Piña: An Enduring Philippine Fabric

 Barong Tagalog & women’s wear made of  piña  cloth, at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. (Photo by Lydia Cuiting)

Barong Tagalog & women’s wear made of piña cloth, at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. (Photo by Lydia Cuiting)

Showing from September 24 to October 11, 2015 at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is an educational display showing the history and production of piña as part of events and exhibits celebrating Philippine-American History Month in October. Along with examples of the textile and a public demonstration by a master piña weaver from Kalibo, Aklan, the exhibit also has a tactile display of the fiber where people are encouraged to touch and feel the texture of the finished product.

What is Piña?

Piña, a fabric woven from fibers of the leaves of the Spanish Red Pineapple, was the quintessential item of luxury and elegance in 19th century Philippines and the finest of all Philippine fabrics. It enjoyed great popularity in Europe and during the American colonial period (1989-1945), it became a desirable accessory for high society Americans and was sought after as the fabric of choice for formal wear during the Philippine Commonwealth era. The piña industry suffered a setback during World War II as it struggled to survive.

 On display at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco – Christening gown (1930-1940),  piña  cloth, courtesy of the Lacis Museum of Lace & Textile. (Photo by Lydia Cuiting)

On display at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco – Christening gown (1930-1940), piña cloth, courtesy of the Lacis Museum of Lace & Textile. (Photo by Lydia Cuiting)

From its long and illustrious history in the Philippines to its relative obscurity after World War II, couturiers in the 1960s reprised the use of piña with the rise of nationalism. Designs using piña in the next decades evolved from the traditional terno (ladies’ formal gowns) to contemporary wear as fiber blending and other embellishments have become commonplace in Philippine textiles. According to the Hinabi Project organizers, “Today, the piña fiber is often blended with silk, cotton and abaca to create intricate and translucent textiles that are a proud symbol of Philippine national identity.” In short, the piña is enjoying a renaissance as it gains recognition as a uniquely Philippine artisanal creation.

The exhibition’s video on the manual processes involved is a complete documentary on the eco-system itself, from extraction of the fibers from the pineapple leaves to weaving the fabric showing the labor-intensive methods still employed by the people who each have their own role in producing this product. (See video at the end of the article)

Unlike most costume exhibits, this educational display focuses on all components in the manufacturing of the piña clothing, and includes the actual raw fibers, woven fabrics, clothing in both vintage and contemporary applications, and its use as interior design elements.

The Hinabi Project: The Art of Philippine Textiles

The Hinabi Project, in partnership with both US and Philippine organizations, came about as a conduit to helping the public gain a better understanding of the historical, cultural and economic significance of Philippine textiles.

The project seeks to increase awareness and appreciation for the exquisite and rich tradition of Philippine weavings and textiles. Its goals include (1) the creation of a textile collection, (2) documentation of the fabric production, and (3) public presentations through exhibitions, lectures and workshops of Philippine textiles.

June 2015 marked the launching of the Hinabi Project in San Francisco with a special presentation of Ms. Patis Tesoro, designer and advocate for indigenous textiles. Ms. Tesoro also presented during the 3rd Filbookfest held October 2-4, 2015 at the San Francisco Main Public Library.

A pivotal figure in the Hinabi Project is its Creative Director and Founder of the Hinabi Project, Anthony Cruz Legarda, who has had a long history dedicated to textiles. I met Anthony Legarda in 1990 through a mutual friend, Marianne Almajosé, when the two were completing their Fine Arts Degree in Fashion Design in San Francisco. He was the epitome of a man on a mission with a passion for innovation. After a series of fashion shows in the Bay Area, Anthony returned to the Philippines to study Philippine textiles.

Anthony Legarda’s involvement with Katutubong Filipino Foundation, whose mission was to revive Philippine folk arts and crafts, opened a new path for his career. He incorporated traditional Philippine textiles in his designs and later on produced a book with his group called, Arkiteknik, which elevates Filipino American artistry and creativity in textile, fashion design, photography, graphic design and creative writing. A DVD featuring a documentary of weavers and craftspeople from the Philippines followed. His work from 2004 and years later as a textile technologist resulted in the use of eco-friendly materials as well as development of green indigenous fibers and dyes incorporated into finished fabrics. Some of the works Legarda designed and produced on display at the Asian Art Museum illustrated the use of these concepts.

 More contemporary designs in  piña  at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. (Photo by Lydia Cuiting)

More contemporary designs in piña at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. (Photo by Lydia Cuiting)

To bring this project into actualization, Legarda teamed up with US-based consultants, researchers and historians, including Edwin Lozada, publisher/writer, textile collector and president of the Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc. (PAWA, Inc.); Filipino community leader and ardent art supporter Maya Ong Escudero; Philippine history and anthropology professor Michael Gonzalez, to name just a few. With the team’s objective to infuse pride in Filipinos and inspire them to rediscover their heritage, there is also unfaltering hope that weavers, embroiderers and designers of traditional Filipino textiles continue their crafts and maintain these traditions.

 Panels of  piña  with embroidery displayed in Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. (Photo by Lydia Cuiting)

Panels of piña with embroidery displayed in Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. (Photo by Lydia Cuiting)

The team’s concerted efforts the first two years of this project is to bring focus on the textiles from the Visayas, including the piña (now on exhibit) hablon and patadyong. Hablon is cloth woven by combining banana silk, piña, cotton or silk with man-made fibers such as rayon and decorated with woven designs using contrasting colored and often glittering threads, while the patadyong is a colorful checkered cotton fabric with seams sewn to form a tube and worn to wrap around the body.

 Swatches of naturally-dyed piña fabric. (Photo courtesy of The Hinabi Project)

Swatches of naturally-dyed piña fabric. (Photo courtesy of The Hinabi Project)

 Detail of a THP commissioned  piña  shawl on display at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The shawl was also designed by Anthony Cruz Legarda. (Photo courtesy of The Hinabi Project)

Detail of a THP commissioned piña shawl on display at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The shawl was also designed by Anthony Cruz Legarda. (Photo courtesy of The Hinabi Project)

The Project will continue every two years to expand to other types of textiles and techniques from Mindanao and Luzon, culminating with a state-of-the-art exhibit that showcases antique and vintage heirloom pieces from private collections along with revival, contemporary and commissioned work. Definitely worth waiting for.

Video from Our Philippines TV


 Manzel Delacruz

Manzel Delacruz

Manzel Delacruz is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.


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