A Weekend with Filipina Embroiderers at Patis Tito’s Embroidery Exchange

It was time for another getaway and just a couple of days after our Natural Dyeing Seminar/Workshop at PTRI, we travelled to San Pablo, Laguna to join in the festivities at Patis Tito Garden Cafe where they had the so-called “Embroidery Exchange.” Patis Tesoro thought of having this event in her cafe after visiting the embroiderers last December 2015.


As mentioned in Patis Tito’s Facebook page, this embroidery exchange is the first ever collaborative encounter between the Tinggians of Namarabar, Peñarrubia, Abra and the embroiderers of Lumban, Laguna. This was held last February 20 and 21, 2016. I saw this as an opportunity to personally interact with the embroideries to see and experience their work.

I chose to stay there overnight accompanied by my son and a couple of friends. Ever since I got to experience Patis Tito’s Garden back in 2014, I always wanted to come back. Luckily, they already offer a bed and breakfast feature in addition to their garden cafe.

The garden and cafe were transformed into a well-curated market place of fresh produce and local arts and crafts. The weather was friendly. We got plenty of sunshine and breeze for two days. The garden and cafe was filled with so many people who supported the event.

Of course, the apple of my eye has always been the textile, and its makers. It was the first time I got to meet with the embroiderers of Lumban and Abra. They were gracious enough to teach interested learners like myself their techniques in embroidery. Like weaving, you need light and steady hands for this job plus a lot of practice and patience.

The best part is I get to learn the traditional way, through stories and one-on-one demonstration and training. The garden served as an awesome venue as it provided a very relaxed environment. Sheltered under colorful canopies of fabrics and large trees while listening to the chirps of exotic birds, we chatted and embroidered from morning ’til afternoon.

The Tinggian Embroiders

The Tinggian or Itneg are indigenous people who lived in Abra in the northern part of the Philippines. The one who participated in the exchange are Inlaud in descent. They are known to weave cotton and embellish their textiles with embroidery depicting animals, insects, land and riverscapes.

Alodia and Jean (designers) with the Tinggians.

During the event, I saw them directly embroidering on cloth without markings. Each embroidery design they put has a meaning and these are just some of the ones shared to us.

Spider or gagamba is a symbol for excellent weavers or “magaling manghabi”
The frog or palaka is a symbol of fertility in harvest. It is often partnered with rice or palay which is represented by three radiating lines. The frogs serve as a good luck charm to produce plenty of harvest.
Sinangkuko (parang kuko) means fingernail-like, or hands, showm with five straight gradiating lines, celebrates the work of the hands. Relatively, the tapis or wrapped skirt is called kinamayan, because it is made by hand.

The Tinggians are also known for their traditional weaves, one of the most common ones is the  op-art-like Binakol. This pattern has many variations including the kosikos (whirlwind), field and cat’s paw print design. Other popular weaves include Pinilian (brocade technique) and Agkabkabayo (horse rider design.) These weaves which are popularly produced by the Ilokanos are claimed to have actually derived from the Tinggians.

The Tinggian embroiderers do their best to continue what their mothers and grandmothers had taught them. Nowadays, traditional textile making, like any other traditional art, is facing a major problem in terms of sustainability. In most communities, only a few children of the weavers and embroiders are interested in continuing the craft. They would rather work other jobs that can provide higher compensation. However, we hope to see an improvement in the years to come as interest in traditional textile preservation, especially from the youth, has significantly increased in the past few years.

The Lumban Embroiderers

Lumban is a place in more-urbanized Laguna where women and men embroider the handwoven Piña fabric. The works of embroiders of Lumban is commonly found in traditional Barong Tagalog and Baro’t Saya designs, which are Filipinos’ national attire.

The Lumban women delicately embroidered the designs following a drawn pattern on the light-woven Piña, except for their so-called “ethnic” patterns that they embroidered without any guide. They thought me how to do an embossed pattern (buko) and a running stitch that resembles a chain stitch.

Even if the Lumban embroidery is not as ancient as the other textile arts, it is one of the most celebrated. The consistent demand for Barong Tagalog, makes Lumban embroidery probably one of the few industries of traditional textile art that is sustained up to this day.

The Textile Design Collaboration


Here we see a work designed by Patis Tesoro in collaboration with the Tinggian and Lunban embroiderers. The textile is handwoven by the Tinggian and the embroidery done by the Lumban and Tinggian embroiderers. It is not common to see such a collaboration since Filipino textile artists are often bound by economic restraints and travel is often a luxury they cannot take. This work will be exhibited in a French museum.


We see Patis’ recent work having an interesting array of elements including hand-painted and hand stitched letters and figures arranged in a very colorful and animated way as if all of its parts are dancing on the textile surface and are happy to be together. This is exactly the same feeling any collaborator would feel seeing that their work has found a new space and is now brought to life.

A Cultural Retreat

The value of the handmade textiles was further enriched by Patis’ talk on the Piña process before lunch was served. Patis has always talked about her love for Piña textile but even if you’re listening to it for the second or third time, she never fails to introduce new insights and new stories about our local textile.


In the afternoon, a small performance was presented to the guests by the Tinggians of Abra. They sang a traditional song in their language which they usually sing whenever they weave and embroider.

Another fun thing about spending a weekend in San Pablo is the delicious food the place offers. Nothing beats fresh ingredients that are grown and cooked by its locals. Food was served in the cafe which boasts of rustic decors put together in a shabby-chic, Filipino manner. Even the garden that surrounds the cafe is sprawling with native exotic plants that you can only find in the country side.


It was also the perfect time for me to immerse in this controlled but natural environment, to gather some creative inspiration from nature. I did this together with my son who also enjoyed painting with his mommy.  Of course, Alodia and Tim also did some painting with us.

From left: Alodia, Jean and Chase (sleeping boy), and Tim, late afternoon in Patis Tito Garden Cafe.

And when opportunity permits, brief but in-depth conversations with new acquaintances fancied our delight. It is always a great feeling to meet new people and learn new insights in these kinds of event. Sharing our love for our culture and arts bring us into deeper communion with ourselves, further discovering the beauty of our humanity, our heritage and the miracle of nature which inspires us all.

Most photos are courtesy of Tim Dacanay.

Patis Tito’s Embroidery Exchange was also featured in Business World on March 1, 2016. You can read the article entitled Exploring traditional embroidery, supporting an endangered craft written by Susan Claire Agbayani. She asked me to comment on the event. View the complete article in Business World Online .

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