The Chancery Annex Building, Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC is the venue of the exhibit until July 16. Before coming to Washington, the traveling exhibit was hosted by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, the Philippine Embassy at Lisbon, and the Real Fabrica de Tapices in Madrid. Here in the United States, Hibla ng Lahing Filipino will also be at the Philippine Consulate in New York and University of Hawai’i at Manoa in Honolulu. Future sites are Frankfurt, Geneva, Toronto, Mexico, Singapore, and Tokyo.
The airy second floor of the renovated historic Philippine Chancery provides a wonderful space for the exhibit. It was brought to life by the artisans themselves. During the exhibit’s first week in Washington, expert artisan weavers and embroiderers showed how to create the piña-seda and held embroidery workshops. Embroiderers from Lumban, Laguna, sewed intricate patterns on to the cloth for people to see. The piña-seda weavers from Kalibo, Aklan demonstrated the painstaking process of weaving the cloth. They used a portable loom especially developed for the exhibit and can be assembled and dismantled in thirty minutes. Sisters Ursulita Dela Cruz and Rhodora Sulangi are third-generation weavers who own and manage the family business, the Dela Cruz House of Piña. Ursulita showed the steps in weaving colorful patterns into the piña, revealing how labor-intensive it is to make the cloth. Their visit to Washington, DC is also bittersweet, as their mother Susima, the founder of the Dela Cruz House of Piña -- who showed how piña was made at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival when the Philippines was featured a decade ago – died last year.
While they were in Washington, lectures and embroidery workshops were held at the Textile Museum (George Washington University) and the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Smithsonian Museum). I attended the workshop hosted by the Textile Museum. I found tables laid out with pretty sinamay bags filled with sewing kits, including a selection of sewing patterns. Lillian Teresita Del Valle and Joan Monedo, embroiderers from Lumban gave step-by-step instructions and went around the room to give much needed guidance to the audience. Participants laughingly tried to recall long-forgotten sewing lessons as they attempted to follow the different designs they traced onto the cloth. When asked about her most interesting projects, Del Valle who has been sewing since she was 14 years old, said she spent two weeks embroidering the barong of Canada’s Prime Minister Justine Trudeau which he wore at last year’s ASEAN meeting in the Philippines.
The speakers talked about the history and process of piña weaving and embroidery in the Philippines. Representatives of the National Museum of the Philippines, assistant director Dr. Ana Labrador and researcher Marites Tauro described how the exhibit began in 2015 and how it turned into a traveling exhibit, shared observations from their experience in Europe, and provided details of the business of making and selling the cloth. Participants learned how the Spanish Red Pineapple -- used to make piña -- thrives in specific areas in the Philippines like Aklan because of the “soil, weather, topography and climate.” It was also exciting to find out that further experiments are being made with the pia. For example, the lovely rose-colored shawl Labrador was wearing was an experiment combining piña and cotton colored with mahogany and coconut husk. Another interesting insight was the role men play in the female-dominated art of weaving and embroidery. Labrador pointed out “we sometimes forget” that “men have a role too” as they are the one who build the looms and help preserve the women’s hands by taking on tasks such as washing the delicate fabrics before they are sent out for delivery. Another speaker, Rhodora Sulangi, manager of the Dela Cruz House of Piña talked about their family business. She described how her sister Ursulita, who was an industrial engineer, decided to join the business and learn how to weave the piña from their mother, Susima. Sulangi also mentioned how they hope her daughter will continue the tradition of weaving in the family.
The fascinating lecture prompted me to do my own research on piña-weaving and its link to Washington, DC. Our family project, the Philippines on the Potomac Project (POPDC), highlights historical and cultural landmarks and events in Washington, DC. I did find links between piña and the nation’s capital.
Piña-making reached its height in the 19th century. Nicholas Loney, first British Vice Consul of Iloilo said in a letteri, that $400,000 worth of piña silk and other fabrics were exported from Iloilo to Manila, more than half of Iloilo’s total exports. By the 1870s, however, Iloilo had switched to producing sugar instead of piña and other textiles.
Nonetheless, in the 1890s, piña gained prominence in the United States. Piña was often mentioned in US newspapers. Pineapple cloth was described as “delicate and beautiful” and “seemed more like Eastern tissue than mere dress goods.” Eda Funston, wife of General Fred Funston (who captured Emilio Aguinaldo), was interviewed and photographed by the Sunday Call of San Francisco, wearing a Philippine costume, and described the camisa as made of piña. At the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, the Philippine exhibit had a family showing how jusi and piña are made, with a focus on embroidery. The Bismarck Daily Tribune mentioned piña as one of the two Philippine fabrics “that have found favor in the US.” In 1909, the Pacific Commercial Advertiser in Honolulu had an ad for piña cloth selling in a “variety of shades” for “45 cents a yard.” In 1911, the Tacoma Times showed a photograph of a woman with a loom and described the process of weaving piña cloth. In the Day Book, Dorothy Stanhope commented on how weaving is a “major part of the income” in many homes in the Philippines in 1912.
Dresses made of piña were very much admired. In 1920 when Sofia de Veyra, the wife of Resident Commissioner Jaime C. de Veyra, gave her talks about the Philippines, the Bennington Evening Banner commented on her gowns made of “delicate pineapple fabric” which were “hand-woven and hand-embroidered,” and “shaped like a gauzy winged butterfly.” When the wives and daughters of the Philippine Commission visited the White House in 1922, the Evening Star described how the women in their “richly embroidered” gowns of made of piña and jusi made a “picturesque group” and resembled a “huge nosegay of blossoms.”
Between 1953 and 1954, piña was included in the Philippine Cultural Exhibition held in Washington, DC and New York. At the Philippine Chancery, amidst masterpieces by Arturo Luz, Jose Joya, Vicente Manansala, and other famous Filipino painters, Mrs. Luba Elianoff -- a former resident of the Philippines who moved to New York and became a famous linen maker -- showed off “pineapple fiber embroideries.” The photograph in the souvenir program showed Elianoff admiring the piña with a Mrs. Richard Gordon and Mrs. Nancy Janes. The different fabrics were neatly arranged in a display cabinet surrounded by Philippine wood carvings and a doll in native costume. More than fifty years later, an exhibit devoted to piña is on display at the same venue, showing artistry and skill reflected in the fabric, but also the rich history of the Philippines.
Hibla ng Lahi Filipino Traveling Exhibition
Lecture Series, Weaving Demonstrations and Embroidery Workshops
Exhibit Ongoing until July 16
2/F Chancery Annex Building
Bataan St., cor. 1600 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC
Exhibit from July 24 to September 7, 9 am – 5 pm
Lecture Series/Weaving Demonstration and Embroidery Workshop:
July 24, 3 pm; July 25-27, 6 pm
556 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 11036
September 17 to November 17
Hamilton Library, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
2550 McCarthy Mall, Honolulu, Hawai’i
i Funtecha, Henry F. “ILOILO'S WEAVING INDUSTRY DURING THE 19th CENTURY.” Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, vol. 9, no. 4, 1981, pp. 301–308. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/29791740
Titchie Carandang Tiongson is a freelance writer. Her articles have been published in Northern Virginia Magazine, Working Mom, Asian Journal, Metro Home and Vault. She and her husband Erwin are the co-founders and co-creators of the Philippines on the Potomac (POPDC) Project where they document landmarks of Philippine history and culture in Washington, DC. She lives in Fairfax with Erwin and their children, Nicolas and Rafael.
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