The Fine Art of Piña with Patis Tesoro (FITE: Part 3 of 6)

Patis Tesoro, the “Grand Dame of Philippine Fashion” is an advocate of piña (pineapple) and other indigenous materials held a talk in the afternoon of July 8, 2015 at FITE in the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. She made a brief yet eye-opening presentation on how piña fabric is made.

Patis Tesoro on the Process of Weaving
Patis Tesoro ready to tell the story of the process of Piña. On her table are actual handwoven Piña pieces she designed.

I already knew before I attended her talk that piña was really difficult to make. Having done weaving myself I realize how time consuming it is to prepare the warp, the loom and weave. It took me almost five days to finish a scarf and I just used commercial polyester threads. With yarns like silk and piña, the task is probably ten times more difficult.

I attended her talked because I admired her and I wanted to listen to her again. I also wanted to personally talk to her because I wasn’t able to do this before. I first attended Patis’ talk back in March 2010 when she was invited to speak at the Slim’s 50th Anniversary Lecture Series. Back then I never imagined myself swooning over indigenous materials for clothes. I did design clothes using indigenous materials a couple of times, but aside from the fact that these materials are pricey, they are also what I call high-maintenance.

The bustier of this gown I called
The bustier of this gown I called “Señorita” is made of Piña Silk. This was probably done between 2007 to 2008 when I still made wedding gowns and experimented with piña,mixing it with other synthetic materials.
I used excess Piña Silk, cut it into strips and draped onto the bustier creating added dimension and texture.
Excess Piña Silk were cut it into strips and draped onto the bustier, creating added dimension and texture.

Trust Patis to spice up a talk. Like before, she shared her experiences – both hardships and triumphs. She told the story of piña again, this time with fantastic images. (Oh, who took these wonderful pictures in your slides, Ms. Patis?) Her vivid storytelling was amplified further by her dynamic gestures and stunning visual presentation that highlighted the dedication and skills of the women in Aklan who wove her fabrics. Given the amount of work that was needed to be done by the harvester, the spinner and the weaver, I do not think the price of Php 400 to 600 per yard seems fair.

Screenshots of some of Patis’ slides during her presentation.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the materials shown in the next photos.

Patis_05 Patis_04 Patis_03

Back in the late 80s she successfully spearheaded the revival the dying industry of piña weaving. This time, she continues to use new and old woven piña and combine it with cotton and other more affordable materials.

Just like in 2010, she ended her talk with a question: “Do you think our piña will survive?” The audience reluctantly said yes.

“Ows? Are you using it?” she replied.

Like before, she challenged the audience and rebutted each concern about piña being expensive and difficult to handle.

“You do not throw away piña. It is inherited.”

I recall she shared how her mother-in-law kept small rolls of piña fiber in her safe. She treated the fiber like it was gold. Indeed, if Patis didn’t start a movement to revive this tradition, that would’ve been the case. One realizes that Php 400 to 600 per yard is indeed affordable.

I cannot remember if it was me or another listener who said that it’s so “maselan” or difficult to handle.

“Then we must train our hands to be delicate,” she responded at the top of her voice. At this point I realize that piña is truly special because it can only be handled properly by skillful hands and patient hearts. Fine art is made by fine hands, carefully manipulated with discipline and perseverance over time.

I guess our generation never got to appreciate the fine art of Piña after growing up with synthetic materials wrapped around our bodies. However, there is still a handful of people, mostly the privileged who actively patronize this fine art through regular purchase. But somehow I feel the appreciation of Piña and other handmade materials made from natural fibers should not be limited to the privileged. How to do this while maintaining the fine art still remains a huge question mark.

Patis with the Youth
Patis with me, Ms. Virmilia Alvarez and the Junior Fashion Design and Merchandising students of DLS-CSB.

So will piña survive? Clearly, this is a challenge for us Filipinos, especially the youth – the aspiring designers and future patrons of this traditional material.  While the movement for sustainability has began worldwide, in this day and age where big global brands bombard us with advertising, subliminally planting its superiority over local handmade products, we are faced with a challenge that requires us to judge products beyond its face value and its ability to instantly gratify us.

We must consciously seek to understand, learn and relearn this fine art and through our own experience and point of view, tell and retell the stories to the next generation so that they may realize its true value. We must see and believe that our handmade products are more beautiful and superior than anything made by a machine.

There are a few fine art pieces of Patis Tesoro’s work currently displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila as part of the International Festival of Extra Ordinary Textiles (FITE) running until September 12, 2015. Audiences can view the works but are not allowed to touch.

Scrutinize Patis’ fine work and ask yourself: “Will piña survive? How can I keep it alive?”

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