Burdang Taal, is the old native hand embroidery tradition of the town of Taal,Batangas. It involves a long painstaking process from the initial gathering and drying of raw materials like pineapple and abaca fibers, to weaving these fibers using a loom. The delicate fabrics created are stretched on a bastidor (canvass stretcher or embroidery hoop) before embroidering flowery or geometric designs. Most experts do not even use a didal (thimble) while working dexterously with amazing speed on a project. Through the centuries, the women of Taal have made Burdang Taal a viable cottage industry.
Although colonizers claim that the Filipino natives did not have any knowledge of textile weaving, stone-bark artifacts and some clay spindle whorls were found in many archaeological sites in the country. During the olden times, in the highlands of Mindanao and Luzon and the Christian lowlands, there was a variety of weaving traditions. Clothing was used to identify men and the village of his origin. It could also denote wealth, power, status and the rites of passage. Some materials that Philippine fabrics were made of were bark, cotton, abaca, coconut fibers, silk, jusi and piña. This showed how ancient Filipinos made use of the resources in their environment.
It is believed that the Pineapple plant was brought by the Spanish colonizers, although the Portuguese also introduced the plant to other tropical countries, sourced from South America. Piña was one of the more elegant fabrics derived from the pineapple plant, even exported to Europe and the United States. It signified class, rarity and great beauty. It was perfect to wear in humid weather conditions. It also looked refined, especially with embroidery work.
Chinese settlers in the Philippines also influenced the development of the textile industry bringing their skills in weaving and embroidery. Balayan Bay, adjacent to the Taal town, was once a main trading port. Many goods like fabrics have passed this trading post, greatly influencing designs in apparel.
Although the designs were Hispanic, local indigenous materials were used. Altar cloths, chalice covers and priestly garments, were done in palm fibers, locally hand woven cotton, and piña. The secular embroidered piña pieces that survived the golden age of the industry (late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century) demonstrate a whole range of workmanship that would nowadays be impossible to execute.
To date, the Barong Tagalog, the formal Filipino gentlemen’s shirt, has become the signature attire which best showcases Philippine embroidery. Other popular creations using embroidery are dresses and ternos, a long formal gown with pronounced butterfly sleeves worn by women. Among the styles of Filipino attire that has found a place in international markets are: Macapagal, Marcos, Amang, Pitchera, Sabong, Stripes, and Pierre Cardin. Most of these cuts utilize piña or jusi.
Taal is most known for the piña fabric, which is especially difficult to embroider on. The more popular designs are the callado and sinuksok. Callado is a kind of filigree work wherein the cloth thread is pulled from the cloth in an intricate pattern that goes with simple or ornate hand embroidery designs. The finished product has a design akin to latticework. Piña suksok, or “sinuksok” meaning “to insert,” describes the technique of inserting colored thread by hand and needle to create flower and leaf designs. Also available is the todo design wherein the whole fabric is covered with embroidery, leaving almost no fabric surface. This almost looks like lacework. The most informal Burdang Taal are those with geometric designs, using straight lines mixed with geometric shapes. Burdang Taal also applies to a wide range of clothing lines for males, females and children, as well as fashion accessories and home decor.
Today, piña embroidery is dwindling, making it more of a rarity. Polyester and synthetic fabrics are now also used as a base because they are much easier to embroider on and are the least expensive. It is also now common to mix different fabrics together for personal preference and to conserve costs and minimize labor. The different types of piña used today are:
Pure Piña – These are woven of piña fibers. The warp (the lengthwise fibers that start the actual process) and weft (the fibers that interlace the warp) are both made of piña fibers.
Piña Silk – a combination weave of piña and silk yarn
Piña Jusi – The original jusi fabric was made of banana leaf fibers, but the mechanically woven silks from China became the fabrics of choice in 1960. Piña jusi is a blend of pineapple and raw silk fibers. Dyed jusi thread are sometimes present in the fabric.
Unfortunately, piña weaving and Burdang Taal is becoming a “dying” industry because acquiring the thread is not easy, synthetic fibers are cheaper and machine-produced fabric with modern styles have dominated the market. Also, the younger generation is not interested in learning weaving and embroidery, when there are more exciting economic opportunities in the big cities or abroad to secure their futures. However, efforts such as private workshops and business ventures are being established in Taal and other provinces to sustain the industry and help it flourish.
When in Taal, we encourage people to buy the beautiful embroidered pieces to help keep the industry alive and healthy. The annual El Pasubat Festival in April is a great way to learn more about this beloved native tradition. Check out the Burdang Taal Habing Pilipino Fashion Show (Oct. 2012): click to view
ADDITIONAL TRIVIA REGARDING FILIPINO NATIONAL ATTIRE AND THE BURDANG TAAL :
In 1975, President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued a decree proclaiming Barong Tagalog Week (June 5 – 11) and designated the Barong Tagalog as “the national attire.” The presidential act was meant to focus nation-wide attention on the national dress to wider use and enhance its export potential. Many of the barongs and ternos of the Marcoses were embroidered in Taal.
More History on the origins of Taal embroidery:
In 1900, the Taft Commission identified embroidery as one of the possible exports of the Philippines to the United States. Filipino girls trained in Spanish convents were known for delicate and dainty stitchery. However, they were not trained in creating marketable products. In 1912, the Bureau of Education opened up a School of Household Industries in Manila. Arsenia Barrion Ocampo, a Taaleno, was one of the ladies sent to study there, learning fine embroidery by hand and machine. Her name became synonymous with embroidery for she was the best at her craft. In Taal, she established a “casa” from which thousands of baby dresses were issued. She was instrumental in the economic uplift in Taal. Arsenia Ocampo was given the Panday Pira Award for “Pioneering in Embroidery for Export”.
When the American colonial government developed a number of provincial centers simultaneously, Batangas stood out in the identifiable features of relief embroidery. Relief embroidery of floral leaves, grapes, and vases combined with drawn thread work was achieved by padding satin stitches. Batangas embroidery became known as burdang Taal, as Taal was the central industry, for manufacturing and marketing. In 1960, machine-embroidery became popular and overtook hand-embroidery in sales.
(References: Piña by Lourdes Montinola; Batangas Forged in Fire by Ayala Foundation Inc.; TAAL by Paulina Gahol Orlina; Kwentong Bayan-A Story of a Town and its People by Ria Benedicto Villavicencio)