Sunday Lifestyle

HABI highlights cotton fabrics and products

Julie Cabatit-Alegre - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Irene Bimuyag is a weaver from Kalinga in the Cordillera region. Recently, through a grant, she visited Taiwan where she met other weavers like her. What impressed her most were the similarities that she saw among the weavers from the ethnic tribes in the southern parts of Taiwan and the weavers from northern Philippines. “Like us, they also use the back-strap loom,” she observed. “We share the same patterns, such as the diamond pattern they call mata-mata, which is the same name we have here.”

“It was as if I never left Kalinga,” Irene shares. She was in Taiwan for 35 days, traveling to different places and observing their ways  “They use the same tools. The only  difference is their material, because they make their own thread and they do their own dyeing, which we don’t do in Kalinga. We have been depending on polyester for our material, which we get from China,” Irene says.

But change has come. HABI, the Philippine Textile Council, has been supplying her with cotton fiber that she weaves into cotton fabric. She is happy with this development. “It’s natural fiber and it’s made in the Philippines,” Irene says.

Irene is one among 60 vendors who will be participating in the HABI Market Fair, which will be held from Oct. 14 to 16 at the Glorietta Activity Center in Glorietta 2, Makati City. The annual fair, now in its sixth year, showcases traditional Philippine weaves such as the Cordillera fabrics of Sagada, Banawe and Kalinga, inabel from Ilocos, silk from Negros, piña from Aklan and Palawan, as well as the colorful weaves from Mindanao.

“All our vendors will bring their finished products to sell such as clothes, shoes, bags, baskets, mats and blankets,” says HABI president Adelaida Lim. “This year,  we’ve asked them to focus on cotton, because this is our advocacy. We want to get people to start planting cotton again, to provide weavers with the natural material. The world now wants natural and handcrafted. Handwoven 100-percent  cotton fabric is highly valued and is the trend in fashion today.”

“Philippine cotton is comparable to Egyptian cotton. We used to export cotton during the Spanish times, particularly during the galleon trade,” says HABI chairperson Maribel Ongpin. “In fact, they used to weave the sails of the galleons from cotton.”

The cotton plant is endemic to the Philippines. “You know, you no longer have to grow cotton in large plantations like before,” Ongpin remarks. HABI has one hectare in Batac, Ilocos Norte where they partnered with the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA), which planted the land to cotton. “It takes only about six months to grow. It grows well in sandy loam soil. Choose a dry area. You can even plant it in your garden or in a pot. You can plant in November, when the rains are subsiding, then by May you are ready to harvest.”

“While we are trying to preserve the traditional craft of weaving, we also want to make the product contemporary, so we are encouraging designers to use the fabrics for  everyday wear and make it popular again,” Lim says.

Blithe Sanchez is another vendor who is participating in the HABI market fair. She says, “I want to break the mold that local materials are only for costume or only for special occasions or pasalubong. Other people even think that it’s baduy.” Blithe sells bags and dresses which she makes herself. “I design and make every single item, with  my sewing machine at home,”  she says. Now based in Makati, she used to live in different places abroad where her husband, who is Irish-Polish, worked as an engineer.

“I get traditional weaves and infuse it with modernity, so it’s more relevant,” she explains. For example, her Yumi piña silk dress is “a straightforward uncluttered dress that marries Japanese design with our elegant Filipino indigenous fabric.” The shell is handwoven piña silk, while the accent is mulberry silk. For her Yumi hablon dress, she uses Irish linen for the shell and Miag-ao hablon or patadyong for accent.

Her Japanese inspired-Wabi slouchy tote bag uses British oilskin for the shell and Filipino handwoven fabric for the lining and 100-percent leather strap.

“I was inspired by the undulating lines left by the waves on an empty shore,” is how Blithe explains the design of her Abaca Balud. Made of handwoven abaca, the bag’s lining is a silk blend Indian Sari. Another one of her fabulous items is the  Tinalak Satchel which is her ethnic take on the British satchel. For the shell, she used t’nalak, with 100-percent leather trim and lining.

Blithe sources most of her fabrics from local weavers in her hometown in Iloilo. “I go home every August because that’s when they have the fiber fair,” she says. She does not have a brick and mortar store, but you can visit her Facebook  page at handmadebagsbyblithesanchez. All her items will be available at the HABI  market fair.

“Ding collects mats from everywhere,” Lim says by of way of introducing Ding Perez, who is another one of the vendors participating in the HABI market fair. “I go to the indigenous communities and search for them,” Perez says. His main source these days is Malaybalay in Bukidnon. The mats are woven by the Tagolwanen and Talaandig who are renowned weavers. “They are very productive,” Perez says. “Their weaving is distinctive. The beauty lies in the intricacy of the weave itself, of folding over the strips of material that produce the geometric patterns and colorful design.”

“At the HABI Market Fair, buyers are introduced to a wide range of woven products while the participating vendors and weavers get to exchange ideas. Entrepreneurship comes  to the fore as they are exposed to current trends and are encouraged to update and refine their products,” Lim says. “We invite everyone to come to the market fair so you can meet our weavers and see their new products.”  


Captioned photos attached:


Trickie Lopa, Mike Claparols of Negros Silk, Adelaida Lim, president of HABI, Elsie Daniel of Nooks, cotton weavers, Ruel Bimuyag from Kalinga

Maribel Ongpin and Adelaida Lim with Irene Bimuyag

Irene Bimuyag in back strap loom with husband Ruel from Kalinga

Blithe with Yumi piña silk dress

Blithe’s T’nalak satchel

Ding Perez with mats from Malaybalay


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