Fashion Wednesdays: Piña, The Pineapple Fabric

Fashion Wednesdays: Piña, The Pineapple Fabric

August 10, 2011
Photo by: Flickr/Jeff Werner

In our latest post in our series about fabric made from plants, we take a look at piña, a fabric made from pineapple leaves and used in traditional Filipino clothing. Check out our first post about blazers made from lotus flower fiber.

When I picture Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, I see her with her beehive hairdo and her traditional dress with its dramatically flattened and puffed sleeves. This dress is known as a mestiza, which is also a Spanish word that is used to describe people of both Spanish and Filipino descent. The etymology of the word is unclear, but it may have be applied to the dress to describe the two cultures' dual influences on this style of clothing or as a reference to the group of mixed-race people who originally wore the dress.

Phillipines dress

Mestiza from .

Mestiza and barongs ng Tagalog, the embroidered shirts that are Filipino national dress, worn by everyone from the Filipino President to brides and grooms, are made from piña, a type of fabric made from pineapple fabric. The translucent quality of the fabric is ideal for the hot climate of the Philippines, and some sources refer to a legend that the Spaniards required the Filipino citizens to wear the shirts so that it could be quickly ascertained that they were not hiding a weapon underneath their shirt. This is probably an apocryphal story, but the Spaniards did influence the style of the shirt, by introducing the collar to the previously collarless shirt.

A man's barong that might be worn at a wedding.

Stiff, translucent, ivory or off-white, the fabric is made from the leaves of the pineapple plant. Some records seem to indicate that piña fabric has been made in the Philippines since before the arrival of the Spaniards, yet the pineapple was probably not introduced to the Philippines until the Spaniards came. The pineapple has its origins in Brazil and Paraguay, where its wild relatives grew as native plants. Brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus, the pineapple was then imported by the Spaniards to the Philippines, where it flourished.

scraping pineapple leaf

Photo: Flickr/Jeff Werner; a plate is used to scrape the leaf to expose the fibers.

The cloth is woven from the leaves of either the Spanish Red (pictured at top) or the Native Phillippine Red pineapple, which has leaves that span two meters in length. The fibers are first scraped from the leaves using broken china and then scraped again using a coconut shell to pull out the finest fibers. Generally, only the fine fiber is used for the piña fabric, which is then hand-woven into the fine, lightweight fabric. For a while, piña fabric fell out of favor, but in the last two decades, it has become popular again. The fabric is not only used for formal clothes in Filipino culture, but fashion designers from Spain and Japan are also interested in using the fabric.

pineapple fibers
Photo: Flickr/Jeff Werner; the leaf is bent so that the fiber strands can be pulled from the leaf.

Claire Lui is the online editor for Garden Design.