Woven Wonders

Woven Wonders - Kultura Filipino Online Store    Woven Wonders - Kultura Filipino Online Store
In our increasingly digitized world, preserving Philippine culture is more important now than ever. Laborious and difficult to master, the art of weaving perfectly encapsulates the tenacity, diligence and skill of the Filipino. Traditional weaving by Indigenous groups uses native materials to craft a variety of uniquely Filipino pieces. Today, such communities have been able to share the beauty of this tradition with support from government and private sectors. Purchasing these handmade goods has become more convenient and enables the women weavers to earn sufficient income, allowing them to continue work they love while sustaining a culturally significant Philippine craft. Kultura proudly showcases a wide selection of Yakan, Inabel and Abaca Ikat products, created by and aimed to support the women weavers, as well provide access to a market that truly appreciates their talent and intricate work.
 Woven wonders - Yakan - Kultura Filipino Online Store        
The Yakan tribes originate from the Philippine province Basilan. As refugees, many were forced to abandon their homes in Basilan and migrate to the Zamboanga Peninsula. Yakan women are known for weaving intricate, colorful designs on textile used for clothing and various accessories. Yakan weaving has been passed from generation to generation, as older weavers continue to share their skills, knowledge and techniques to preserve the tradition. A mere meter of handwoven cloth may take weeks to finish, while a simple, small square pattern usually takes one to two days of painstaking work. 
Historically, Yakan fabric was comprised of fine abaca and pineapple fibres, and was originally dyed using herbal extracts and tree barks. However, contact with Christian Filipinos and the American Peace Corps led to significant shifts in the art and style of Yakan weaving. As Yakan grew in popularity, native weavers were obliged to meet the increasing demand for woven products. While unorthodox, many turned to chemical dyes out of convenience, and began weaving household items using cotton blend threads for table runners, placemats and wall decor. Soon, new designs were introduced: “dawen-dawen” (leaf of a vine), “kenna-kenna” (fish), “pene mata-mata” (shape of an eye) and “kabang buddi” (diamond shaped design). The durability and unique artistry of Yakan has made the fabric highly sought after across the globe.
Woven wonders - Inabel - Kultura Filipino Online Store    
Native to the Ilocano region of the Philippines, Inabel - also known as Abel - is a durable, colorful fabric made from yarns of cotton. The cotton is harvested, prepared into yarn and then dyed. Weaving Inabel is a labor intensive process - colored dyes must be arranged in a handloom to create various designs. The traditional Inabel color palette consists of indigo, green, black, gray and yellow; patterns include flowers, leaves, fruits, trees, stars, rivers, whirlpools and other elements of nature. Using the loom, weavers are required to master synchronized movements of hand and feet to create these designs. 

Even before the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, Ilocanos were already trading Inabel textile for gold with other countries around Asia. Soon after, the Spaniards colonized Ilocos Norte in 1572 and began to recognize the usefulness of Abel. During this period, Spaniards were impressed by its strength and durability and subsequently used it to create sails for galleons, in the same way that locals did for their bancas

Inabel textiles are generally used as household items and clothing material by Ilocanos. The most common use of Inabel, however, is the blanket - due to its versatility and cultural value. Known as ules, Ilocanos view the number of blankets a family owns as an indicator of wealth. Ules are heirloom pieces passed on from generation to generation; grandparents may offer their grandchildren an Inabel blanket as recognition of their adolescence and growing responsibilities they must tackle. Their grandchild’s name might also be embroidered or even woven into the blanket. 
What else are ules used for?
    1. Pabion - this is a white blanket wrapped around a mother during childbirth to ensure good health post-delivery. Similarly, the newborn is wrapped in a soft, white blanket.
    2. Kundiman or Binetwagan - plain white weaves used as a wedding gift, often embroidered with “Mr. & Mrs.” The kundiman is likely the most frequently used blanket due to its adaptability - in addition to serving as a wedding gift, these may be used as decor for baptisms, or as curtains and table covers during Lenten season.
    3. Banderado - the classic, all-around blanket designed with one, two or three-color striped bands, usually brought out during festive events. The minimal color scheme reflects the sensibility and simplicity of the northern Ilocano. As many Ilocanos are farmers, harvest season is especially important and worth celebrating with banderado. 
Most notably, no two Inabel blankets are ever exactly the same. Rather than be viewed merely as a commodity, it is this unique quality that truly highlights the cultural value and artistry behind Abel.

There was a period of time when almost all households in Ilocos had their own loom, with men growing the cotton and sourcing dyes, while women would spin, dye and ultimately weave the fabric. Now however, with significantly less cotton growers in Ilocos, pre-colored polycotton yarns are widely used as the main weaving material. 
As artisanal textiles, crafting Inabel fabrics continues to support women weavers and their families. The seemingly unlimited possibilities of Inabel allow the industry to remain dynamic, enabling weavers to experiment with their products and ultimately cater to the evolving national and global markets.   
Woven wonders - Abaca Ikat - Kultura Filipino Online Store   
Abaca Ikat
Woven by T’boli women in Mindanao, abaca Ikat or T’nalak is a brown, abaca-based cloth dyed with unique ikat patterns. It is the identity and skill of the T’boli, representative of their culture and a primary means for them to support their families. Like all forms of weaving, making T’nalak is extremely time-consuming and requires a nuanced skillset. In fact, very few have earned the title of ‘dream weavers’ - master weavers who have been practicing this artform for several decades to create highly valued pieces. Out of the one hundred possible Ikat patterns, master weavers are typically able to weave around fifty. As only females are allowed to weave this textile, T’boli women acquire knowledge of T’nalak weaving from a young age in order to preserve and perfect the cultural tradition. 

First, fiber is stripped from the abaca tree. It is then cleaned, dried and divided into various strands. These strands are tied and rolled into balls. T’boli weavers follow by using self-made, natural dyes derived from vegetables to color the spun abaca fibers with red, brown and black dyes. The T’nalak is then woven using a loom; one piece takes up to three to four months to finish. T'nalak holds great significance for the T'Boli. Similar to Inabel, most T’nalak are used as blankets, though may also be made into pants or even used for barter. Traditionally, T’nalak weaves are exchanged by T’boli during the time of marriage, and can even be used as a covering during childbirth to promote safe delivery. As a sacred cloth, T’boli engage in various customs during and after weaving T’nalak. For example, one should not step over a weaving in progress - doing so may cause illness. Furthermore, while weaving T’nalak, T’boli women remain abstinent as a way to maintain the purity of their art. 

Today, the native textile patterns have been discovered around the world. It is now replicated using machines and used as wall decor, accessories and souvenirs. While increasing the visibility of an underrepresented community, commercial replication of T’nalak has simultaneously threatened the art form and further marginalized its native weavers. In places other than T’boli, the fabric is produced much more efficiently but is not handwoven - leaving out a crucial aspect of the cultural craft. To celebrate the authentic weavers, South Cotabato hosts a week-long T’nalak Festival each year that exhibits the unparalleled artistry of the T’boli people. 
Valenciano, Al M. et al. Inabel: Philippine Textile from the Ilocos Region. Art Post Asia, 2015. Print. 
All photos are courtesy of Kultura Filipino.