Gemma Perez sits in silent concentration over her mid-afternoon labor, delicate hands tirelessly shifting the needle along the beginnings of a meticulously-embroidered piña fabric. Sheltered from the scorching afternoon sun by a small foyer of her home along one of the town’s narrow streets, she is joined by other women in neighborhood doing embroidery, their attention broken only by the occasional admirers who come to observe their fine handy work.
In the town of Lumban in Laguna, embroidery has flourished as a major industry. Mang Pilo showed me around town where street after street are lined with bamboo frames called bastidor, upon which transparent cloth is stretch to dry after being washed with water and soap.
In houses I’ve observed women execute decorative stitches on cloth ranging from the traditional jusi and piña made from banana and pineapple fibers to modern linen to silk blends.
A few people realize how complex the making of barong tagalog designs actually is. I am not actually good at looking at these designs but even without a trained eye, I can appreciate the craftsmanship involve in the making of these fine fabrics.
This involves pulling threads to create decorative warp into the fabric or insert a floral design into the fabric through the process called suksok. Gemma Perez who has been adept to this art since she was fourteen noted that it takes a full week to embroider a surface the size of medium size pizza dough.
Although some embroiderers are now using machines for mass production, Gemma noted that hand made embroidery are still preferred by most of their clients. Embroiderers use métier a broder, or locally called as a tambor upon which the fabric is dragged out as tight as a drum’s skin on this round wooden stretcher while patterns are being stitched.
The art of embroidery in the Philippines dates back since the Spanish colonial period. The Spanish nuns introduced embroidery to girls in the beaterios whose fine embroidery has made their way to Europe and America. By the end of the colonial period, the Spaniards made a bid to set against Philippine embroidery with French and Belgian lace.
Anita Feleo explains that it is probable that the first embroiderers in Lumban where pupils from missionary school. Thus, this traditional art was passed on from generation to generation until it became a lively cottage industry in Lumban.
Gemma Perez can be reached at 0918.2902498