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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.