SHOP OF THE MONTH: BALAY NI ATONG.

This shop in La Union show­cases the prod­ucts of cen­turies-old, handweav­ing tra­di­tions mas­ter­fully cre­ated by var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties across the Ilo­cos re­gion

Real Living (Philippines) - - Real Living - pho­tog­ra­phy MICHAEL AN­GELO CHUA Pic­to­rial Direc­tion DAGNY MADAMBA words BUB­BLES SAL­VADOR

This La Union-based shop cham­pi­ons in­abel―the beau­ti­fully pat­terned tex­tile of Ilo­cos.

“Filipinos don’t rec­og­nize Abel any­more, be­cause we have been ex­posed to palengkegrade in­abel. There is that no­tion that it’s hand­made that’s why it’s cheap,” says Al Va­len­ciano, who put up Balay ni Atong to show­case and cel­e­brate hand­wo­ven tex­tiles made by Ilo­cano ar­ti­sans.

But if we are to become tech­ni­cal about it, the pat­terns and col­ors wo­ven on Abel fab­ric are, in fact, a price­less part of Ilo­cano cul­tural her­itage dat­ing back to the time of the Span­ish col­o­niza­tion in the 1500s.

Al, a for­mer ac­coun­tant, packed his bags and re­turned to his home in the Ilo­cos in the ’90s to study and col­lect Abel blan­kets from around the re­gion as part of his work for a mu­seum there. While do­ing this, he gained a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the Ilo­cano’s life, the weavers, and the Abel. He came across master weavers from var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties: Manang Cora of Ilo­cos Sur, Manang Mila of Bac­no­tan, Mrs. De Cas­tro of Ban­gar, the fam­ily of Strong from Abra, weavers from Sar­rat and Pinili, and many more.

These en­coun­ters brought to light end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties. A blan­ket’s yarn can be dyed in Abra, wo­ven in Ilo­cos Sur or Ilo­cos Norte or La Union, and as­sem­bled back in Abra. The ma­te­rial’s ap­pli­ca­tion has also gone be­yond blan­kets. The vi­brant and col­or­ful pat­terns are now seen on bed cov­ers, up­hol­stery ma­te­rial, pil­lows, and soft fur­nish­ings. One time, Al even de­signed ta­ble run­ners for an en­tire wed­ding re­cep­tion.

“I also started part­ner­ing with de­sign­ers, and they use it for cloth­ing. Now, we have tex­tiles for scarves and skirts. It’s gone be­yond the home al­ready,” says Al. It’s just a mat­ter of know­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate design and thick­ness for each ap­pli­ca­tion. Adds Al, “I still want to stay tra­di­tional, [stay true to] the craft and its tech­niques. But it does not ap­ply to mod­ern-day liv­ing any­more, so I changed the col­ors and pro­por­tion but still kept the tra­di­tional ways and tra­di­tional pat­terns.”

Al sees this as a way to keep the cen­turiesold tradition alive. At the same time, he is aware that the fu­ture can bring about more changes. “Maybe ac­tual hand weav­ing may not be ap­pli­ca­ble any­more, but we should own the pat­terns and the tech­niques. Ku­lang tayo ng own­er­ship. We should claim things we know tra­di­tion­ally is ours,” he em­pha­sizes.

Al has been work­ing with up to 12 weav­ing com­mu­ni­ties in the re­gion. Over the course of his dealings with them, he has helped pro­fes­sion­al­ize their pro­duc­tion pro­cesses, teach­ing them how to make bank­ing trans­ac­tions and use tech­nol­ogy to fa­cil­i­tate or­ders, and also how to honor their com­mit­ments.

Balay ni Atong caters pri­mar­ily to an up­scale local mar­ket, but par­tic­i­pa­tion in trade shows, like the an­nual Habi Fair in Manila, makes it pos­si­ble for for­eign buy­ers to learn about Abel.

Al looks for­ward to the time when peo­ple have a bet­ter ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the pre­mium qual­ity and pric­ing of the Abel. He says, “Pre­cisely be­cause it’s hand­made, it’s supposed to be ex­pen­sive.”

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