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Washing [the Barong Tagalog] in the Past
by de la Torre, Visitacion R.
Date: 4/22/2009

Centuries ago when almost everything had to be done by hand, washing the Barong Tagalog proved to be a challenging chore. The well-heeled families had a washerwoman or lavandera who reported for work once a week. She either lived with the masters or stayed in her own house, presumably far away in the fields. In the case of the latter, she came weekly to sort out the wash and take it away in a carretela or rig-driven cart to be returned the following week—all washed and ironed and neatly folded.

A few steps into the time tunnel and one can see how the lavandera took care of the Barong Tagalog. Before each washing, she first prepared fresh starch. Packets of gawgaw (starch) were not yet popular nor in use two or three centuries ago. But the laundrywoman, ever resourceful and wise in her labors, learned to prepare native home-cooked starch which was made from thick rice lugao (gruel). The lugao was pressed by the lavandera with wooden sandok (ladle) through a cheesecloth duyan (hammock) tied to the washline at four points. Below this duyan was a wooden batya (wash basin) that caught the starch forced through the cheesecloth. It was this starch that was gently patted on the Barong Tagalog. This was later stretched into shape and left to dry on flat galvanized iron sheets. In the 1920s the washerwoman prepared cooked starch from laundry starch, water, borax, lard, butter, turpentine or paraffin.

If there were stains on the Barong Tagalog, they were removed by soaking with calamansi (small native citrus fruit), kamias (a green, acidic cylindrical fruit about 4 cms. long), and rock salt. The stained area was then bleached under strong sunlight.

Washing the Barong Tagalog Today

Today when the Barong Tagalog is washed, one should be wary about dry cleaning it since the modern method of washing contains chemicals that may make the Barong Tagalog brittle and therefore shorten its life span, so to speak. Machine washing for piña or jusi Barong Tagalog is a crime. Many times businessmen and executives traveling abroad mix their soiled Barong Tagalog with other clothes and send them altogether to the hotel’s laundry shop. The resulting tragedy is often repeated—the Barong Tagalog comes back a total wreck.

Handwashing is still preferred by many housewives and laundry-women today. When washing hand-embroidered Barong Tagalog made of jusi or piña, one mixes a calculated amount of detergent (depends on how many pieces of Barong Tagalog to wash) with water and mixes it thoroughly until the detergent is completely dissolved in the basin. Or as in post-war times, one soaks it with hugas bigas (rice washing) to give it “body.” Some use bath soap instead of detergent so that the Barong Tagalog may retain some fragrance. When one soaks the Barong Tagalog, he is mindful of those areas that are the dirtiest—collar, underneath cuff links, arm holes, etc. Soaking should be done overnight or one whole day, depending on the dirt.

After this step, one uses a discarded toothbrush (with soft bristles) with a tiny amount of detergent to brush off remaining or stubborn dirt on the Barong Tagalog, and then rinses it, with an upward or downward motion in water. If there is need of another brushing, then one rinses again and again. Hand-embroidered Barong Tagalog, however, should not be scrubbed. A piña Barong Tagalog that has turned yellow may be washed with diluted vinegar and soaked overnight. The acid in the vinegar helps remove the yellowish stain. Bleaching may also help. To starch it, one hand-claps it or he may use starch spray though this is not exactly advisable.

A cardinal rule here is when one rinses the Barong Tagalog, one does not squeeze nor twist the fabric. She/he should let it drip dry on a hanger—buttoning it from top to bottom, down to the last button on the front and on the end part of the opening, and then pins the overlapping so that when dry, this part stays in its right shape. The less sunlight for the Barong Tagalog, the better, to avoid discoloration. One must iron the Barong Tagalog while it is still damp or as soon as it is dry to retain its original shape.

Source: Text excerpted from The Barong Tagalog: Then & Now, p. 152.

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