Spinning a new twist to a heritage yarn

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    Villagers, designers and textile scientists are putting a twist to a heritage yarn.

    They want to upscale a heritage industry, the hablon weave of Miagao, Iloilo.

    They want to interest the youth to reverse the dwindling number of handloom weavers and perhaps the textile industry’s downward spiral as well.

    In the process, they hope to revive cotton farming, traditionally grown in Iloilo and Negros, the farms now reduced to just 10 hectares in all of Western Visayas, long ago giving way to sugarcane plantations.

    The cotton will be blended not with synthetic polyester but with natural fibers, adding value to abaca, traditionally grown in Panay Island as well. Or blended with banana fibers and pineapple leaves that were once discarded as waste.

    At the Iloilo Science and Technology University (ISAT-U) campus in Miagao, the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) has opened the P40-million Regional Innovation Center for Yarns and Textiles (RICYT).

    The facility will produce just 50 kilograms of blended yarns a day; one hablon shawl requires less than 100 grams of yarn, so that’s enough to produce 500 pieces of shawls. At P350 a shawl, local price, that’s worth P175,000 – an attractive start.

    Hablon, from the word “habol” or Hiligaynon “to weave”, is a handwoven fabric identified with Miagao, famous for its Baroque Romanesque church architecture, a UNESCO World Heritage site 40 kilometers south of Iloilo City.

    The RICYT is meant to convert and improve a range of natural fibers into textile products and to conduct research and development to improve textile materials for apparel.

    “It will provide materials for handloom weavers. Making these innovative yarns available is a key step in communicating the technical and economic feasibility of yarns in microscale yarn manufacture,” said Celia Elumba, PTRI director.

    The textile industry is “very small”, textile manufacturers a “handful”, so the facility caters to the micro-level at the moment, Elumba said.

    It is a growing trend that runs counter to the large volume required to operate a 10,000-spindle facility which could cost up to P700 million for equipment alone, she said.

    “The small volume coupled with the use of specialized materials will make the RICYT uniquely responsive to the needs of the local textile industry. It enables the creative economy where the ideas of fashion designers, social entrepreneurs and small-scale garment manufacturers are converted to tangible, innovative yarns and textiles,” she said.

    “Handloom weaving is a major player in handicrafts,” Elumba said. “The Miagao facility hopes to create the most value transformation of local raw materials using local skills and talents in the very communities following the adage of using what we produce and producing what we use.”

    “The facility, which is the biggest and the first in the country in terms of yarn production outside of PTRI, will benefit the university and Miagao,” said Dr. Raul Muyong, ISAT-U president. “It will be an opportunity for the university to open new programs on textile technology and strengthen its research culture and produce more technologies.”

    “It will strengthen and develop the handloom weaving as the town’s cultural and historical heritage,” said Miagao Mayor Macario Napulan.

    There were 47 weavers in Miagao when Napulan started his term in 2013. By requiring all elementary, high school and ISAT-U students to wear hablon uniforms, the industry suddenly found a big market, he said.

    Now there are 259 weavers in seven weaving centers. Still, that’s a far cry from the 4,000 weavers in the 1800s before the community turned to sugarcane farming that replaced the central economy of Western Visayas.

    There are signs of revival. Cotton farming has since grown to 49 hectares from the 20 hectares when Napulan assumed office.