Isinays reintroduce loom weaving amid the pandemic

There is no doubt that the Philippines is a country rich in creativity in arts and crafts embedded in our history and culture. This includes handloom weaving, a traditional craft, that emanated from Philippine ancestral tribes passed on to the current generations.

The Philippine handloom weaving endeavors, which fall under the category of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), significantly contribute to the economic development of Filipinos in rural and remote communities across the country. Handloom woven products are now becoming a trend since not only Filipino people patronize them, but also foreign nationals.

For more than 30 years, the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) has trained more than 4,000 weavers/warpers all over the country and assisted 35% of the existing weaving companies on skills development, repair, conversion, or modification of handlooms, weave design development, and loom execution.

In March 2020, the Philippines was placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such an occurrence resulted in a recession adversely affecting people from all walks of life. Despite the mobility restrictions and other health and safety protocols being enforced by the authorities, however, Jeannie Bernadette G. Laccay, an Isinay from Dupax del Sur and founder of ARUGA Handwovens, managed to be productive by pursuing the native craft along with some interested Isinays that she trained.

According to Laccay, her love for weaving started when she chose to babywear, the practice of wearing or carrying a baby in a sling or another form of carrier, her youngest child. She said that babywearing creates a sense of security for the baby and a stronger bond between the mother and the child.

She bought and tried all kinds of woven wraps from both local and foreign markets but could not find the exact texture and softness that she wanted, so she thought of making one. This prompted her to do some research about weaving. She also scheduled a visit to the PTRI with her husband and learned that they offer weaving classes. Since her son was still a baby at that time, she was not able to attend the classes at PTRI, instead, she just watched weaving videos on Youtube. With the guidance of a PTRI master weaver, she was able to make her first baby wrap which was an order from a customer.

Laccay added, “Handweaving is a craft skillfully and delicately done by the artist. I call weavers artists because their work is carefully thought of, and every strand of the final piece went through their hands.” She said further that the design that they planned sometimes is not exactly how they envisioned it but still equally stunning as originally planned. Handwoven products are a bit more expensive than machine-wovens because it is the artist’s hand and heart we are paying for. “To handweave a piece of cloth in this age of machines is insanity they say but for me, it is art with a heart. Aruga may be a Tagalog word far from the Isinay term “ahayamom” (I asked my dad who is a pure-blooded Isinay) but it has the same meaning, it is still about caring”, she said.

Recently, she learned that the Isinay term “Aru” means love in English. “As I always say, it is not a coincidence, it is meant to be! I was already weaving baby wraps for my customers from all over the world. This was the time my mom told me the history of Isinay as one of the best weavers. I was surprised but now I understand why I got into this craft. I understood why it is easy for me to do it because it is in my blood!”, said Laccay.

“I customize handwoven wraps for parents who want a personalized item for their babywearing journey. I also teach weaving to bring back our tradition of weaving and give livelihood to interested individuals”, explained Laccay.

At present, there are six (6) borrowed weaving machines being utilized by the weavers who underwent training in loom weaving for twenty-five (25) days. Products are available on a made-to-order basis due to the limited threads which can only be purchased in Manila. Some of her clients are Filipino celebrities like Andi Eigenmann, and Jamie Marie Geisler, the wife of actor Baron Geisler. Jeannie is also planning to construct a Weaving Center cum Gift/Souvenir Shop where they can display handwoven products for sale to tourists and locals.

On 22 February 2021, the Aruga Handwovens Isinay weavers of Dupax del Sur, together with other native weavers from the province, were featured during the 2021 National Arts Month through the “Likhang Kamay 2: Warps, Wefts and Works” Opening Exhibit and Fair, held at the Art Gallery, People’s Museum and Library. Former Governor and Provincial Tourism Council Chairperson Ruth R. Padilla and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Provincial Director Henry O. Conel, led the ribbon-cutting to formally open the exhibit. #mylene

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