Go On A Weaving Tour Of Ilocos
A great thing to do on a weekend: tour the historic sites of Ilocos, and discover the traditional woven art of abel at the same time
What makes woven fabric special is the time and effort put into it. The process is intricate and labor-intensive. Weavers often learn from their ancestors, and they have to master synchronizing their hands and feet to properly use the wooden handloom—Abel fabric is a case in point.
Abel is Ilocano for “weave,” and inabel literally means “woven.” You can interpret inabel as pertaining to any kind of woven fabric, but it is mostly used to refer to that distinctly Ilocano textile of plain or patterned woven cotton made in hardwood looms using techniques passed down through generations. It may at first be considered in the same category as other indigenous Filipino cloths, but unlike sinamay, abaca, and piña, abel is unique in the way that it is used liberally in everyday household items, and not merely as special Filipiniana attire for cultural dances or official meetings with the President. It is possible that you may have already encountered and used abel—in the form of a blanket, a placemat, or a tea towel—and hadn’t noticed it at all.
Many Northern provinces practice the art of inabel, but two places stand out: Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur, for their rightly named Abel Iloco. Each province has its own centers where the craft is concentrated, and their own distinct design styles.
Abel in Ilocos Norte
Unlike in Ilocos Sur, where abel production is concentrated in Vigan, Norte weaving is widespread and practiced in different barangays. Here are three of the destinations where you can find the traditional textile from this extremely picturesque province.
FIRST STOP: Lakô Mi gift shop
Located at Sitio Remedios Heritage Village Resort, Barangay Victoria, Currimao; click here for more info
Hidden within the sleepy seaside town of Currimao amidst numerous other beach resorts is the delightful Sitio Remedios with its clusters of actual Ilocano bahay-na-bato in lieu of beach cottages. Aside from the fact that abel is liberally used within this resort, from its tablecloths and towels to the curtains and mosquito nets, the resort’s gift shop carries some beautiful examples of inabel patterns. These are sold by the yard, alongside other Ilocano artifacts and social-realist paintings by the Salingpusa art collective.
SECOND STOP: Aleli Joy’s Inabel
Located at 22 Nagbacalan, Paoay, tel. (077) 786-1011 and 0915-326-4672
Ten minutes from the Paoay Church, Aleli Joy's Inable in Nagbacalan is a tiny store in a garage, owned by Cely Domingo and manned by a good-natured manang selling abel fabric by the yard. Some of the more unusual finds were the abel medallions used as leis during awarding ceremonies and graduations—they seemed more apt on a funky dress than on a schoolgirl.
THIRD STOP: Museo Ilocos Norte
Located at Gen. Luna St., Laoag City, Museum hours are 9 AM to 5 PM, Tuesday to Sunday; click here for more info
The Museo Ilocos Norte is a converted Tabacalera or tobacco warehouse from the 1800s, and now houses a collection of artifacts representative of the region’s culture. There’s the Sarusar or museum shop downstairs where abel blankets, cute binakol floppy hats, messenger bags, placemats, and more are being sold.
Abel in Ilocos Sur
In Vigan, the loom used to be a common fixture in almost every household during the Spanish era, almost like a sewing machine. Now, there are only three barangays with a few families that produce abel here—thus the government is trying to revive the tradition by reeducating the present generation.
FIRST STOP: Cristy’s Loomweaving and Rowilda's Loomweaving
Both of these stores are family-owned weaving center. Cristy’s Loom Weaving, owned by Cristy herself, carries mostly ikat runners, simple checked blankets, and rolls of delicate gold-flecked inabel (sold by the yard) that can be turned into shawls or dresses. Rowilda’s, owned by Dominique Panela, has started in 1975 and is located on the second floor of his home, and boasts neatly arranged shelves of runners, placemats and tablecloths, and various accessories.
SECOND STOP: Vigan Public Market
Located at Jose Singson St., Vigan City
You can found more abel stalls at the ground level of Vigan Public Market, where most of the market vendors are from Kawayan, but the inabel products are from Camanggahan and Mindoro. Among all the stores, Ining’s stands out because it carries a few specimens of the coveted balikuskus, or binakol with a dizzying op art pattern in muted colors, for P350 and up per entire roll.
THIRD STOP: Calle Crisologo
Walk through this kalye in Vigan, which has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, and you’d notice the decaying beauty of the old structures that are treasure troves of home accessories and vintage pieces, with a few abel products here and there, albeit slightly pricier than those in the public market or weaving centers.
The place where you can find the most inabel is Rowilda’s, of course, but you can also find some at Corazon de Vigan, Muebles de Vigan, Pepang’s, and the Collado Souvenir and Arts Shop. Lucy’s Antique Shop is worth the detour as it has an interesting collection of antique and reproduction santos (saints), colonial furniture, coins, and vintage watches and jewelry. After traipsing through the entire length of this street, reward yourself with that rare treat in the 21st century: A kalesa ride back to the town plaza.
Read the original article ("In Search of Abel") in the April 2007 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to summitnewsstand.com.ph/real-living for more details.
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