I Just Came Back from the Amazon Jungle

I’m not making that up. I was in Peru for Tinkuy de Tejedoras in Cusco, a gathering of weavers from around the world, and I bribed my husband into coming along with the promise of going to the jungle with him afterward. (I love textiles; he loves plants.)

Elderly Yagua man wearing a fibrous wig with a twined top. Photo by Linda Ligon.

Shipibo square, painted with earthen clay slip from the Amazon region in Peru and embroidered in an imaginative design. Photo by ClothRoads; www.clothroads.com.
Looped bags made from palm fiber. The smaller bag is embellished with jungle seeds.

So what does this have to do with PieceWork? The rainforests are being cut down at an alarming rate, but the cloth remains. Traditions survive. In the jungle city of Iquitos, shops sell stunning examples of traditional Shipibo work—resist-dyed with mud, appliquéd and embroidered for texture and richness. At one of the river camps where we stayed, the Yagua Indians are still making bags from palm fiber—spinning the fiber on their thighs, dyeing it with jungle fruits, looping it into handy carryalls, and embellishing it with jungle seeds. Some of the Yagua, the elderly ones, still wear the fibrous wigs and skirts with twined tops that made early explorers think that the warriors were women. Shamans still collect and use natural dye plants—dragon’s blood, achiote (aka annatto), turmeric, and other more exotic ones.

There’s a stunning new book called Before They Pass Away by photographer Jimmy Nelson. This bold and fortunate man went to some of the most obscure corners of the earth to photograph the inhabitants decked out in their finest. It’s a wonderful reminder that people still practice remarkable skills to create and embellish their surroundings, their attire. We’ve been privileged to document some of these practices in PieceWork—stitching, appliquéing, thread manipulation, horse hair hitching, moose hair tufting (seriously!), and of course all manner of knitting, as well as simple looping and nålbinding. PieceWork brings the world together, with thread.