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Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Embroidery on Pina Cloth

 

The other day, we had a little guessing game about this delicately embroidered piece of cloth. I showed you some close-up photos and asked if you could guess what the cloth was made of, and many of you did.

Still, the answer is hard to believe! The following pieces, embroidered in the Philippines probably before World War II, are made from piña cloth, or cloth woven from fiber taken from the fronds of pineapple plants.

Embroidery on Piña Cloth

A while ago, a reader in Australia contacted me about embroidery on piña cloth, as she was on a quest to find a source for the fabric.

I had seen photos of such embroidery, and I was familiar with the Barong Tagalog, the formal, embroidered shirt often made from piña cloth and worn by men of the Philippines for important functions.

But I had never seen any piña cloth in person, let alone any embellished with the delicate and intricate embroidery that is produced by hand in the Philippines.

Embroidery on Piña Cloth

And thus, I began hunting for samples that I could buy, so that I could see this embroidery in person, up close, and examine it carefully. I was fortunate to be able to buy five pieces.

My friend in Australia also found a source for piña fabric and was able to invest in a few yards. She generously sent me a piece of the new cloth, to examine and try for myself.

Embroidery on Piña Cloth

And so, I find myself enamored with piña cloth and the type of embroidery stitched upon it – not just with the physical product, though, but the whole process behind it, and the whole significance of the cloth and process to the culture that produces it.

I’m even toying with the notion of establishing pineapple plantations here in Kansas.

Embroidery on Piña Cloth

I left my fingers in some of the photos, so that you can get an idea of how incredibly fine the embroidery is!

The pieces that I have, judging from their condition and what information I could glean about them, are somewhat old, and they show signs of being stored in poor conditions for a while, including spot stains, discoloration along the folds, and general age discoloration.

Embroidery on Piña Cloth

Besides that, though, they’re in great shape. The fabric is still strong, the embroidery is exquisite.

Interesting Explorations into Piña Cloth

Over the weekend, I thought you would enjoy exploring the wonders of piña cloth and the embroidery of the Philippines.

The following video is a must-see! It shows how piña cloth is made, from beginning to end. I’ve watched the video some twenty times – and every time, I watch it with amazement!

E-Mail subscribers reading this in your inbox can enjoy viewing both videos here.

Below is another excellent video worth watching, informative as far as history and heritage goes, full of excellent photos (including photos of embroidery) and up-close video of some of the processes involved in making piña cloth. Check out especially the delicate work of knotting the individual fibers together before weaving – it’s mind-boggling!

And, for your reading pleasure, here are some articles worth exploring:

Lumban Embroidery from the blog Traveler on Foot

Piña Embroidery in Lumban, from the blog Spargel&Fraise

Lumban & the Craft of Embroidery in the Philippines, from the blog, Muni, which is a collaborative community blog.

More Explorations to Come

Over the weekend, I’ll be cleaning my embroidered pieces, and later on, we’ll talk about that process and I’ll share with you some before and after photos. I’ll also show you the new piña fabric lined up next to the old, and, eventually, we’ll experiment with the new fabric.

I hope you enjoy the videos and the articles above! If you have any questions, insights, comments, amazed exclamations, or anything that you want to share, feel free to join in the conversation below!

 
 

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(79) Comments

  1. Mary, thanks for sharing these videos. I have never heard of this fabric; my mouth hung open while watching the first video. So labor intensive!

    Now I want to buy some of this fabric to play with!

    Carol S.

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    1. The fabric is hard to find, Carol. I don’t know if it can be found in the States – it probably has to be special ordered straight from the Philippines, or, if you can find a small community shop that orders directly from the Philippines, you might be able to order through them. In the early ’80’s, interestingly enough (according to a fashion article I read in the NY Times, I think) the fabric ran about $10 / yard (unbelievable, really, when you consider the amount of work, no matter what country it’s from!) Now, I believe it runs around $100/yard.

  2. I watched the video about how they get the fibers from the leaves, clean them, dry them, tie them together and then get them ready for weaving. I’m in awe. Such patience, coordination, attention to detail. I thought I was patient because I like to stitch for a couple hours each evening. But this type of work is a whole other level.

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  3. Good Morning Mary,

    I’d like to wish you luck with that pineapple plantation in Kansas. Please keep me posted on your progress. (I love your sense of humor.)

    I’ll enjoy the videos this weekend. I remember being given a handkerchief made of pina as a teenager. I have no idea where it is now–ahh, I’m now 69 so a couple of years have passed. Now I’m kicking myself for being so uninterested.

    Maureen

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  4. The videos were fascinating. I had never heard of fabric it is beautiful. Thank you for all your research. I really enjoy it.

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  5. Fascinating, I knew nothing about this Pina cloth, so fine and beautiful and lovely to see the full process on the video.

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  6. Dear Mary,
    Thank you so much for this blogpost! I loved the Youtube items. As an archaeologist, it is very revealing to see how pieces of broken pot, clam shells and coconut shells as well as a particular type of pottery are used in the process. We so often find pieces of pot or bone, clearly with handling marks, but we can no longer be sure what they were once used for. Us modern people are so used to using a specific tool for a specific task, that we can hardly imagine what a piece of pot or bone could be used for. I am very much looking forward to your next post on this interresting topic!
    Have a nice weekend, Jessica

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    1. Hi Jessica, Such illuminating posts today – both yours and Mary’s!! When visiting NZ in 2013 I visited Rotorua and watched some preparation of the NZ flax plant into fibres for clothing. The guide used the native mollusc, similar to a clam shell. I didn’t see any broken pottery or china around but have watched archaeology programs where the find contains the usual pit of broken pot. I know at least one archaeologist now who will think about fabric making!!
      Hey Mary, you are great getting information out of the Internet!! I spent a good part of the other day trying to do the same after your Pina cloth entry. I even looked on-line to see about flights there. Did find out thought that there is an active volcano somewhat near-by and about the Taal Markets where some of this cloth is sold. Beautiful beadwork too. It seems though, that a lot of the embroidery and beading is now done on silk or man-made fibres. I can appreciate why this might be so after seeing the painstaking traditional task of turning fibre to fabric. It’s still a true cottage industry.
      They make fibre from mulberry bark in the islands north of New Zealand too. Saw some remarkable examples of wedding clothing made of this at the Auckland Museum.

  7. You might also want to contact Lacis in Berkeley, CA. I know they had examples at one time that were displayed in their museum. Although their current show, NINETEENTH CENTURY LACE:THE EMERGENCE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS, doesn’t seem to have any on display, I have seen it there.

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing your research on pina cloth. I’ve been sewing for over 50 years and had never seen it before now. Are there any sources for new pina cloth in the US? Thanks.
    Mary Ann

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  9. So delicate and elaborate, both the process of making this fabric and the embroideries. Hard to believe!
    What thread was used for embroidery? I wonder if they used the same fibre for embroidery as well.

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  10. My sister-in-law has a friend who traveled to the Philippines and purchased her a tablecloth in pina cloth. I just remembered this and called her for verification. The cloth is so fine and delicate she has yet to use it, fearful of stains or worse. Since is is so sheer, she has laid the tablecloth on top of a plain tablecloth underneath, on her table. It has been a visual pleasure for her because it is so fine and the designs so exquisite. It is amazing what beautiful things people have created and the skills they have mastered to become such artists. It is inspiring to say the least!!

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  11. was the embroidery done while the fabric was in a frame, just in the and? was the border put on while in a frame and when taken out, it was trimmed extremely close?
    I stand in awe of that kind of work!!!

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    1. Hi, Jane – it looks to me like the same process used for drawn thread and whitework / cutwork techniques – that the whole piece was worked on the frame, including the edge, and then cut close.

  12. What a treasure you are, Mary! Here’s another really interesting and beautiful form of embroidery, that I may never have discovered without you.

    I am interested to hear how it will wash. It seems to me that the fibres would be quite durable. Aren’t pineapples excellent? Too cool. 😀

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    1. I’ll let you know how it washes. I’ve been in contact with a gal who had a listing a while ago on Etsy for a piece of piña cloth embroidery (a gorgeous tablecloth, alas already sold), but she had a collection of pieces, and with one of them came washing instructions, so I’m going to follow the instructions she sent, with some special soap flakes that I have on hand for just such occasions. I’ll share the process!

  13. I am speechless, as I watched both videos, I thought I was a patient person…..
    I am in awe, with the antiquated looms, that are still used today! The expression,
    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”– this truly does apply to the Pina cloth process from the beginning to end. Thank you Mary, for enlightening me and given me a brief history lesson on Piña embroidery on cloth!

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  14. Mary,

    Thanks for the videos. I was surprised how similar the process was to flax and the processing linen. It even looked a tad easier. A lot less dusty.
    I grow pineapples here in coastal Georgia but not the variety they stated in the first video. I am going to try and see if I can get fiber from the ones I am growing.

    I couldn’t tell what kind of knot she was doing. Mary, what kind of knot do you think she was doing? Here is a killer question- Do you have any idea how many threads per inch? It looked very fine. I have done up to 30 threads per inch in weaving but nothing finer.

    I wonder if you can ply it?

    Lots of questions and ideas floating in my mind. Need to try scraping the leaves.

    Thanks again,
    Karen

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    1. Hi, Karen – it looked to me like a regular knot, but I’d have to watch it again and really follow the movement of the thread. As for the rest, methinks you should experiment and let us know – since I’m pretty certain I won’t be growing pineapples in Kansas! Would love to hear if you give it a try!

    2. I would also love to hear how this goes. No pineapple growing in Minnesota, either.

      Let us know how it turns out, Karen.

  15. This is amazing. The massive work involved to produce such a beautiful fine fabric. Absolutely fantastic. And definitely worth the cost – I’m surprised that it isn’t even more.

    I’d love to work with it but I would hate to damage it.

    Thank you so much for the videos and referernces.

    Kat G.

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  16. What a fascinating video. I’d read about this cloth, but have never seen it for myself. These ladies take such painstaking care with their preparation, spinning and weaving. No wonder the final cloth is so airy and light.

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  17. Those pieces are gorgeous. I think I’ve seen whitework on pina cloth before, just trying to remember where. Good luck with the washing. I’d be terrified to attempt it for fear of damaging them.

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  18. Oh, so beautiful! Thank you for the info and videos, Mary, it is fascinating. I really can’t imagine how they manage to prepare the threads as they do…. I can’t sew with a 12″ thread without getting it in a knot!

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  19. I was wondering about the feel of the fabric. Is hand the correct term? Is it stiff or pliable? What about the strength of the fabric? Easily creased?

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    1. New, it is quite stiff. The older pieces are supple by comparison, but not as soft, say, as cottom voile. It has a natural stiffness and body to it, but the hand – the surface feel of the fabric – is smooth.

  20. OMG!!!!! And thanks to that this amazing process still lives on. They are going to have to plant more pineapple now that we have all seen these videos!

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  21. Following up on my own post, I have found a source for small samples of pina and banana fiber cloth, which is similar.

    http://www.dbathis.com/index.php

    The pina is a blend of pineapple and silk, not 100% pineapple.

    Small samples are $7, and are 8″ by 9″. If you go to the product page for each cloth, there is a thumbnail labled “memo.” You can see the sample there, but their cart function isn’t working properly so I sent them an email instead. I had a response in two hours.

    Full yards are about $70, with a minimum three yards purchase required.

    On an interesting side note, they also have fabric made from found peacock feathers (no birds are harmed in the harvesting), for about $700/yard. In case you want something really extravagant.

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  22. What an outstanding video of the harvesting, maybe similar though with more refinements, to how it might have been done in Fiji where I was an arts/crafts teacher. Intellectually I knew how it was done but the video is terrific. The second video in the Panay islands of the Philippines is where one of my best friends from (Cal State Northridge) college served as the first Peace Corps volunteer I ever knew. I have his gift of pina cloth placemats, etc. For those who have the patience to weave, I would think the harvesting process would impress where the fiber resources are obtained. For me, I rather love seeing the preferred use that continues of a broken plate and clam shell in the process.

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  23. Lovely videos. Now I know how fabric is made from plant leaves. Since several people thought it was Lawn fabric, what is Lawn? What is it made from?

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  24. Merci Mary
    Merci pour ce post et ces vidéos.
    C’est la première fois que j’entends parler de ce tissu!
    Je suis impressionnée par les gestes et le savoir des femmes dans la première vidéo. Je vais la re-regarder!!

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  25. Wow. I want to go make some. And I want to paint, embroider and make something beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing this fascinating art.

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  26. Thank you for bringing such wonderful pictures and videos to us!

    As I watched the videos and read your information, I could hear my mother’s voice in my head repeating her traditional response when something would just stop her in her tracks. She’d just breathe, “Wow! Wow, wow — WOW.”

    What gorgeous fabric and handwork. And what a labor intensive process. I hope the people who produced these products see more and more financial return for their craft and work.

    Their no- or low-tech production really struck me, too, for I grew up in a rural area at a time when we were still able to produce and repair many items ourselves using items at hand, and didn’t have to wait on specialists or factory-turn-around-times. (Not that I’m willing to give up today’s many conveniences!)

    I look forward your continued information, and thank you, so much!

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  27. The cost of the Pina fabric should be very expensive because of the intensive work that goes into making a yard of the cloth. It looks as if the fabric would melt away like gelatin does in water but it has to be so much stronger because it has lasted for years. It reminds me of the soft cotton batiste used for baby christening gowns, etc.of old. The weave of the Pina cloth looks less tightly woven. Very fascinating subject. Looking forward to more on this subject. Thank you.

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  28. Amazing videos! Its incredible how labor intensive it is and easy to see why it is so highly prized. Even though it is obviously a tough fiber I would imagine that it can’t be too tough of a hand finish otherwise it wouldn’t be used as clothing. How does it feel Mary?

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  29. That was fascinating! I am continually amazed at the ingenuity of the human race. Even as an embroiderer I would not look at a pineapple plant and think “fiber” — all I would be thinking about was food! The material is so delicate I’d be afraid to even breathe on it and yet it is probably quite strong. Thank you Mary!

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  30. When i saw the word piña i thought “Mary Corbet speaks spanish” but then i realized that in the Phillipines they write and pronounce piña in the same way

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  31. Hello Mary,
    Thank you for such an interesting article about pina cloth. I had a piece of embroidery given to me when a teenager (I am now 78 so a long time ago). I was told at the time that it was ramie cloth and this was my first thought when I saw your photos. Now I am undecided, could it have been pina. I would love to buy some, did your other Australian friend tell you where she got her’s. I would like to try tambour work on it. Reading the answers from your other friends I saw a question about the knot used to join the fibres. My guess would be a weavers knot which is very small and very secure. I just checked and there are several videos on line which show you how it is made.
    Again many thanks for a very interesting part of my day. Regards, Pam

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  32. When I was 10, my uncle treated my sister and me to a trip to the NY World’s Fair. My sister bought a stiff but silky feeling embroidered shirt that now I know is pineapple cloth! She never wore it and I inherited it… Nice to know so much more about it now!

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  33. Ah Grasshopper Confucius say “too cold for growing pineapples in Kansas”

    I am just blown away by the skill of people, who would have thought about using that for fabric.

    It is exquisite stitching!
    Sandy NSW Australia

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  34. Very, very interesting read, I’ll be sure to follow-up now that I am aware of it so thanks so much for sharing this! The video’s were great too!

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  35. Mary, I am utterly totally and completely gobsmacked. Oh boy, so beautiful and so back-breaking.

    BTW, Dharma is selling something they are calling “pineapple cloth” for less than $10 per yard, but they say it is made in Indonesia, so it is probably something of a ripoff. Oops, soap and water. Probably nowhere like the quality of the Philippine made stuff, but still, for practising it might be OK.

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  36. Hi Mary
    Thankyou for the fascinating info and videos. I too had a hankichief made from this cloth sent by my penpal in the Phillipines over 60 years ago. Sadly I have no idea where it got to. I wish I did.
    With regards to Maori in New Zealand using clam shells and not pottery to clean flax fibre for weaving, I understand that Maori did not have a pottery culture. Storage was mostly in flax baskets or kite and hollowed out and decorated gourds.

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  37. Oh my goodness. That is amazing. Thank you. We grew pineapples in our garden in Zimbabwe but I had no idea they could be used to create such delicate cloth. I’m glad you showed this at the weekend because I could watch the video, which always drops frequently during busy weekdays.

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  38. There are a few things made of Pina at Etsy, one of which I ordered, to have framed.

    You do a marvelous job with your website, making us aware of so many talented people and wonderful things. Thank you.

    Sonja N.

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  39. Thanks, Mary. This new-to-me cloth is amazing. I’m totally enjoying watching the videos and learning more. I’ll be waiting…

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  40. Speechless! I never tire saying you are unique, Mary Corbet! A gem.
    I’d never heard about pina fiber and such exquisite embroidery. You are a unique, inexhaustible, boundless spring, fountain, source for embroidery information. Thank you so much.

    I’m trying return to the computer after a very bad period in my life – I’m feeling such a pleasure seeing and reading your blog after all happened. Thank you. xx méri

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  41. Hello Mary! It’s quite a pleasant surprise that my country’s humble crafts has reached you. Piña cloth is still popular here, especially for formal native Filipiniana wear. When embroidered — usually in barong tagalog, baro’t saya (for females) — it becomes a luxury item, favored by designers. Only downside is, not everyone here can afford them; else those who have such clothes reserve their use for very special occasions.

    The best piña cloth here are from Aklan in the Visayas region, about $20 per yard more or less. I do think there is a Filipino shop in California which caters to such Filipiniana clothing, and also sell native fabrics. Hope this helps for your piña supply. Here’s their site: barongatsaya.com.

    Cheers!

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  42. Absolutely fascinating. . .thanks so much sharing these videos with us! I appreciate the enlightenment.
    The fabric looks so light and airy. Like the wind itself! The process of making the fabric, I imagine, takes an exceedingly long time. (Sitting and knotting together all those strands into one would take Patience!)
    This is a very interesting bit of history.

    Sarah

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  43. Truly amazing. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn about pina cloth and how it is made. I can’t fathom the patience and time required to finally get to the end product. Absolutely beautiful.

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  44. My daughter-in-law comes from the Philippines and has never mentioned this embroidery! Its origins have the look of needlelace. I really must ask her about it, her brothers are wearing the shirts in her wedding photos.

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  45. Thank you for sharing this art! I have a new fondness of this cloth now, after seeing what goes into the process from the harvesting stage. The end results with embroidery are simply elegant! A lot of work! (and I’ll take some plants for Connecticut, too.)

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  46. Thank you for sharing this art! I have a new fondness of this cloth now, after seeing what goes into the process from the harvesting stage. The end results with embroidery are simply elegant! A lot of work! (and I’ll take some plants for Connecticut, too.)

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  47. I volunteer and sell things in a local resale shop. After reading the article on embroidered piña cloth, I spotted a new venders items in her booth and on her wall are around seven pieces of what I believe to be piña clth! The prices run from 10.00 to the highest at 35. Dollars the smallest piece is possibly 8-9″ in diameter and largest is around 14×28″? Some are close to mint with slight yellowing and smaller ones have some damage on one corner area. Not sure what you pay and if they are in fact pina clth. I haven’t met the owner of this booth yet to ask but do know she has traveled extensively by the comments on some of her tickets. My email is () if you have an interest in them , also can photograph and send pictures if you want. They are indeed thin and beautiful some with figures embroidered on them. Love your blog!!

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    1. Hi,Sherry! They sound interesting! And thank you for letting me know. I’m not in the market right now for more samples – I mean, I would love to be, but the old budget, you know! You should take photos, though, if you have the opportunity, especially if it’s something you want to explore further, later. It’s always nice to have some references. Thanks again!

  48. Just spoke with a person at the resell shop where the mentioned pieces of what I thought could be Pina cloth…said she was told they are heirloom pieces from Germany. And looking at my photos the fabric center is not see through. Still will send photos…largest piece is 54″ long for 45.

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    1. Hi Sherry. Your find of heirloom pieces from Germany sounds very interesting indeed. Like Mary, I’d love to see photos too as the quality of work of those old old embroideries is amazing.

  49. For beautifully handcrafted piña and jusi cloth, the Philippines is abundant with it. They are used as table cloths, handkerchiefs, shawls and as a traditional Filipino clothing. .

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  50. Mary it is all your fault I haven’t finished my piece of embroidery. You side tracked me as I haven’t really thought about Pina until you started your talk.

    Well, Something was on my mind about embroidering on pina to weaving a design into it.
    I noticed and now confirm that I have a table set that has a woven pattern in it.

    I looked to see what was the wrong or right side. I remembered there was something different… on the wrong side I felt bristles. On a closer look I found that the thread that was woven in to form the pattern was cut off and did not have a knot,1.5mm of fibre hung out. I don’t know how many times I washed it over the years but the threads have not come loose of fallen out.
    On the right side the fabric and design are still lovely and silky soft and tight but the back has little ‘bristle hard’ like ends.

    Beats me but if it works for the weaver then it works for me…..

    The embroidery does not have that as cotton or silk is used. Thought I would pass that on too you. If you have a woven pattern on the Pina do have a look.
    TTFN.

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  51. Thank You Very much for your information.
    Recentry I am working with Dresden Embroidery. So I got my mind that Dresden’s is like a piña embroidery and I also have a piece of cloth which is waiting my hand.
    Is it any relating history between them?
    With what kind of thread are they using?

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    1. Hello, Yoko – thanks for your comment! I don’t know if there is a direct connection between Dresden and piña embroidery, but I’m sure there must be some kind of indirect connection. So many different cultures have some form of fine Whitework, and techniques were certainly shared, passed around, copied, and so forth. I haven’t had the time to research the exact development and influences.

      Most piña embroidery seems to be done with cotton threads today, but some of the older and very fine embroidery was also done with silk.

      I hope that helps a little bit!

  52. Wow. What beautiful Pina cloth embroideries. Looks like these are very fine old pieces. I have a very beautiful long ceremonial shawl, with needle lace fillings. . I have had it for many years and I am shortly going to list it on my eBay site. It has previously and reliably been identified as being from Mexico . It came to Australia from London. So it has travelled a fair bit.
    Do you know anything about Mexico as a source of these lovely embroideries on pina cloth.
    At the moment I am not sure how much to list this piece for. It is very old and was quite stained with storage spots when I acquired it. Any advice would be appreciated. Kind regards Anne

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