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Handmade & Indigenous, This Ilocano Fabric Is Perfect For Christmas Presents!

Ilocos Norte

Choose Philippines
Choose Philippines | Dec 18, 2019

Story by Dianne Dy
Photos by Keno Rabe

For this Christmas season, why not give the gift of tradition: an indigenous Ilocano fabric called abel. The creation of these colorful and durable textiles is considered one of the most important traditional industries of the Ilocanos. Purchasing an abel product helps sustain this ancient art in an era of technological advancement. 

[related: A Counterpoint of Ideas For Traditional Filipino Textile]

According to local historian Jayson Antonio, the origin of abel came from mountainous areas of Ilocos Region. “Abel came from the ethnic group of Tingguians. There was a need to come up with a mode of dressing that’s why these early Filipinos or these brothers and sisters of ours in the mountainous areas came up with this panag-abel or the abel to come up with a finished product called inabel,” he states.

[related: Reviving A Centuries Old Weaving Industry In Miagao, Iloilo]

Historically, the patterns found in an abel corresponds with the status symbol of the person wearing them. “The brighter the color of the inabel, the more elite the person is, hindi pwede noong unang panahon na gumamit ka ng mga inabel na napakatingkad pero hindi ka naman kabilang sa kanilang social class. May mga social stratification systems kaya kung ikaw ay nabibilang sa mataas na antas ng lipunan may talagang nakalaan na kulay para sa kanila, meron din sa mababa,” Jayson added. (The brighter the color of the inabel, the more elite the person is. During the early days, you are not allowed to wear bright colors if you are not in a social class in accordance to the social ratification system. If you belong to the highest level of society there is a color for you, just as there is color for the non-elites)

[related: Tinalak and Dagmay: A Double Mindanaoan Weaving Treat]

The art and skill of weaving an abel fabric has been passed through generations of Ilocanos, where weavers create the abel in a way that has remained unchanged from the olden days. The process is complicated and time-consuming, requiring several weeks to set up a pattern on a loom. Virginia Dominguez, a weaver from Vigan City reveals that a 200-meter length of abel fabric takes two weeks to finish. “Ang abel ay gawa sa cotton yarns, kinukulayan ito, gamit ang wooden handloom hinahabi ito sa pagsabay-sabay na paggalaw ng kamay at paa,” she narrates. (Abel is made of dyed cotton yarns weaved through a wooden handloom through the synchronized movement of hands and feet)

Nowadays, you can wear abel of all colors and patterns regardless of status, color and gender. The fabric use has since expanded beyond garments and is now used as towels, blankets, curtains, bags, bed sheets, throw pillows, shawls, tablemats, sweaters, ipad cases, and accessories: beautiful, handcrafted presents, perfect for this holiday season.

ALSO READ: Weaving A Stronger Fabric Of Filipino Identity Through Traditional Textiles

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