Photo by DOST-PTRI

The rhythmic beat of the handloom is more than just a sound that breaks the silence of the mornings in Sagada or the solitude of afternoon naps of the T’bolis in Lake Sebu. This sound bears the secrets and the codes of age-old weave patterns and motifs. The evolving taste of the market that is willing to pay a premium for traditional textile products using all-natural materials and with each color and line that speak of the weaver’s culture needs to meet these weavers. The fabric’s production needs to response to the demands of production timetables that are finite.

The products need to have consistency in quality and supply. This is the need of the small and unorganized weaving communities, and their faint cry in precisely what the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) heard. Such faint sound, but PTRI through its Neo-ethnic Philippine Textile Project breathes new life to age-old textiles in the Philippines.

The term Neo-ethnic Philippine Textiles (NEPT) was coined by PTRI referring to the textiles produced by ethnic-weaving communities that have infused new technologies and ideas. It was particularly conscious of the fact that S&T (science and technology) would result to shying away from their traditional methods, hence the term neo-ethnic. As PTRI worked with the weavers in Ilocos, Abra, Aklan, Bukidnon, South Cotabato and Maguindanao, the package of technologies of PTRI was offered not to replace the traditional techniques and practices.

The project assures that those produced traditionally remains. The NEPT offers an alternative to assure the aesthetic properties, functionality, and commercial prospects of traditional products. The NEPT still brings along with it the many colorful stories of old traditions and a piece of Philippine culture with it.

The NEPT took off from the series of natural dye technology researches of PTRI and DOST’s TECHNICOM program. From the locality-centered screening of plant dyes, dye power production, plant dyes in the Philippines were developed to be sustainable colorants for textiles. This is the technology platform of the NEPT as it included in its tool box the developed yarns with indigenous fiber blend and enzymes for textile treatment. These technologies are aimed at the numerous yet fragmented textile weaving communities.

The Higaonons of Bukidnon who weave the abaca textile known as hinabol have so far earned half a million pesos as they secured a purchase order from Crate and Barrel – as they participated in this project. They produced hundreds of yarns of hinabol fabric dyed with guava and talisay leaves and mahogany barks. Despite the innate color variability of the natural dyes that have caused them several rejects, the Higoanons were able to satisfy the purchase order not once but twice! Also, the rejected fabrics still commanded a good price locally.

Generally employing women, ethnic textile weaving allows them to be gainfully employed without displacing them from their homes. The interventions have significantly reduced dyeing of abaca fibers as in the case of the T’bolis’ t’nalak from 15 days to a matter of two hours. The tremendous improvement in productivity and aesthetics could not be over emphasized. The redesigning of the looms to be able to produce wider width fabric improves the chances of these woven textiles for applications that narrower fabrics are often restricted.

Other textile producers that used the yarns painstakingly hand-embroidered by Lumban weavers have found a match with naturally-dyed silk yarns. The opulent ecru piña of Aklan has undergone iridescent transformations with natural dyes. The red, black and white t’nalak of Lake Sebu has seen blue, orange, brown and gray from natural dyes.

The dense Ilocos fabrics and the colourful hablon of Iloilo have also been positioned so they received intervention apt for their desired and intended market positions. The Ilocos fabrics would find useful application for pants and jackets or even for home textiles, while the colorful hablon will celebrate the myriad of colors from natural dyes.

The specific communities are in PTRI’s initial list. Through its efforts, the weaving communities have been mapped facilitating the delivery of interventions. Also, through the project, the neo-ethnic textile e-portal will be up soon. It will serve as the window of opportunity for textiles produced from Ilocos all the wat to Sulu in the south to be seen and accessed by consumers in the Philippines and all over the world.

The Neo-ethnic textile project evolved into an institutional paradigm and is now a nationwide advocacy. It strums heartstrings such as environmental protection, women empowerment, rural development, among others. It is not just textile production that is secured in these tribes and communities. It is not only the income or the yardages of fabrics that the weavers earn or we share to the rest of the world. The neo-ethnic textile initiative got our age-old textile traditions into a new beat. As long as women and children are willing to man the loom and get into the beat, we will provide opportunities for them to provide for themselves. While our women as custodian of our textile culture remain happy and committed to keep the looms beating, the Philippines is assured that our textile traditions are here to stay.


Jeannie Lyn Cabansag Perez
Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Textile Research Institute (DOST-FNRI)

Published by:
Department of Science and Technology - Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII)