Lessons from Andean Spinning

  Linda at Tinkuy
  How many meters of yarn can you spin in two minutes? Linda Ligon and three expert elders from Chinchero, Peru, tested their skills at Tinkuy 2010, an international gathering in Urubamba, Peru. The wheel-spun yarn came in slightly longer than the others at 7.7 meters, but the spindle-spun yarn was finer, stronger, and more consistent.

In the second installment of her occasional series, “Spinning Now and Then,” Linda Ligon shares some surprising spinning facts from her trips to the Peruvian Highlands.

I’ve had the great good fortune to see handspinning done in several parts of the world, and I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve observed. I’ll start with the Peruvian Highlands, where I’ve spent the most time, and where spinning among Quechua women in the rural areas is second nature. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

“Park and draft” is not a new technique, and it’s not just for beginners. I’ve seen women in the Andes who have spun almost every thread in their splendid wardrobes for their whole lives do this when they need to pause and extend a length of fiber, or work out an inconsistency in the yarn or even out the twist.

“Drop” spindles don’t always get dropped. Sometimes they get supported. If a spinner is sitting down, why not? Especially if she’s making a particularly fine yarn. Their word, pushka, just means hand spindle, nothing about dropping it. Letting it rest on the ground or in a spinning bowl makes a lot of sense.

  Sheep with pushka edit
  A spindle resting on the ground is a commonplace sight. Photo by Ercil Howard Wroth.

“Double drafting” is commonplace, almost the rule. And we didn’t invent it. Because their fiber isn’t carded or combed, just fluffed by hand, the double drafting is critical for creating a strong, consistent yarn.

Andean spinners have many other tricks and techniques–too many for this space, although you can learn a lot of them in Nilda Callañaupa’s fine video, Andean Spinning.

I had the remarkable opportunity a few years ago to enter a spinning competition with some Elders from the community of Chinchero: how much yarn could we spin in a given amount of time? (I think it was two minutes.) I had my speedy little flyer wheel, they had their pushkas. We were all able to produce about the same length of yarn, but I can tell you theirs was much finer, much more consistent, much higher quality. Truly a humbling experience.



imageplaceholder Linda Ligon
Founder, Interweave

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