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Abaca is a bast fibre from the stems of wild banana plants. On the island of Mindanao, abaca is used to produce cloth on backstrap looms such as this one. The stiff, long abaca threads produce a springy, wiry cloth that is airy against the wearer’s skin. The technique of tying groups of unwoven warp or weft threads together to resist the dye and make patterns is usually known by the Indonesian term, ikat.

Where was this textile created?

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Asia: South East Asia, Philippines, Mindanao; T'boli people
Mid 20th century
Bamboo and wood loom, abaca warp and weft threads
cloth on loom: 156 cm x 68 cm
Gift of Dale Mearns
T90.0222a Textile Museum of Canada

This half-woven length of cloth is still on a backstrap loom. The loom is made of bamboo and wood, with a beater, reed and heddle still attached. A backstrap loom has the advantage of being portable, and can be stored easily in a roll. The owner unrolls the loom, attaches the finished end to a tree or pole, attaches the unfinished end to a belt around her body, and leans back to create the tension needed to weave.

While textile makers in Africa, South America and central Asia all employ the ikat technique to make cloth, only in south-central Mindanao in the Philippines is thread resist combined with abaca fibres, to make textiles such as this one.

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