Magdalena Gamayo

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Gawad ng Manlilikha ng Bayan Awardee Magdalena Gamayo

To read this article in Filipino, see this Magdalena Gamayo.

Magdalena Gamayo (born August 13, 1924) is a Filipino master weaver who makes “inabel”, an Ilokano handwoven cloth. She is a Gawad ng Manlilikha ng Bayan Award (GAMABA) recipient from Pili, Ilocos Norte for her wide array skills in textile weaving. She was awarded by President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in 2012 at the Malacañang Palace in Manila. Her handiworks are finer than most abel. Her blankets have a very high thread count and her designs are the most intricate that sometimes take up to five colors. Her works were exhibited at the National Museum of the Philippines.


Lola Magdalena, as she was called by her tribe, is 88 years old. She started weaving Abel Iloko when she was only 16 years old. The Abel Iloko is a vintage designed blanket, bedding, or shawl that can be found around Ilocos.

She learned the art of weaving from her aunt. She picked up the art on her own by copying the patterns. At that time, every girl in her village knew how to weave and there was an informal competition among her cousins and friends as to who could weave the finest. When she was 19 years old, her father bought her her first loom. He obtained the sag'gat or hard wood himself and asked the local craftsman to make a loom. It lasted for at least 30 years, sustaining Gamayo through years of marriage and motherhood.

Despite being known for cotton products, the north still does not have thread factories that would provide spools of thread. Gamayo used to make her own thread. She applied beeswax on it to make it stronger. After World War II, she relied on buying threads in the market. She remembered trading rice for thread. Nowadays, thread is more expensive and of poorer quality. There are less local suppliers of thread, a sign that there is less demand for their wares, but the abel-weaving tradition in Ilocos remains strong.

A good thread has to be resilient to withstand several passes through the loom. It should have a good weight and color. Its fibers should not be loose and should endure years of use.

Gamayo prefers to work with linen as it is obedient to the master weaver. Her personal collection includes abel that has been in use for generations. Her works gradually get softer from handling but retain their structural integrity and intricate designs.

A weaver must know the proper tension to the threads. He or she must also know how to keep a steady rhythm so that the shuttle bearing the weft threads passes through the warp evenly to ensure a smooth finish. Gamayo is able to recreate the same process everyday manually, relying on instinct, practice, and innate skill. She has taught herself the traditional designs of binakol: inuritan or the geometric designs, kusikos or spiral forms similar to oranges, and the most challenging of all, the sinan-sabong or flowers.

Gamayo has had other students before. Today, she has two students: her cousin's daughter-in-law and her sister-in-law, who learned how to weave at the age of 38. She starts her students on the triple-toned warp binakol. Only when she is satisfied with the quality of their work does she teach them other designs.

Even though she is old, her eyesight still holds true and she still takes care of arranging the threads on the loom. The said task is considered the hardest task of all as the slightest miscalculation can result in a misaligned design that does not reveal itself until it's too late.




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