Gather with the Weavers

A Peruvian handweaver winds a colorful warp.


Making colorful warps is a communal

activity in Santa Cruz de Sallac.
Photos 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.

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.

The survival of those stores of knowledge is amazing because the Andean cultures had no written language. (The closest things we have to "written" records from Andean pre-Colombian cultures are quipus, bundles of knotted yarn. which scholars are stilly trying to decipher.) Textiles are central to Andean culture, and yet the very lack of a written language put the textile traditions of the Andes at risk in the twentieth century as people moved into the cities and found other occupations. By the 1970s, in many communities, only a few of the elders remembered the traditional weaving techniques. Fortunately, the communities around Cusco have revived their traditions and are passing them on to new generations.

   A handweaver in Accha Alta weaves a potato sack with llama yarn.

In Accha Alta, men still weave

traditional potato sacks of

natural-colored llama fiber.

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, Andean Spinning, 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 weavers 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 spinning, backstrap weaving, dyeing, knitting, 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, and then put it on your calendar! Meantime, take a moment to be thankful for all the weaving books and other resources you have available. Then get out your pushka (spindle) and start practicing so you'll be all ready for the fun in Peru!


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