Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.






Friday, May 11, 2012

For the Love of Fabrics



Indonesian Ikat  given to me by one of my best friends
used as a backdrop wall hanging.

I have always been enamored with fabric and the unlimited possibilities for creativity they open up. My grandfather was a so-called gentleman farmer who set aside a few hectares of his larger coconut plantation for hobby farming. He grew fruit trees, had a large poultry and a large manmade fishpond where he cultured tilapia. As a young child in the Philippines,  I would vacation in his farm and learned a lot about the workings of a small farm. This is a thrill for me having grown up in New York City,   My grandmother used to take me to the market and one of the most exciting part is when we  buy feed for the chickens in the poultry. I get to choose the feed based on the fabric design of the sack. Once empty the feed sacks are washed and turned into aprons, dishcloths, dolls and doll clothes, fabric yo-yos that are made into bed covers and patchwork quilts. When I took up quilting here in the United States, I learned that feed sacks were used the same way here. I guess, clever homemakers all over the world think alike.

Part of my Home Economics curriculum, when I went to the University of the Philippines was to learn about fabrics. We were tasked with collecting all kinds of swatches and learning and experimenting with their properties. The fabrics were washed, bleached, dyed, and even burned. You can tell natural from synthetic fabric by the smell when burning and how it burned.

A woven cloth I purchased in  Belize. I framed it to use as a wall hanging.
Today, when I travel to other countries, I still collect fabrics but I am partial to handmade and indigenous materials.  In China, I purchased some silk embroidery, in Japan - kimono prints, in Europe -  lace... My favorite of all to collect are South East Asian  textiles -  batiks and ikats.  Batiks are wax-resist dyed cloth where a tool called the canting is used like a fountain pen to draw the designs in liquid wax on the cloth or alternatively, a print block is used to stamp the design, The fabric is dipped in dye which is absorbed in the unwaxed areas. The cloth is then boiled to remove the wax and the process can be repeated for a finished cloth with several colored patterns or design. Ikat is also made by resist dyeing. The warp or weft silk or cotton threads, or occasionally both, are bound in selected areas with dye resistant material before being immersed in a dye bath. The uncovered threads will absorb the dye. More colors are added by rearranging the areas that are covered before immersing in dye again, This thread dyeing process, which produces different colors and un-dyed areas,  gives the resulting woven cloth a distinctive random blurred pattern. I love the colorful, intricate, ethnic feel of these materials. I fear that they would become a lost art and by buying them even a piece at a time, I encourage their production to continue.

A Filipino Weaver


From collecting woven textiles, I learned that each country share the same processes and even design as another country across the globe. A woven cloth from the Philippines can be very similar to one made in Guatemala. I am amazed by this. How were these techniques disseminated? Or even more amazing, were these processes hardwired in the human DNA so that no matter where you are, you are able to produce similar items using similar processes, similar woven cloths using similar looms and dyes. I'm sure some socio-anthropologist has a paper on this, I should do more research.






Silk Ikat Scarf or Wall Hanging - Cambodia,
a gift from  of Lulu and Dennis Morales







Many of the ethnic textiles I collect I have used as wall hangings, table toppers, shawls,  malong or sarong. To me, they are so beautiful that they need to be displayed in museums and as a matter of fact many museums do have rooms displaying ethnic fabrics. I attended a lecture and wonderful exhibition on Indonesian fabrics (The Bakwin Indonesian Textiles) about 4 years ago at The Art Institute of Chicago which got me more deeply interested in ikats.






It is getting harder to find true batiks nowadays and if you do they are getting to be pricey. You can tell a real batik by looking at the wrong side of the fabric, the design and color hue and intensity should be exactly the same as the front that you can not tell which is which. My friend's daughter. Pia,  went to Ghana for a work study program and their batiks are so different than the familiar SouthEast Asian batiks. The Ghanaian cloths are not representational like the Indonesian's but have more modern colorful graphic designs. I perfectly understand Pia's urge when she ended up with two valises full of these fabrics. I made a quilt out of a piece of Ghanaian cloth she brought home which is featured in my earlier blog Pia's Quilt.





Two examples of SouthEast Asian Batiks - from Indonesia (orange background) and Thailand (black background)


I also made this little wristlet from woven fabric I purchased on a trip to Guatemala. I currently have it on sale on Etsy - https://www.etsy.com/listing/99388413/ooak-guatemalan-woven-cloth-wristlet


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Here are a few of the hand woven cloth I have collected during my travels:
Part of a costume from Northern Philippines (Ifugao or Igorot tribes)

Native Costume (Malong) -  Ratanakiri, Cambodia
From first glance these so similar in coloration and design to the ones worn by  the Ifugao and Igorot tribes in the Philippines. Careful examination will show the distinct differences. Different tribes even in the same country will have their own distinct designs.
Ikat Silk Shawls -  Cambodia

Table Runner - Belize
Table Runner - China
Table topper - Thailand

Native Costume (Malong) with gold threads -  Southern Philippines


Detail of Malong design

Napkins - Northern Philippines

Table Topper or Wall Hanging  - Guatemala

Silk Shawls - Thailand

Serape - Mexico



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