The Queens of Lumban Embroidery

#1 Lumban

Words by Glenn Martinez
Photograhy by Jamie Barredo

Morning sunshine generously streams through a narrow door inside the home of 61-year-old
Lolita Lakbay-Rosales providing natural lighting while she moves in silent concentration over her labor. Her deft hands diligently shift the needle along the beginnings of a meticulously-embroidered piña fabric. In her living room, she is joined by other women from the neighborhood doing the same fine handiwork. They are all related by blood and by profession. They are the women embroiderers of Lumban.

Embroidery has thrived as a lively cottage industry in Lumban. Ask any of the women embroiderers how this needle craft was introduced to this lakeshore town of fishermen and farmers and nobody can give a definite history. Their answers would echo Lolita’s. “I’ve learned embroidery from my mother when I was 13. My mother learned it from my grandmother. I taught my daughters and my husband to do embroidery.”

Lolita’s husband, Apolinario Rosales, shares the daily labor by stretching gossamer cloth over a rectangular bamboo frame locally called a bastidor. The delicate fabric is cleaned with soap and water and whitened with starch before it is placed under the sun to dry.

Like most family men in Lumban, Apolinario casts his net in the nearby lake for that first catch at dawn. In the afternoon, his coarsened fisherman hands balance a tambor, the round wooden stretcher where the piña fabric is stretched out as tight as a drum, while he intricately embroiders rosettes and floral patterns. Apolinario claims he learned embroidery by simply watching his wife Lolita. However, embroidery remains the turf of Lolita in the Rosales household. She is the only one who gives approval to Apolinario’s embroidery and provides directions on how to improve his style. As Lolita explains in jest “every man of the house in Lumban accepts this kind of set-up because in our town embroidery is king and we women are the queens.”

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