The Philippines is among the many countries that are blessed to have a weaving culture. Every region has its own handloom tradition that dates back to pre-colonial times. One of this unique weaving tradition is called Inabel, native to the Cordilleran people of Northern Luzon in the Philippines. Many Northern provinces practice the art Inabel, but two places stand out: Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur, for their rightly names Abel Iloco. Each provinces has its own centers where the craft is concentrated, and their own distinct design styles.
Abel is Ilocano for “weave,” and inabel literally means “woven.” You can interpret inabel as pertaining to any kind of woven fabric, but it is mostly used to refer to that distinctly Ilocano textile of plain or patterned woven cotton made in hardwood looms using techniques passed down through generations.
The traditional process of weaving abel cloth begins with preparing the cotton, from picking cotton balls, removing seeds, pounding or beating, twisting using a spindle, and winding the cotton yarn into the skeiner. The skeined yarn is then brushed to make it glossy and durable before it is wound to a bamboo spool.
Once the yarn is ready, it’s time to prepare the loom.
The weaver winds the spool yarn into the warping reel. The warp yarn is then wound into the warp beam rod. Next comes heddling, in which the warp yarn is inserted through the eye of the heddle using a weaving hook. After that, the weaver inserts the warp yarn through the spaces of the reed and “dresses” the loom by tying the heddles behind the beater. Only then can agabel, or weaving, commence.
Historically, the inabel fabric was used primarily to create the traditional abel iloko blankets. They were 100% cotton and got softer and fluffier with use. The distinctive fabric is also used to create beautiful pillowcases, tablemats, sweaters, and shawls.
With the weaving technique perfected by the Ilocos weavers over the years, Inabel holds a profound significance today as it preserves centuries-old designs and patterns that depict the lives and culture embedded into the very fabric of the region's indigenous weaving tradition. The fabric itself is an expression of the culture, identity and history of the ancient Filipinos, often depicting the harvest cycle and symbols of prosperity.