The Silk Road to OISCA

October 12, 2020

The mention of “silk” evokes luxurious living.  Of women lounging in their shiny caftans.  Of smart, well-pressed shirts for the corporate executive. Of rustling deep-colored ballgowns.  That’s the silk we have in mind.

In Negros, our silk fabrics are un-shiny looking more like wool in their uneven textures.  Negros produces raw silk – un-shiny, un-shimmering but splendid.  Processed by the OISCA in Brgy. Tabunan, Bago City since 1989, silk in thread or fabric form is so in demand that silk worms need to work overtime.

The Bago factory is the only silk reeling factory in the country.  Although other LGU’s in Western Visayas raise silkworms and produce cocoons, the latter are sent to Bago to be processed into threads.  Demand is more than supply and farmers are encouraged to plant mulberry trees to provide food for the worms. 

Sericulture is a meticulous and tedious process since worms are delicate and sensitive to weather changes.  Yet, the industry is a good income-earner for the sericulturist with cocoon harvested monthly.  The waning interest in sericulture in China, Japan and other Asian silk-producing countries is a good opportunity for Western Visayas to fill in the demand. 

Soft, delicate, and white silkworms eat their way through a pile of mulberry leaves

The road to OISCA (Organization for Industrial, Spiritual, and Cultural Advancement) is lined with good intentions and mulberry trees.  The leaves of the trees are the sole sustenance of the worms.  A worm can feed on 24 grams of leaves during its life cycle before spinning a cocoon.  Inside the cocoon, the delicate silkworm transitions into a pupa and never gets to develop into a moth.  The poor, poor fellow is killed by heat to prevent it from maturing.  If allowed to mature, the moth will tear out of the cocoon and damage the quality of threads.

Who would have thought? There are white, light green, lemon, and bright yellow cocoons!

Did you know that one cocoon can produce 1.2 to 1.5 kilometers of silk thread?  80% of the threads produced by OISCA in Bago City are sent to Panay for integration with other fibers.  One example is the mixing of silk and pineapple fibers in Aklan to create pina-seda. Cocoons are classified into A, B, and C, and A-grades  make it to the reels.  Did you know that cocoons come in various shades?  Silkworms spin cocoons of pure white, yellow, light green, lemon and light pink.  Amazing! The silk threads in Bago are fashioned into shawls, translucent fabrics for Filipiniana attire, regular fabrics, and footwear.

Boilers prepare the cocoons for spinning
The reeling machines are at rest. On busy days, women man the rotating trays and steam rise from the water underneath.

Lower grade cocoons are extracted of their sericin for cosmetic purposes or packaged as exfoliants.  OISCA has developed creams and sprays infused with sericin that is good for the skin.  Patrick, a guest of mine, swears by the healing properties of the cream. 

Shoes! Silk!!!
Shoe surprise! Feel rich with silk shoes!

The best-selling products of OISCA are always the shawls and scarves. For local buyers, the prices may be steep, but for visitors to the island, the prices are just right or even too low once they have done a tour of the OISCA factory and weaving area where they see the complexities of sericulture. Weaving is done by hand; dye-ing is processed using colors from natural sources (leaves, barks, roots of plants and trees). Did you know that a weaver can only weave a foot of fabric each day? After considering the intricacies of creating one shawl, you would even say that the prices are just too low.

Bestselling silk shawls and scarves are displayed at the showroom

When I brought two Swiss ladies to OISCA, they bought 4 scarves each with the purpose of being able to go back to Switzerland and bragging that they have pure silk shawls to keep them cozy in the Alps. And how they loved the colors! Here’s a tip: if you see one in a color you like, buy na! Chances are that there will be no other scarf/shawl in exactly the same color. I have had the misfortune in the past for passing up the chance to get a shawl in a lovely coral color. It was a matter of economics that time…to my regret… because the silk shawls are durable and last many a year. And they just get softer. They become old friends that you’d like to cuddle with when times get chilly.

Look at the happy shoppers!