Every day we’re flooded with alarming warnings about the modern lifestyle and its impact on the environment, from dyes and pesticides to plastics. As eco-awareness increasingly sweeps across the world, it’s refreshing to remember the natural, sustainable practices in places such as Peru. Natural dyes and fabrics are not simply a trend in Peru; they are a way of life. Peruvian textile methods are a time-honored tradition, with roots that extend back hundreds of years, well before the advent of chemicals and synthetic dyes.
Although Peru was not immune to the spread of synthetic dyes in the late 19th
century, many Peruvians have continued to produce eco-friendly dyes from insect, plant and mineral sources. What’s more, Peru has seen a resurgence in natural dye production over the past few decades, as demand has steadily increased.
The bold red hues that characterize many Andean textiles often start with a bug: the Cochineal. As early as the 15th century, the Aztecs and Mayans were extracting red carmine dyes from the cochineal, a scale insect that resembles a beetle. Cochineal feed on the prickly pear cactus, which thrives in the Sacred Valley of Peru.
To extract the deep purplish-red carmine pigment, the dried insect is simply ground, usually with a stone, and then boiled into a concentrated source of dye. Once extracted, mixtures of lemon and salt can be added to create a stunning array of reds, purples and oranges for use in textiles, cosmetics and even foods. In fact, cochineal is the only natural red dye approved for consumption by the FDA. Although cochineal dye is the most widely available, Peruvians will also extract red dye from an indigenous red flower, the achancaray, or from the madder root, which is one of the earliest known red dyes in mankind.
Foraged wild flowers are used at length in the production of yellow and orange dyes. The most commonly used are the flowers of the Qolle tree or Quico flowers, both indigenous plants of Peru. By simply boiling the flowers with the yarns (most often alpaca) for various lengths of time, Peruvians are able to achieve an impressive spectrum of oranges and yellows. Orange dyes can also be extracted from a type of lichen that grows on rocks, known as Qaqa Sunka, which translates from Quechua to mean “beard lichen.”
Probably the easiest of all dyes to find in nature is the color green, which can be derived from a gamut of plant and mineral sources. In Peru, Ch’illca, a green leafy shrub with white flowers, is one of the most common sources for green pigment, especially around Cuzco.
The essential oil found in Ch’illca also has many medicinal purposes, and can be used to help protect and heal Alpaca skin. To intensify green hues, collpa, a mineral found in the Amazonian jungle, can be added to the Ch’illca dye mixture and boiled for about an hour before adding the yarns.
Indigo is one of the oldest and most coveted dyes in the world. It was used extensively throughout ancient India to create gorgeous textiles and for centuries blue clothing was seen as a status symbol, being worn only by royalty.
Indigo is still used as a natural dye source, but it can be hard to come across in Peru. It can sometimes be found in Peruvian markets, but it does not grow in the region and can be very expensive. Instead, Peruvians tend to rely on a combination of Tara, a native pod, and Colpa, an iron sulfate, to create natural blue dyes. The Tara is first boiled with the yarn until the desired shade of blue is achieved and then Colpa is added near the end to “fix” this shade.
Of course, there are many beautiful textiles and garments produced without any dyes at all. Alpaca fleece is available in a beautiful range of natural colors, including black, grey, white and caramel.
Over the years, we have offered numerous undyed pieces that are not only fashionable, but environmentally sound. I can’t get enough of them! My favorites right now are the Boho Hoodie
(can you believe that’s undyed?) and the Sullivan Minidress
. Our Coca bags
are a true cultural gem too, embodying the textile genius of the Peruvians: hand-woven in the ancient tradition and hand-dyed from natural sources. You can also look forward to a gorgeous rug coming up in our Gift book, artisan made by hand with sustainable fibers and natural dyes. Here’s to being naturally fabulous!
Ever wish you could change your luck? The local Quechuans indigenous to the Huasao region of Cusco, Peru may have your cure. All you need is a black guinea pig, beer and ribbon. The first step is to get the guinea pig to drink a large glass of beer, as it is believed that the guinea pigs power to remove bad luck intensifies as it gets drunk. When the guinea pig drinks enough beer, it is ritualistically dressed up with brightly colored ribbons and beads. The patient is cured of their bad luck by having the intoxicated guinea pig rubbed on their body. This guinea pig is ultimately released into the countryside, but it remains highly contagious with this bad luck. So if you ever cross the path of a ribbon-adorned black guinea pig, steer clear!
If drinking with a guinea pig isn’t what you had in mind, maybe you should consider picking up some gorgeously hued red Huayruro seeds. Found in the pods of a tree native to Peru, these seeds are thought to bring good luck and wealth, while defending against harm and negative energy. The vibrant red and black hues are not only pleasing to the eye, but they’re also believed to bring balance. Collected from the jungle floor by locals, these seeds are usually kept in jars in the home, or worn as a bracelet. New born babies in Peru are often given Huayruro seeds as their first gift, as a welcoming wish for a blessed, prosperous life. These seeds are used by Peruvian artisans to craft spectacular pieces of jewelry, so be on the lookout next time you’re in the market.
If you’ve ever visited an Andean town in Cusco, such as Chinchero or Ollantaytambo, then chances are you noticed a pair of ceramic bulls on many of the rooftops. These ceramic bulls are also thought to ensure good luck, by protecting the house itself and by bringing health and abundance to the family inside. They’re called toritos de Pucar, “bulls of Pucara,” because authentic luck-bearing bulls come only from Pucara, a region just outside Cusco. They are always placed on the roof, where they can view the apus, the mountain gods of the ancient Incas. These gods are believed to be the most powerful of the natural spirits, protecting the local people of the highlands. The ceramic bulls help garner these protective spirits, bringing even more positive energy into the home.
Milagro Hand Pendant $99
Another widely used good luck charm in Peruvian folk culture is the milagro. The milagro, which translates from Spanish to mean “miracle” or “surprise,” is often a metal charm with a signifying shape, such as a heart (love), a leg (strength) or a man/woman’s head (spirit, wisdom). Traditionally, these charms would be offered to a saint as a religious votive for answering a specific prayer. For example, if someone had a sore leg, this person may use a small silver leg as an offering for the cure. Today, milagros serve many functions outside religious purposes. These ancient talismans continue to be used for good fortune, worn as necklaces, stashed under pillows or hidden in pockets. Some common milagros include the arm (work, touch), eyes (vision, intuition), sheep (community, faithfulness), horse (journey, travel), dog (protection, loyalty) or a house (protection, family). Another popular milagro is the heart-in-hand charm, which represents ones connectedness with others, the feeling of compassion and the healing quality of touch. Whether you’re looking for love, health or prosperity, I wish you the best of luck!
If Peruvian Connection employees were required to wear a uniform, we would no doubt vote for the Navajo Lace Cardigan
to be our go-to sweater.
The Navajo Lace Cardigan made its first appearance in our Spring 2010 catalog and was a big hit with PC customers as well as PC employees. Offered again in our Summer 2011 catalog in a new selection of colors, it was once again a bestseller.
In a climate as unpredictable and changeable as that of Kansas, it is the perfect choice for chilly Spring mornings that turn into muggy afternoons, or for a light layer in air conditioned offices.
Nature's Recycling: a robin's nest made of shredded blue tarp
Friday, April 22nd marks the 41st anniversary of the greenest day of the year, Earth Day. Created to inspire appreciation and awareness of the earth’s natural environment, it is now observed in more than 175 countries. Earth Day was founded by US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. He was compelled to take action after a visit to California following a devastating 1969 oil spill – green awareness has been brought to the forefront this year after the 2010 gulf oil spill, as well as Japan’s nuclear disaster.
On Wednesday of this week, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition featured a Peruvian Connection favorite, the Textile Museum of Washington, DC. The Textile Museum is celebrating the symbolism of the color green with its new exhibition titled Green: The Color and the Cause. The exhibit features contemporary art installations as well as historical textiles, some green in color and some green in the way they have been created. The artists represent five continents, and have used the green concept in themes of sustainability, recycling, and interaction with the natural world. The show runs through September 11, 2011.
Sacred Planet: The Pride of Barbados, by Jane Dunnewold
Amazonian rainforest, Loreto region, Peru
We’re happy to announce that the Peruvian Connection catalog is now being printed on
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)–certified paper.
What is the Forest Stewardship Council? Established in 1993 as a response to concerns over global deforestation, the FSC is an independent, not-for-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes the responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC certification ensures that the forest products used come from responsibly harvested and verified sources.
We appreciate organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council, which help make it easier to be green!