Spinning in the Andes

In Accha Alta, men still weave potato sacks from natural-colored llama fiber. Photo by Joe Coca.

It wasn’t my first time in the Andes, that trip in 2005, but it was the first time I felt a real connection to the people and the incredible textile work being done throughout the region. I was on a tour sponsored by the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC) and its North American support group, Andean Textile Arts (ATA). What a trip! We went to Machu Picchu and many of the other notable archaeological sites, we hung out in Cusco, but best of all, we visited weaving centers in the outlying villages. These ranged from nearby Chinchero to distant Accha Alta; from Chahuaytire to Pitumarca, where the ancient art of scaffold weaving has been revived (and where I got a special lesson from a very old weaver). We saw the first natural-dyed ikat warp in decades emerging from the cochineal dyepot in Santa Cruz de Sallac.

In Pitumarca, young men knit fancy caps, or chullos, while the women weave. Photo by Joe Coca.

We were served traditional quinoa soup and, as a special treat, roasted guinea pig. (Tastes like squirrel.) We shared gifts of bread and coca leaves, we received smiles and thanks and heartfelt hugs. The weavers of the Andes are so openhearted, so eager to share their vast and ancient stores of textile knowledge.

Making colorful warps is a communal activity in Santa Cruz de Sallac. Photo by Joe Coca.

The woman who has been key to reviving the old techniques, to reintroducing the use of natural dyes, to creating viable markets for the splendid textiles of her people, is Nilda Callañaupa, founder and director of CTTC. This year has been a particularly productive one for her, with a major exhibition at Colorado State University, the release of her video, “Spinning in the Andes,” and organization of a spectacular event to be held in Cusco this November.

“Tinkuy” is the Quechua word for “gathering,” and Tinkuy de Tejedores will bring together indigenous spinners, knitters, weavers, embroiderers, and textile enthusiasts from the Americas and beyond. The program will include keynote speakers from the US, India, and the UK, and demonstrations and hands-on workshops in knitting, spinning, backstrap weaving, dyeing, braiding, and more. Dancing, singing, and special exhibits will round out the program. Following the four-day Tinkuy, visitors are invited to take the optional tour described above. Read about it HERE, put it on your calendar. Get out your pushka (spindle) and start practicing. Nilda’s video will put you on the right track.