Resurfacing Inabel weaving

Corazon Campilla Agosto’s earliest memory of weaving dates back to 1941. She recalls watching her mother and her grandmother work on the loom when she was a little girl. Their swift hands shifting the boat-shaped shuttles across the cotton cloth, then rhythmically pulling the reed toward the beam that adds another row to the design. After school, she would offer assistance every way she could: fixing hems, replacing the threads, running to hand over supplies—she did them all. Now in her 70s, Corazon has carried over these lessons to her own family who keep their loom weaving tradition alive.

Corazon began working as a weaver in 1961. She was earning 5 pesos per output at most. “Pinapataas ko lang ng piso para maging 6!” she laughs, remembering how she negotiated for a 1-peso raise. Clearly, it was not enough. In 1975, she decided to pursue this business independently.

Corazon sold her two pigs and used this money as capital. Soon after she taught her siblings how to weave. Her loom weaving business took off, ever slowly, from there.

She used to sell woven blankets to traders in Vigan, a popular heritage site in Ilocos Sur. Still, she struggled to make ends meet. She admits trying out as a domestic helper in Manila for a year, but eventually returning home to continue weaving. For a long time, her family could only afford to eat rice with bagoong or shrimp paste.

Hirap na hirap ako noon,” she continues, “Nitong nagdaang taon lang guminhawa buhay ko.” (It was very difficult for me then. It was only recently when things started getting easier.)

To keep the production going and meet the increasing demand, members of the Agosto family take on different roles in the business.

Logelin Quional, 33, is in charge of setting up the threads into the warping board which will hold the design for the next roll. For every new design, she arranges thirty cotton spools on the ground. She winds each yarn across the structure, looping the threads around each bamboo spoke until they run out. This is the most physically demanding task in the production, she claims. She does so without complain.

 “Dito namin lahat binubuhos para magkapera kami,” Logelin says. (We give our all here to make a living.)

Like many children and grandchildren of Inabel weavers, she learned how to do this during her high school years and has been working for the family since.  Corazon taught her herself.

While most loomweavers are women, men also learn the craft. Logelin’s husband, a construction worker in Candon, her 11-year-old daughter Aliyah and 7-year-old son Aldrix all know how to weave.

 The case is different for the 22-year-old Clemen Arabit who only started weaving last year. She moved to Ilocos after marrying one of Corazon’s grandsons. Clemen didn’t have work in Manila, but she is now balancing two new roles in Ilocos: being a mother and a weaver.

 While weaving allows Clemen to support her newborn son while her husband works as a painter in Baguio, Corazon is finally able to send her grandchildren to school.

One of them is her granddaughter Althea. Now in 5th grade, Althea Agosto dreams of becoming a doctor someday. “Gusto kong makatulong,” she explains. (I want to help people.)

 When asked what her favorite design is, she enters her room and changes into a green dress. “Sinusuot ko ito sa singing contest,” (I wear this whenever I perform in singing contests) she says, “design ito ni Lola.” (Lola designed this.) Onstage, Althea is at her proudest. She wears her grandmother’s work while doing something she loves.

Ngayon lang ako nakaahon,” Corazon reveals.

 Ahon, a Filipino word that means to get out of water, is how she describes her current state.

 The blue waters of South China Sea serve as natural tapestry for the residents of Sabangan, a coastal barangay in Santiago. Coconut trees tower along the paved road, making it a desirable location for local entrepreneurs to set up small businesses. Sari-sari stores, wet market, vegetable stalls, bayside grills and inns now line the street. A large welcome sign greets visitors and locals alike. Underneath it reads Move On To Progression—their motto.

 For residents like Corazon, this progress can take several decades to see.

One thing is for sure though. She has surfaced from the waters.