March 2, 2012

blog update_2

Update: now the 2nd of March, the weather in Kansas is looking a lot more like a lion!

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March 1, 2012 Roar…or meow

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A well-worn lion in the Val d'Orcia region of Tuscany, where PC's Spring catalog was photographed.

Here in Kansas, the first day of March is coming in more like a lamb: today’s high is expected to reach 68 degrees. While we certainly won’t complain about the beautiful day we’re having, does this mean it will go out like a lion? According to the Farmers Almanac, this old saying comes from a time when people believed that bad spirits could adversely affect the weather.

Spring is only 19 days away, so we’ll hope for more lambs.

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February 16, 2012 Mood Boards

While it may be snowing outside, icy cold drafts sneak around every door and window and hot comfort foods like soup and toast are on the menu; at Peruvian Connection we are thinking of balmy spring and summer days and beginning the design process for the following year’s spring and summer collections. Here is a little insight into our process. Each new season begins by building mood boards, these are boards that gradually get covered with tear sheets of pictures from magazines and books, photos, items collected while travelling, beautiful paper, print inspirations, tufts of yarn for color mood and scraps of fabric and knitted and crocheted swatches to build a mood for the season. I like to come up with a theme that twists inspirations to create new ways of looking at traditional patterns and techniques. At Peruvian Connection we love ethnographic sources, so each mood board may be inspired indirectly by one or more cultures. I called this one Indian Luxe, loosely inspired by Indian embellishments, but substituting white on white textures and patterns for the ubiquitous hot pinks and turquoise colors.

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I like to link things back to one or two simple ideas, so from this mood board I played with bands of lace patterns to layer or inset to create shaping into silhouettes. Here whitewashed fretted screens inspire translucent fabrics to create easy flowing sheer layers and interpreting traditional Indian motifs into lace.  For example, the Paradiso Dress with its lightweight fabric constructed from four different lace diamonds based on shapes from a vintage screen. The sheerness and lightness of the lace here is backed with an even lighter weight fabric to create a lining.

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Below shows part of the process from initial idea to the technical sketch that goes to the factory and the pattern inspiration for the lace details. It started with the photograph of the beautiful Mehndi henna and then I imagined these motifs blown up and placed on a fine gauge loose summer kaftan in pima cotton in white, just what you would want to wear as the heat of a summer day turned cooler.  The pattern was then translated into a lace motif and engineered to fit into large machine knitted panels with an engineered lace border. The original sample ended up being rather heavy, so this style was eventually shortened into a poncho. Nothing from the mood is used directly but is a starting reference that goes into a bit of a “mash-up” of initial ideas, color and yarn, knitting techniques and a collaboration with technicians about what will work in production. Making mood boards is really an ever-changing process of gathering ideas and inspiration that is the foundation for all the design work of each collection.

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January 25, 2012 The Amano Collection

by PC’s designer / guest blogger

On my last design trip to Lima, Peru I had the chance to visit the Amano Museum. I heard about the wonderful collection of textiles that were housed there, though nothing prepared me for the magnificence of the artifacts gathered there.

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These photographs of original Chancay textile fragments are shown by courtesy of Laverne Waddington.

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This privately owned museum consists of many artifacts, but mainly textiles from the lesser-known Chancay culture that flourished between 900 AD-1400 AD in an area about fifty miles north of Lima. Mr. Yoshitaro Amano, a Japanese businessman, collected everything since the end of the Second World War when he settled back in Peru. His business gave him the financial freedom to pursue his long held passion for pre-historic Andean archeology and his dream of collecting, preserving and understanding the significance of Chancay artifacts. He never charged to visit his museum as he felt it would be inappropriate to charge the Peruvian people to see a collection of artifacts from their own cultural heritage, but he has certainly repaid his debt with the care and love that this collection imbues. Visits are by appointment only, and as the guides speak only Spanish or Japanese, Marcia from PC’s Lima office came with me to translate in whispers as we went around. We arrived at the museum, a simple building that used to be Mr. Amano’s home, at the appointed time and were buzzed in through the iron gates.  We crossed a bridge over a long rectangular pool brimming with hundreds of goldfish, then the magic began.

We were led upstairs into the first room, which consists of ceramics organized chronologically to show the progression and differences between the cultures. To start with, we were given an overview of the succeeding Peruvian civilizations from the Chavin culture from around 900 BC until the invasion of the Conquistadores. Not only were these ceramics still whole, but the colors and patterns were still completely intact, decorated with figures and representations of the important plants and animals used in daily life.  It was striking how everyday things, especially crops, animals and fish were consistently represented through all the periods, whether the objects were for everyday or ceremonial use.

But it is the second room that is the most astonishing, a mouth-wateringly gorgeous collection of textiles. There are some representative textiles in cases on the walls around the room, but the majority of the treasures are kept hidden in large, plain chest drawers. These were randomly opened for a few minutes at a time as we went around the room again in chronological order. The oldest pieces in the museum are almost 4000 years old, though the majority of the pieces range in age from 600 AD to 1500 AD and incredibly are still almost perfect. The very dry and sandy conditions unique to the Chancay Valley region of Peru preserved the textiles as if they had only just been placed there. Even quite recently it was still possible to go to this area and find bones, bits of textiles and pottery lying in the sandy ground.

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Remains in Pisquillo, Chancay Valley. Photos courtesy of Karina Nielson Rios.

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Amongst the first drawers to be opened is one that displays tiny decorated drop spindles, used to spin the incredibly fine cotton and later, the alpaca thread that was used to create all these textiles. Some of it was so fine that even today it wouldn’t be easy to produce by machine. The craftsmanship to produce it would have taken years to learn. One of the important identifying features of the textiles was the use of various types of twist in the yarn, each type used specifically by different groups for very specific techniques. It was also possible to see when camelid fibers from highland areas were introduced into the cloth, as trading between highland and coastal regions started. This area and the yarn they produced would initially only have been indigenously grown cotton.

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Spindles and a small Pre-Columbian Chancay Weaver's basket, 800-1200 A.D. Peru

The most stunning impression made on me though was that the intensity of the colors was still so clear and bright. The vivid shades of red, ochre, rust, gold and even blue are all from natural local sources, cochineal, weld, indigo and various tannins being the most common, and are evidence of the significant technical mastery the dyers achieved.

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From Ell On Tour

Especially beautiful and unique are the Chancay gauzes, today called Leno weaves.  These incredibly lightweight lace panels were woven on simple back-strap looms and apparently were produced purely for ceremonial use. Most were found wrapped around the mummified remains. The complex structures were constructed by hand manipulating the warp threads as they were woven. Panels were then often joined together and some were over embroidered to add further textural dimension, as well as figurative representations of animals and insects. Some were even over-dyed afterwards in a sort of ancient tie-dye effect to mimic animal markings.

Karina Nielson Rios has studied these textiles in depth at the Amano Museum and now weaves beautiful leno weaves in her Native Denmark, inspired by the Chancay Gauzes.  I would like to thank her for so generously sharing her beautiful work and allowing me to use her photographs.

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Gorgeous zig-zag gauze and close up courtesy of Karina Nielson Rios.

As we went around the room and drawer after drawer was pulled out, I was almost speechless at the beauty of these ancient fabrics and the complexity of the multiple techniques that were often used. The majority of the pieces are woven using various versions of techniques to be able to create patterns, so as to be able to incorporate both stylized and more realistic representations of various creatures and anthropomorphic figures into the cloth. There were very few pieces that I saw that were simple stripes, and even these involved little brocades.  It seems that these artisans were much more interested in exploring pattern and color and imagery. There seems to be almost a childlike joy being expressed in the work and especially the recurring motifs of birds, felines and snakes that echo the trinity of spirit world, earthly existence and underworld.

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Chancay gauze from the Amano, showing common feline motifs.

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Chancay gauze from the Amano with tie-dye over dye after weaving.

In addition to the pieces with imagery woven into the fabric, there are also softly toned painted cotton cloths, which use various resist methods to create the patterns and imagery of important creatures and objects in the lives of the artisans.

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Fragment of cotton cloth painted with feline gods from Paracas, 1000 BC.

One of my favorite pieces is a patchwork panel created from a resist pattern woolen cloth, that would have been used as a shawl, all beautifully cut apart and re-stitched back together to create a geometric design using the highest level of skill.

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Woolen cloth in patchwork with tie-dyed geometric pattern from Santa Cruz, 800 AD

There are a few exceptional pieces of feather work, which would have been for ceremonial use. These textiles are extremely fragile and much more prone to disintegration. Feathers were individually tied to threads and added to weavings to add brilliant color and maybe it is suggested for the waterproof properties of the feathers. Certainly wearing one of the feathered ponchos would have been a stunning sight as all the feathers fluttered subtley with the wearer’s movements.

The guides showing the collection apparently never open the drawers in the same order, so only a small portion of the collection can ever be seen in each hour long visit; each drawer is only held open long enough for a quick explanation and then shut again. However, this brief exposure was enough to leave me feeling very humble at the skill and artistry of these people working so long ago with so few resources. This collection of textiles is a both a connecting point on the span of time between those long ago artists and myself creating textiles today; as well as an enduring record of the passionate spirit of craftsmen to create beautiful imagery as a celebration of life.

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December 14, 2011 Puchka Textile Tours in Peru

by guest blogger and PC customer, Carol Myers
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Colorful embroidered accessories at market

Perusing the pages of the Peruvian Connection catalog over the years has engendered a lot of daydreaming on my part. For example, I’ve always been curious to meet the people who create the gorgeous knitted items featured in the catalog. Like me, do you wonder about the sources and symbolism that underlie the traditional design motifs? Do you desire first-hand experience of the animals that produce the fibers, of the colors of the landscape, or to breathe the thin air of the High Andean mountain passes? And what if could try your hand at some of the traditional fiber crafts under the expert and patient guidance of native Andean artisans?

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Handspinner in Chinchero

Amazingly, it’s possible to do all of the above, as I did during September and October 2011, traveling with Puchka Textile Tours.  These 3-week small group tours include even more than I had previously day-dreamed about, a mix of opportunities specifically tailored to those who appreciate the breadth and depth of the world of textiles, and who wish to learn more about the cultural context, both historic and contemporary, of the fiber arts of Peru.
The tours include museums, markets, three very different cities, a choice of two 4-day workshops in knitting, weaving, hand or machine embroidery techniques, among others. A visit to the fabulous and remote El Refugio Resort  in the Colca Canyon and to the requisite Machu Picchu, as well as an afternoon spent in the alpaca production facilities of Grupo Michell are also part of the mix. A major highlight of the tour is a leisurely visit with Maximo Laura, world-recognized tapestry weaver and teacher, at his home and studio in Lima; Maximo and his assistants also conduct the weaving workshop in Arequipa for tour participants.  There is plenty of time on the tour to socialize, eat, drink, explore, photograph, and of course SHOP!
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Brightly colored yarns for weaving

I’m from a family of three sisters (aka “The Fiber Girls”) as well as a mother, aunts, and grandmothers who were avid, expert, and stylish sewers and knitters. Given that background, the trip was perfect in terms of like-minded traveling companions, people with all kinds of textile and fiber-related experience. As a side benefit, husbands or friends who might not be so fiber-focused are welcomed and accommodated with activities that suit their particular interests. 

If you’d like to bring to life your Peruvian Connection daydreams, the Puchka tours are the perfect way to do it!
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