I liken the click-clacking of the looms of Tabao to the metallic grating of the espadings in the haciendas. They say that where there is noise, there is money. Yet, there is a difference. “Ang linagating sang espading sa campo” is seasonal, but the rhythmic dance of wood with wood is heard the whole year through.
In Central Tabao by the port in Valladolid, a tiny workshop steadily churns out the Visayan native fabric hablon. This is fashioned into patadyongs (tube-like multi-purpose garments), shawls, scarves, and even bags, and ends up in a market eager for traditional hand-made goods. Tabao had always been the center of hand-loomed fabrics in Negros Occidental. The women weavers then earned a substantial income from the sale of their patadyongs. They even used their products to barter for goods. Gone are the days when the patadyong was fashionable, hence, in demand, among the ladies. Gone, too, are the weavers that made Tabao famous for patadyong. Or, that’s what I thought.
Hablon is alive and weaving in Zone 3. Revived by Mrs. Mercedes Claor 15 years ago, three barangays continue the traditional craft – Bagumbayan, Tabao Proper and Central Tabao. 35 weavers are involved in the industry and 9 of these women work full time. The women are paid for each piece of work they produce.
The ladies of Tabao are either third- or fourth-generation weavers who remember that their grandmothers and great-grandmothers produced not only patadyongs, but also valances, blankets, salap (dragnets) and mosquiteros. The looms that they use now are interesting combinations of new and vintage parts mostly the sulod. The sulod is that part of the loom where the vertical threads are inserted. Made from Japanese bamboo (pronounced in these parts as “beymboo”), this is difficult to make but is the ideal material for assembling the sulod. A previous experiment with steel resulted to broken threads.
The thread used is a combination of cotton and polyester. Polyester is added to strengthen the threads. The fabric is smoother and finer. A fabric made from pure cotton threads has more texture, and the weave is rougher.
How much does a loom cost to build? About P10,000 for labor and materials. The weaving workshop has 6 looms (45” x 60” x 60”, or 36” x 60” x 60”) manned (or is it womanned?) by Tabao ladies who are attached to these machines as if these looms are their very souls. They all learned the craft since they were little girls, even if their feet could barely reach the pedals then. The oldest is the 69-year-old Manang Lucring who still mans the loom with much vigor, hardly skipping a beat. The veterans among the 35 weavers have developed very nimble fingers that they can make a patadyong in a day, or three scarves, or two shawls, which will take the newbies three days to make.
Mrs. Claor supplies two museum shops in Bacolod; the Museo de la Salle in the University of St. La Salle, and The Negros Museum. If one is worried about the future of the hablon industry, fret not. The youngest weaver is 15 years old, and she has put her heart and soul in it. As long as there is a demand and appreciation for hablon, our women will continue weaving.