P is for Piña Cloth, One of the Most Beautiful Fabrics of Manila

P

P is for Piña fabric, a filmy fiber stripped from the Red Spanish variety of pineapple grown outside of Old Manila.  Piña fabric is well known as a lustrous, transparent cloth made from pineapple leaf fibers, which are stripped off, dried, tied together to form a continuous strand and then woven.

It is painstaking job, and not one to be relegated to machinery, as each strand of piña fiber is hand-scraped and knotted together one by one to produce a continuous strand.

Scraping a pineapple leaf to expose the fibers
Scraping a pineapple leaf to expose the fibers

“Handwoven piña cloth embroidered intricately were greatly prized then and believed to have matched, or even surpassed, the most intricate laces or other luxurious handiworks in vogue in Spain and France at the time. Piña cloth was such an important novel cloth material that in 1571, it was used to pay royal tribute or poll tax imposed on the inhabitants.

“Piña cloth weaving reached its peak of perfection in the late 18th century and in the first half of the 19th century. Piña cloth became one of the most sought after handwoven materials because it was a suitable wear to tropical climate and due to its uniqueness and beauty, it offered the most feminine and refined look in an age of elegance and romanticism. Piña cloth then was described as “one of the most beautiful fabrics of Manila . . . only used in the dress of the wealthy, being too costly for common use…”

“Philippine piña was so notable then that items like handkerchiefs, gowns and linens were considered worthy gifts for royalty. In 1862, a piña handkerchief was presented as a wedding gift to Princess Alexandra on the occasion of her marriage to Edward VII by Edward Parr, one of the moving spirits of the Manila British Community. Today, a replica of this can be found in the piña collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Other outstanding gifts to royalty and heads of state were also discovered and were said to be so well-received.

– Via pineapple, Fiber Industry Development Authority

Piña cloth was one of the Manila’s major exports.  It was often blended with other indigenous materials like cotton, abaca or silk to produce a soft delicate-looking fabric.  When woven with silk it was called piña-silk or piña-seda.  Piña fabric even found its way in the Americas, as seen in this 1855 dress made.

20140417-074321.jpg
American ensemble of piña and silk. 1855. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Kerchief made of piña cloth and linen.  Early 19th century.  Metropolitan Museum of Art
Kerchief made of piña cloth and linen. Early 19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Philippine baro or blouse made of piña and cotton. Early 19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Philippine baro or blouse made of piña and cotton. Early 19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Among the most notable uses of the piña cloth is in the national costume, specifically for the baro or blouse which Filipino women wore, and the present-day Barong Tagalog, the national dress shirt of the Filipino male.

Man's shirt made of piña cloth. Late 19th - 20th century with inscription: G. G. Arrés/1455 G. del Pilar, Manila
Man’s shirt made of piña cloth. Late 19th – 20th century with inscription: G. G. Arrés/1455 G. del Pilar, Manila

The shirt is translucent, silky and often accented with delicate embroidery. It is worn untucked, reminiscent of the way Indios, or the natives were supposed to be dressed during the Spanish colonial period to distinguish them from the Spaniards, mestizos and other non-natives.

Here is a look at how piña cloth is made, all by hand.

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8 thoughts on “P is for Piña Cloth, One of the Most Beautiful Fabrics of Manila

  1. You write in the past tense. What happened to Pina cloth? With the upsurgence of textiles made from bamboo and other fibers, I wonder if pina cloth should not make a comeback.

    1. I was torn between talking about Old Manila and the present day, so I stuck with past tense since the theme is Old Manila 🙂

      It really should make a comeback though! Have you watched the way they strip the leaf to get to the fibers? Talk about painstaking!

  2. P is for Precious Pictures, Powerful Prose. What beautiful work done with a product that men use to feed their families (farming the fruit) and women use to clothe them. Nothing wasted. How Perfectly Productive the Philippine Island People are. How Proud you must be to be a member of such a magnificent People.

  3. Thanks, Arkie! I love that video of them making it! I always wondered why we didn’t do any spinning, like wool, in the country. Turns out we don’t have to! Still painstaking, work though!

  4. That video was painful to watch. I’m hopeless at handicraft in general and particularly anything involving yarn or thread. At every step of the process I was waiting for the thread to snap or knot. Seeing all the work that goes into making that beautiful fabric, I’d be too scared to wear it. Do you own anything made of Pina cloth?

    1. I don’t think I own anything of piña at the moment! I think they’re all back home with my aunts as my mom is not into preserving the culture at all 😦 and they’re quite expensive – at least the really nice ones. Funny that it’s my ex-boyfriend, an American, who actually owned a Barong Tagalog of his own!

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