple, and has more body compared to pure silk. It is stronger than pure pineapple but three times cheaper; and easier to weave due to the strength of silk.
In terms of silk production, the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) spearheads the development of the silk industry, with the joint cooperation of the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI), the Sericulture Research and Development Institute (SRDI) of the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University (DMMMSU), the University of the Philippines at Los Ban~os (UPLB) and other state universities and colleges (SUCs).
The silk industry is characterized by various activities such as silkworm egg production, cocoon production, reeling operation, weaving and made-up goods manufacturing.
Mulberry farming is important to silk production because silkworms feed solely on mulberry leaves.
Majority of these farms are located in Western Visayas, particularly in Negros Occidental. Meanwhile, cocoon-producing provinces are Negros Occidental, La Union, Benguet, Ilocos Sur and Abra.
This industry could actually provide livelihood to many communities, but there has been a noted decrease in silk production in the Philippines.
Production of dried cocoons went down from 9,000 kilos in 2003 to 3,000 kilos in 2012; there were only 150 hectares of mulberry plantation areas in 2014, compared to 300 hectares in 2005; and production of raw silk went down from 1,500 kilos in 2005 to 800 kilos in 2014.
In the past decade, the Philippines has been exporting an average of 25,000 square meters of silk fabric. But the last time it exported raw silk was in 2013-10 kilograms of raw silk to Luxembourg.
There is reportedly a huge gap between demand and production of raw silk in the country. The PhilFIDA estimates about 10 metric tons demand for raw silk in the country annually against production in 2015 at 0.425 metric tons. Which is why we have to import an average of 13,227 kilograms of raw silk, 12,300 kilograms of silk yarn and 1.119 million square meters of silk fabrics annually.
Due to the limited supply of raw silk, supply of piña-seda fabric also went down in the past decade from 57,804 meters in 2007 to 17,690 meters in 2016.
Among the challenges in the production of piña-seda textiles are the limited supply of silk as well as supply or manufacturer of knotted pineapple fiber, and less number of weavers.
In particular for silk production, the PTRI notes that there is low confidence in the profitability of sericulture and the lack of integration of the supply and value chain. Another concern is the lack of water during extreme heat or periods of drought.
In terms of piña fiber, the tedious process of hand-scraping the fiber has led to limited production. The irregular demand for piña cloth products due to its being a high-priced fabric, is also a challenge in promoting its use.
Lack of capital to purchase raw materials, looms, and other tools and lack of training on weaving and product development are the other constraints.
But the local textile industry is continuously evolving and these challenges only encourage innovativeness among industry stakeholders.
The Sericulture Research and Development Institute in Bacnotan, La Union has established 44 sericulture technology-demonstration (techno-demo) farms in eight provinces-La Union, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Abra, Rizal, Zambales, Bulacan, Tanay and Batangas. A component of the program is the Mulberry Research and Development, which has helped boost the production of heavy leaf-yielding mulberry trees.
For piña fiber, there was a decline by 27.1% in production in 2016. From 7.95 metric tons in 2015, piña fiber production in 2016 was at 5.79 metric tons.
In a bid to increase production of pineapple fiber, the Department of Agriculture (DA) through PhilFIDA has provided agricultural machineries to farmer cooperatives from different regions in the country that maintain large areas of pineapple plantation, especially in Mindanao.
The machineries include multi-fiber decorticating machines with safety mechanism which are used to extract fibers from waste pineapples leaves left in the field after harvest; mechanical drier to dry the fibers during rainy season; and baling machine to prepare clean, inspected and graded pineapple fibers ready to be traded to intended buyers.
To ensure the sustainability of the local textile industry, there is a need for convergence among the agencies of government involved-from the production of raw materials, to trainings and workshops, provision of equipment and materials, product development and promotion program, and a systematic marketing system.
The PhilFIDA has programs for the development and adoption of technologies on the utilization of plant fibers and improvement of postharvest technologies on fiber extraction. It also establishes processing facilities and conducts product development.
The PTRI provides technical training to weaving associations, particularly on basic and advanced handloom weaving, natural dyeing, provision of weave designs and response to technical services and short-term contract researches. It has also identified areas in the Philippines as natural dye production hubs and natural dye satellite centers to be able to respond to the immediate needs of the weaving communities.
The DA can help in propagating pineapple and mulberry plantations to ensure steady supply of piña and silk fibers. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and its Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) can help promote these local fabrics through trade fairs to showcase our products both locally and abroad.
The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) can conduct skills training for weavers and embroiderers. Local government units must also support in creating a nurturing environment where the traditional textile industry can flourish.
As chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, which reviews the Philippine government’s proposed national budget, Legarda ensures that these programs are funded, Arances said.
The Hibla Travelling Exhibition is one way of showcasing these traditional textiles in the hope of further promoting the industry. The National Museum of the Philippines has always been a staunch partner in this endeavor, emphasized Arances.
The two main agencies that support our weavers and textile industry-PhilFIDA and PTRI have budgets worth P358.457 million and P79.820 million, respectively. For 2018, which is still under review, PhilFIDA has a proposed budget of P431.490 million; while PTRI’s proposed budget is P83.237.
Legarda plans to reassess these funds and see if there are areas that still need to be covered, such as support for the pineapple and mulberry farms, according to Arances.
Over the years, Arances said Legarda’s office has provided support for programs that will help farmers, weavers and local textile manufacturers through additional funding in the national budget-such as the development of silk at the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University in Bacnotan, La Union; establishment of weaving and processing centers through PhilFIDA; provision of technical assistance for the textile industry, the establishment of natural dye centers, and the conduct of natural dye and weaving seminars and workshops; production support services including cotton development and establishment of cotton processing center, among many others.
Arances continued: “Under the PTRI, there is a Textile Science and Technology Services Program for the testing of raw materials and allied products and the provision of technical assistance to the textile, garments, and allied industries on textile processing and machinery utilization; as well as a Textile Technology Transfer Program for the dissemination of textile information and provision of documentation of services to textile millers and allied industries.”
“Under the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), we provide assistance to artisans, including weavers, through the provision of looms, threads, and other materials for weaving,” she added.
The Philippine Tropical Fabrics Law, which Legarda authored during her first term as senator, reportedly intends to promote Philippine natural fabrics through the use of such materials for the official uniforms of government officials and employees, and in the process, support the local fiber industry.
It stipulates the wearing of Philippine Tropical Fabrics with 5 percent fiber content of abaca, banana, pineapple and 15 percent silk.
Arances said, “the strengthening of the local tropical fabrics industry is attuned to our advocacy of promoting sustainable development and preserving our rich heritage. It will also provide jobs especially for those in the countryside. Furthermore, it unlocks the creativity of Filipinos, which is overflowing.”
The Philippine piña-seda textile has great potential in the world market, according to Arances saying Legarda plans to “make it prized items even here in the United States as it has been in the past centuries because the quality of our handwoven fabrics with intricate embroidery is truly world-class.”
Through the Hibla Travelling Exhibition, they reportedly aim to do just that.