Handmade and Fabulous: The Woven Tote

When I was a teenager, I lived with my aunt and her brood of six (5 girls and a boy) for a few years while attending a local school. We lived in a house fronting the Supermarket – the busiest, smelliest wet market in the whole city. ‘Super’, as  it is affectionately called, is notorious for its pile of garbage that reeks to high heavens (the stench remains even when the rubbish is cleared at the end of the day), its infamous residents (skwaters they are called), and the poverty that seems to be indelibly woven into its fabric. Non-residents would rather stay away and jeepney drivers would rather not go that way. I remember when the turn-off for Super loomed ahead, jeepney drivers would ask the dreaded question ‘May manaog Super?’ (Is anyone getting off Super?) and the passengers await with bated breath. Many times I found myself the recipient of accusing stares but I couldn’t care less.

Stench, bad neighbourhood, poverty – not exactly a picture of  idyllic childhood but my cousins and I had some of the best times of our young lives in that no-man’s land. We used to love going around the market stalls selling all kinds of stuff. My favourite shops, however,  were the ones selling traditional woven things  – bayongs (native market bags), baskets, wallets, slippers, décor – in either bamboo, buri, pandan, or palm leaves. I found it amazing that you can fashion plant leaves into something useful and beautiful. It must be during these market rendezvous that my love for things natural and woven took root. This may explain why, when my serendipitous bag business started two years ago, I chose to work with woven indigenous fibres and natural materials such as wood and capiz shells. This may also explain why, despite my indifference to designer label bags ( Chanel’s intertwined Cs and Louis Vuitton’s conspicuous logo surprisingly leave me cold), I do feel a little lurch whenever I pass by a Bottega Venetta store.

The traditional Filipino bayong, a woven bag made of palm, buri, or pandan leaves. Source

My next project harks back to those  carefree days spent browsing the Super market stalls  and explores the intricate art of basket weaving. This is the first time I have attempted to weave a bag and it was, by no means, quick. The small bag which measures 15 inches across by the opening and 9 inches from the centre top to bottom resembles a half-eaten strawberry and took me two days to finish. I decided to use poly-hemp (abaca mixed with polyester) for the bag body for its gorgeous colour and sheen. Leather handles break the traditional mode and lend a touch of luxury (I hope!).

A Lesson in Weaving
A closer inspection
Leather handles break up tradition
The rather jolly interior

I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into the art of basket weaving. It tested my patience to the hilt but the suspense of it all kept me going. And when I finally finished my bag, I felt a kind of buzz, the kind you get when what you’ve been slaving on turns out better than expected. And that, I think, beats the fleeting pleasure of owning a designer bag hands down.

Till next time,

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