Weaving in the Philippines is a centuries-old tradition. From cotton to abaca, as well as pineapple fibers, weavers work with local materials to create a variety of products. Today, there are about 450 weaving groups across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao
In Nueva Vizcaya, a small group—the Isinay—is making its weaving tradition known again.
Helping make this happen is Aruga Handwovens.
Established in 2018, Aruga began as a personal search for a quality baby carrier for Jeannie Lacay’s own child.
“It started because of baby wearing or carrying a baby close against one’s body through a sling,” says Lacay, the homegrown brand’s founder. “I wanted to be able to work or do things while carrying and taking care of my child.”
The failure to search prompted Lacay to make one. She initially learned through tutorial videos online, and later through the Philippine Textile Research Institute, which taught her the know-hows of weaving from raw material to finished product.
When she and her family—who are Isinay themselves—went back to Dupax Del Sur, turning it into a passion project that is Aruga made perfect sense.
“In the beginning, it was only me doing everything,” she says. “I did the production, marketing, and selling.”
When the pandemic hit, that personal passion became the community’s.
Lacay began teaching the locals of Dupax Del Sur how to weave. With the help of the community’s elders and the local government, a workshop was established in 2020. It produced 12 graduates—aged 18 to 65—after a month of training.
Today, a year later, they have produced numerous woven products.
“The Isinay people are one of the best weavers in the country,” she says. “Weaving is natural for them.”
Sadly, the Isinay’s weaving tradition, much like its language, has faded considerably. According to Lacay, the last known woven item produced in the area was in the 1970s and is the work of the last elderly weaver who passed away with no one to continue the tradition.
Lacay hopes to help in its revival and bring renewed interest through Aruga.
She and her fellow weavers are showing it through their products. From traditionally only being in the color indigo, due to the lack of dye choices extracted from plants around them, the weavings of the Isinay have become more colorful.
Lacay says it’s also reflective of the Isinay people today.
“As I look at the diverse population of the place the Isinay used to occupy solely, I am convinced that our works should show more than indigo,” she says. “There are a lot more colors now. The colors you are seeing in our weavings represent what Isinay is now.”
Aruga’s design inspirations vary. A good starting point, however, is any upcoming holiday.
Her poinsettia scarf design, for instance, stems from the fact that it’s associated with Christmas.
“I try to be in sync with the times and what people are looking forward to, then design something that fits the holiday but is still practical for everyday use,” Lacay explains.
She then calculates how much of the item she wants produced. This will determine how many balls of yarn to use, how many colors, among others.
Aruga uses commercial yarn at the recommendation of other weaving communities as Philippine cotton yarns are difficult to get at the moment. Polyester, meanwhile, is also not ideal for baby carriers. “In the long run, the plan is to have our own cotton farm here,” Lacay says. “That way, we would have our own cotton supply.”
The yarns are placed in the warping board where it is measured. From the warping board, it’s later placed in the loom. Soon enough, the fun part begins—the weaving process. The loom holds the threads under tension and facilitates the interweaving of the yarn, until the design reveals itself.
The woven baby carrier (Php3,500 to Php6,000), which comes in various sizes, is Aruga’s best selling item. As a baby-wearing consultant, Lacay hopes that through this product, the tradition of baby wearing can also be brought back.
Aruga has also started making face masks (Php350). The weavers use scraps from the production of existing items offered, as well as those that did not pass Lacay’s quality check. This makes each mask a unique design.
Other bestsellers include scarves (Php2,500) and colorful guitar straps (Php2,500).
How to order
Aruga Handwovens has only recently opened a physical store in Dupax Del Sur, which is open to fully-vaccinated visitors.
Customized orders are also accepted, with the price heavily dependent on the item, weave design, and quantity to be produced. Aruga’s five active weavers—all fully-vaccinated—will work on these orders.
All tourist destinations in Nueva Vizcaya have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel or the Google Playstore.