Lumban & The Craft of Embroidery in The Philippines

Muni on this:

The Barong Tagalog and intricately embroidered jusi or piña garments are popular choices for weddings and other such special occasions. It can be quite pricey additions to your closet, but have you paused to consider how painstaking it is to make?

Last January 7, on account of my lack of shyness (at least in this case), I joined a UP Clothing Technology class to Lumban, Laguna. a town that thrives on being the embroidery capital of the Philippines but is not widely recognized enough as such, as people are mostly familiar with the other artisan towns of Laguna, like Liliw (for slippers) or Paete (for woodcarving).

A Brief History of Lumban’s Embroidery Industry

We learned from our guide Romel Estrella that the embroidery industry of Lumban boomed in the late 60’s to the early 70’s, credited to Imelda Marcos‘ thrust for cabinet members to don barongs and Filipiniana gowns at certain government functions.

UP Clothing Technology students with Mayor Wilfredo Paraiso (center), our guides Romel U. Estrella (leftmost) and Jerwin Abad (rightmost), their professor Kitty Caragay (you’ll never guess that she’s the second one from the right)

Because of the increasing recognition of Lumban’s embroidery in the 70’s, the number of shops increased. And in the 80’s and 90’s, became a resource for fashion designers such as Frederick Peralta and Rajo Laurel for superior embroidery work.

A Town Activity

Today, “almost 60% of the municipality is involved the industry,” shared Romel. This includes shop owners, embroiderers, artisans in calado and eyelet-making, and the fishermen and farmers who pull the textiles on a large bamboo bastador to wash it before it gets embroidered, and who sometimes do embroidery themselves!

Embroiderers can be employed orasan or coming in to work from 8-5, or they can also take their work home and be paid for their output, which is a favorable option for wives and mothers. This type of work allows them to make a living while tending to their families.

House of LEA: Embroidery Coop

The main highlight of the trip was our visit to the House of Lea for their finely embroidered barongs, sayas, hankerchiefs, doilies and purses, and of course, to see the artisans at work.

I delighted in all the beautiful patterns I saw, and the experimental takes on embroidery tradition with the use of brightly colored thread.

Though with my tendencies toward tradition and natural, earthy colors, I couldn’t deny the beauty of the classic colors of piña and jusi.

One thing you’ll just have to see to believe is how crazy patience-testing it is to stitch not just the intricate embroidery patterns above, but also the calado embroidery below.

(Left) Hankerchiefs and doilies with calado embroidery; (right) an adorable little boy’s barong

The embroiderer would have to slightly dampen the textile and separate thread by thread, and then stitch them together to achieve the dainty netted look of calado embroidery. Truly mad props to embroidery artisans of Lumban for this feat.

What truly took my breath away was the delicate gem of a garment below, almost totally in calado embroidery.

I am looking forward to wearing this soon enough.

If you even had the faintest idea of how difficult/time-consuming it is to make, you probably wouldn’t wonder so much about the price.

It takes them days, weeks, sometimes months to complete a design, depending on its intricacy or complexity, and they only get P15/hour of work — if they’re good. If not, it can be as low as P10/hour.

The best way to have some sort of idea of the skill required for this craft is to try it out for yourself. And that’s exactly what we did when we left the House of LEA and back to Ailyn del Moral’s craft house near the municipal hall.

Needless to say, it’s not something you can learn in an hour, and it requires months and months of practice to learn, and years and years to master. Personally, I would leave it to the artisans of Lumban.

Embroidery & More

Apart from embroidery, the late 90’s also ushered in the craft of hand-painting on fabric, and well as on reed baskets or bayongs.

It is also home to San Sebastian church, one of the oldest stone churches in the region.

And you can kesong puti to death because it’s so much more affordable here than in Manila, at P10 for a single serving or P100 for a tub-ful.

The day trip to Lumban wasn’t nearly enough for me, as I felt the town had a lot more stories to tell. I look forward to my return, and hopefully with enough money allocated for that beautiful calado blouse.

Thanks again to Kitty and her UP Clothing Technology students for having me along!

View more photos from the trip here.

If you’re interested in doing a day trip to Lumban as well, leave a comment below or email as Muni just might be planning another trip in April or May. 🙂

Do you have other unique travel discoveries around the Philippines to share? Do tell!

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