Pull on the Piña Thread

This summer, I first noticed the word “piña” at the Guo Pei Fantasy Couture Exhibit at the SF Legion of Honor. The term wasn’t familiar but a quick search yielded the language, Tagalog – one of the official languages of the Filippines, the derivation, Spanish – who ruled from 1521 to 1898, and the definition, “a traditional Filippine fiber made from the leaves of the pineapple plant.”

Guo Pei, a Chinese global fashion designer, used this fabric in many of her garments in the Alternate Universe, Fall/Winter 2019 – 2020 Collection, shown at the SF Legion of Honor.

Dress with sleeves made of pineapple fabric
Guo Pei, Alternate Universe Collection

The sleeves and sleeve ties in the dress above are made of piña. Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

Sleeve detail to show piña fabric up close
Sleeve Detail, Guo Pei, Alternate Universe Collection

The drape, luminance, and incredible sheerness of the fabric are mesmerizing. Here it is in another garment, in the pigtail drape on the skirt, and in the skirting below the puppet stage.

The dress skirt is draped in piña fabric
Pupetteer Dress, Guo Pei, Alternate Universe Collection

With the luscious drape, you wouldn’t expect the fabric to stand up very well. However, in the next detailed shot, the black trim provides enough stiffness for the fabric to stand away from the body.

Skirt detail with piña fabric hanging straight out from the body.
Skirt Detail, Guo Pei, Alternate Universe Collection

I was impressed with the fabric and wanted to handle it but wasn’t able to easily find a source so I went on my merry way.

Pineapples to Piña

Serendipitously, late in the summer, I happened upon From Pineapple to Piña, an exhibit at the San Francisco International Airport curated by the SFO Museum. Although it was pretty early, 6:45 am or so, the exhibit was open. Sensitized to the word piña, I detoured in. 

Guo Pei revived embroidery techniques from many cultures and her attraction to piña began to make more sense when I saw the beautifully embroidered antique Filipino garments.

Embroidered shirt dress.
Antique Garment made from Piña, SFO Museum, Pineapples to Piña

The fabric was used to make traditional garments, one of which is the Maria Clara consisting of a bodice with sleeves and a shawl.

SFO Museum, Pineapples to Piña, Maria Clare Garments

While this display shows many antique Maria Claras, the exhibit also highlighted modern Filipino designers who are using the fabric to make different garments like this shirt and wide-legged pant ensemble. 

Modern wide legged pants and top with belt made of pineapple fabric
Modern Designer Ensemble

The exhibit highlighted modern designers who create fashion using piña fabric such as Pinay Maria Beatrice “Patis” Pamintuan Tesoro and Pinoy Anthony Cruz Legarda. Legarda is on the board of The Hinabi Project, a trans-Pacific organization in San Francisco, that has been working for several years to preserve the practice of Filippine-American weaving arts.

Finding Pineapple Fabric

Duly impressed with all of these examples, I renewed my search for pineapple fabric. Fabric with pineapples printed or woven into it blotted my results. However, I was able to find at least one store, The Offset Warehouse, representing eco and sustainable fabrics, that carried a version of the fabric. However, my eyebrows were singed by the price – $91 (pineapple mixed with mulberry) to $143 (pineapple mixed with banana) / yard.

Piña weaving is so important that it was nominated to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2018. Over time, given all the advocacy, I forsee the fabric becoming more widely available and possibly more economically accessible. For now, I’ll admire the creations and hope you are equally enchanted.