The Cuzco Circuit: Wonderful Weaving

As mentioned in the previous article, my dad and I had the pleasure of attending a weaving demonstration during one of our tours. Held at a local artisans shop, the demonstration covered the multitude of processes that an artisan goes through when creating a product. Having seen so many beautiful woven items throughout my time in Peru, it was amazing to be able to learn the intricate craftsmanship and processes behind them.

Fresh Alpaca fiber

The weaving process begins with the collection of alpaca fiber (as seen above). Here, our guide wanted to demonstrate what the material looks like in it’s natural state. Here you can clearly see that, having just come from its host, the fiber is both dirty and matted; not the best condition to start using as weaving material. In order to both clean and soften the fiber, our guide slowly worked the fabric through a home-made concoction of water and a special powder (in the lower right hand bowl in the photo above). The mixture both brightened, cleaned, and softened the fiber, making it much more appealing and usable as a product.  After treating the fiber, it is hung up to dry (as seen in the photo below).

Hanging the fiber to dry after treating it. (Notice how much whiter it is!)

The next step is to turn the fiber into wool. Our guide pulled out a wooden spool, and showed us how she spun the fiber – twisting it with one hand, and reeling it in on the spool with the other.

Spinning the fiber into wool

Once the spool is full, and the wool is ready, the dying process can begin. Our guide led us over to a table covered in bowls of various sizes that held different types of plants, nuts, and soils. Pulling up her sleeve, and holding out her arm, she dabbed a little water onto her skin, and then rubbed on three or four different materials from the pots one after the other. The result was a beautiful pink-red mixture. She picked up another material and added it to the color on her arm, and the mixture turned a deep red-purple.

Mixing plants and sediments to make dye

 To demonstrate how many colors were possible, she lead us over to an impressive homemade hearth that had a dozen or so pots full of rich, colored water boiling on it. Behind the hearth racks of colorful wool were hanging to dry – there were at least 25 different colors on display! Our guide took her freshly spun wool and dipped half of it into one of the pots for 30 seconds. When she pulled it out, the wool was a beautiful deep red. Then she flipped the wool over, and put the other (still-white) half into a different pot. It came out a beautiful navy blue.

Multi-colored wool hanging to dry

Once the dyed wool is dry, the weaving process can begin. We were lead over to the weaving area, where at least 10 women sat weaving large shawls. The projects they were working on were in various stages of completion, so we were able to see their construction. First, wool is stretched around two posts, as seen below, in the desired pattern.

Setting up the wool on a weaving frame

Once the frame us full, the weaver pulls it out of its anchor in the ground. She then holds its vertically with one rod in her lap, and the other tied to a tree or pole. Using additional wool, she works from left to right, threading the strands horizontally over the vertical ones. After each additional line, she uses a wooden tool to push the strands together tightly and then begins the next strand. Below, a woman holds a fresh frame in her lap and prepares to begin weaving across.

Beginning the horizonal weaving

The result is a beautifully patterned finished product  (take a look at the blanket below in the woman’s lap), many of which are sold in artisan markets.

Putting the finishing touches on a blanket

Regardless of which market you buy your woven products from, they are created in the same intricate way. This demonstration certainly left me with a greater appreciation for the individuals who craft those products that I so frequently buy. And it certainly makes me think twice about haggling for prices. Each piece takes hours to produce, and clearly a lot of thought and effort go into them as well.

Now every time I look at the multiple woven items I purchased on my trip, I can appreciate them that much more.

Kate is a volunteer and researcher for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.

Kate

I'm a 21-year from Boston, MA who recently graduated with a BA in Anthropology/Archaeology. In an attempt to put off entering the real world as long as possible, I jumped at the chance to spend 9 weeks in Peru as a volunteer/tourist/archaeology nerd. I am currently enjoying touring Peruvian archaeological sites, experiencing Lima like a local, and learning about all things Peruvian.

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