Abel Weaving – Vigan Traditional Crafts
The abel is the traditional woven product of Vigan and the Ilocos region. The abel cloth is known for being a strong, colorful material. The fabric is so strong and beautiful that some families have them as heirlooms that last as long as their antique furnishings. The abel is made from yarns of cotton or sagut that are sourced from the many lands in northern Luzon that are dedicated to the growing of this plant. After the cotton is harvested, it is prepared into yarns and dyed. The different colored yarns are then arranged in a wooden handloom to create varied and unique designs. The process is intricate and labor-intensive. Weavers must master synchronizing the movements of their hands and feet to properly use the wooden handloom.
The use of the handlooms and other weaving accessories can be traced from early Spanish occupation. This equipment was used in homes to weave abel cloth for blankets, pillow cases and clothes. These crafts were said to be a major export during the period of the Spanish galleon trade. It is said that the abel was so popular a product that it proved to be a big competition to the Spanish weaving industry, threatening its very existence. At present, only a few of the barangays in Vigan have maintained this age-old weaving industry.
Barangays Camangaan, Mindoro and San Pedro are among these. Barangay Mindoro is known for producing binakol or blankets with geometric patterns. Barangays Camangaan and San Pedro also have their own distinct designs. However, it is Barangay Camangaan that is most known because it is the source of most of the abel products that are sold by shops in Crisologo Street and the Vigan Public Market, where local and foreign visitors buy their souvenirs. Abel products are best as wedding gifts because they are very sturdy and beautifully-designed; but, most buyers need no excuse to buy them outside of their great craftsmanship, which can be enjoyed as bed and table linen. There are also wall decors, mosquito nets, towels, robes and clothing that are sold using the abel.
The design and colors of the abel are somewhat similar to those found in the Cordillera region, but it is continually evolving as present-day designers strive to update its use for the greater appreciation of the public. Local designers with the support of government mount fashion shows to show how the hand-made abel can be used with other fabrics to create clothes for everyday and special occasions. Luthgarda in Los Angeles, has also used the abel in its ready-to-wear collection since 1998, attracting the attention of Hollywood celebrities. Her abel-accented designs are also exported to Asian and European countries.