Shady Grove
Pagtinabangay: The Quilts and Quiltmakers of Caohagan Island Book Review

Patricia L. Cummings

Pagtinabangay: The Quilts and Quiltmakers of Caohagan Island by Dana E. Jones vividly
captures the cooperative spirit of the quiltmaking efforts of 100 quilters, men and women, who
make up one sixth of the population of a 13 acre island in the south Philippine Islands. A
Japanese quilter, Junko Yoshikawa, introduced quilting to the island and now works diligently to
market the quilts made. They are popular in Japan and recently were introduced to the United
States via sales at American Quilter’s Society shows. Some of the quilts are currently on display
(July 10 – October 12, 2015) at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky.

Custom orders are accepted but keep in mind that no two quilts are exactly alike. The quilters
have come to rely on the revenue from selling their quilts to put food on their tables and the
influx of money on the island has resulted in a better educational and health system.  Fishing and
shell-collecting, previous means of income, are no longer very remunerative.

Popular quilt motifs include coconut palms, fish, flowers, cats, dogs, and birds. The inspiration
for the quilts comes from the beauty of nature, and domestic animals. The designs are most often
cut free-hand from the poly-cotton fabrics preferred by the quilters. Locally-produced fabrics are
bought on shopping trips to other islands. Most often the designated buyers will shop for solid
fabrics (for backgrounds), and plaid, striped, and polka dot cloth. At times, husbands help by
cutting fish motifs out of cardboard or drawing designs free-hand for their wives to quilt. As time
goes on, more men are being attracted to the actual process of quilting.

The solar-powered Quilt House is the only building with a large enough space to place quilts flat
for squaring up and layering with a batting and backing. On any given day, quilters can be found
on the porch catching a sea breeze while quilting. Inside, a Bernina sewing machine hums away
adding bindings to all of the quilts made: one side of the binding. The other side is stitched by
hand.  New quilters start by making small quilts and then graduate to creating larger and larger
quilts. Each unique quilt can take three to five months to complete, depending on how often it is
worked on.  At the end of the process, every quilt is judged by three women. The better the
quilt, the more money a quilter can make. This practice encourages quilters to improve their
skills. Every quilt is priced the same, according to its size.

Pagtinabangay is a Visaya word that encompasses the idea of working together as a community
for the common good. The quilters of Caohagan Island continue to improve life for themselves
and their families at this remote location, not easily accessible by the outside world. Tourism is
limited, by design, as a way to preserve village life.

The quilts have been compared to “improvisational jazz.” They present a fresh view that is not
self-conscious. Caohagan quilters learn from each other but are careful not to imitate each other
in an exact fashion. In fact, patterns are used once and then discarded, for the most part, to
ensure that every quilt is different. If a template is re-used at all, then a different fabric is chosen
for it.

The 190 page book in question is well-worth taking the time to read cover to cover. The author
spent one month on the island to take photos and interview the quiltmakers. The result is an
amazing book full of eye-candy and a real treat to turn each page. The author discourages
American quilters from sending fabric. She is often questioned about that. Jones has captured the
triumphs and the challenges of the island people and shows the reader how quilting has become a
mainstay of the economy of this tiny island. For information on ordering the book, please visit
the website:

Copyright 2015. Patricia L. Cummings and Quilter's Muse Publications, Concord, NH. All rights