Many people in the rural areas, or provinces in the Philippines sleep not only on beds, but also on woven leaf mats.
In the Philippines, sleeping mats are called Banig. And for some folks, it is sometimes preferred over beds, even in these modern times. In the hot, tropical climate and without air-conditioning, one feels cooler and can get a better night’s sleep atop a Banig.
Banigs in the region where my family is from are usually made from Tikog, a type of grass that grows wild near rice fields.
or made from Romblon (pandanus), a type of screw pine that grows by the beach.
Traditional banig patterns vary from repeating geometric designs derived from weaving in, individual, dyed strips that creates the mat, or by creating pictures and patterns on top of an existing plain (solid or one color) mat.
Here are some examples of banig patterns sold in the marketplace (these mats are made from Tikog grass):
After finding wholesale customers for our romblon wine & gift bags, and looking to keep our weavers busy, the idea to create placemats followed.
We focused on romblon as it was the material that our partner weavers were familiar with. The weaving style employed for our mats is a simple, over and under pattern.
It was not such a stretch — at least I thought — as they were used to making larger pieces. Some weavers previously made placemats for export to another country, but with extra stitches sewn on the edges. These styles were too bumpy and busy.
I wanted a simple and clean look —just like a banig. So the idea was…why not just make little ones…a sort of “mini banig” and add this to our product line? Easy right? Well, not so much.
Imagine weaving a large piece — 6 feet by 4 feet or 5 feet. One would not have an issue with the edges, plus you are sleeping on it, not looking at it — on a table setting right in front of you.
If you looked at a smaller piece — like a placemat — it becomes obvious that the edges have to be nice and even — especially for the export market.
I wish I kept our original samples, compared to the mats we now make. The placemat edges then was, well…wavy (and not in a good way wavy).
I asked if the edges can be made more straight. Some weavers said…no way, it is not possible. But a few (like weaver Betty, Janice and her relatives) took on the challenge and figured out a way to make the edges straight.
Yes! Our placemats now have the quality that Native Leaf products are known for. And, not that our placemats are perfect– they are after all, handmade and there will be some variations in the size and edges…but now the edges are straight, and the variations are very slight.
Today, most of our placemats are woven by Janice and her group of relatives. It is really wonderful to work with weavers like Janice, who had the patience and perseverance to come up with a technique for these place mats.
We started out making rectangle and square mats, but quickly found that the square place mats were preferred.
Perhaps because square mats have a more modern look. Or, that you can place more square mats on a table setting in case you needed to squeeze in an extra guest — or two or three…
So…from Sleeping Mats to Placemats, now you know the story behind our particular kind of place mats.
As the economy improves, we have plans to make table runners, and incorporate some of the traditional and new designs for our runners (in this case, a long very skinny banig). This could be helpful to keep the design and patterns from disappearing altogether, and to have fun coming up with new ones!
Please visit our blog posts on “The People Behind Our Products” in a few days when we post pictures of our weavers.
And thank you for your interest in our placemats. Oh, and if you are reading this and have purchased some of our mats, I would appreciate comments on how you like the mats.