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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December 1, 2011 The Return of a Lost City: The Legacy of Hiram Bingham and Machu Picchu

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Hiram Bingham in Peru during the 1911 Expedition

The world was abuzz with the excitement of discovery in the early 20th century: adventurers were racing to the North and South poles, excavators were scouring Egypt for King Tut’s tomb, and explorers were uncovering ancient ruins all across Peru.  Rumors of a “lost” Inca city swirled as more and more explorers set their sights on this South American gem, with its rich cultural heritage, its ancient legacies and its diverse terrain.  Driven by the prospect of discovering this lost city, Hiram Bingham, a South American History Professor at Yale, organized a seven-man team for an adventure of a lifetime. His exploration team, known as The Yale Peruvian Expedition, left American shores on June 8, 1911, full of excitement and anticipation for what they would discover in Peru.

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Following the advice of several locals around Cusco, Bingham’s team headed deep into the mountainous region of Urubamba, along the very trail Manco Inca is believed to have taken 350 years before as he fled from the Spanish invaders.   Clearing swift river rapids, crossing through dense jungle terrain and climbing treacherous slopes, Bingham became a “real-life Indian Jones” as he searched for this ancient “lost city.”   When the Expedition reached the sandy plain of Mandor Pampa on the evening of July 23rd, Bingham asked a local merchant, Melchor Arteaga, if he knew where to find any ruins.  As Christopher Heaney details in Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, A Real-Life Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchu, Arteaga, “pointed straight up to the top of the mountains, to a ridge that connected a high, thin peak to a much larger, more solid mountain.” Apparently drunk and slurring, he explained to Bingham that the peak was Huayna Picchu, and the ruins were on the ridge.  The larger mountain’s name was Machu Picchu, meaning “Old Peak.”

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A view of the trail to Machu Picchu (which of course did not exist when Bingham climbed it)

The following morning, July 24th, Bingham embarked on a hike that would lead him to his destiny.  Climbing towards the ridge with one other crew member and the local merchant Arteaga, who was hired as a guide, Bingham recalled that for “a good part of the distance we went on all fours, sometimes holding on by our fingernails.”  After an hour and a half, they reached a clearing where a single hut stood.  It belonged to a family of Indian farmers, the Richartes, who found refuge from their oppressive landlord on this rich soil four years before.  Along with two other families, they successfully harvested potatoes, maize, peppers, sugar cane, tomatoes and berries high up in the peaks of the Andes.  As it turns out, the surprised family was acquainted with Arteaga and agreed to show Bingham the way to the ruins.

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A view of the ruins at Machu Picchu

Richarte’s barefoot son, who was no older than eight, guided them through thick thorn-ridden vines and branches.  Nearing one of the peaks, Bingham suddenly saw his treasure:  “a jungle-covered maze of small and large walls, the ruins of buildings made of blocks of white granite, most carefully cut and beautifully fitted together without cement. Surprise followed surprise until there came the realization that we were in the midst of as wonderful ruins as any ever found in Peru.”  And so Bingham “discovered” the now-famous ruins of Machu Picchu.

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Machu Picchu today

Without surprise, Bingham’s designation as the “discoverer” of these ruins is wrought with difficulties and controversies.  Not only were indigenous people living in the ruins, but, once made public, many people came forward claiming to have visited the ruins earlier.  Defending his “discovery”, Bingham later wrote, “I suppose that in the same sense of the word as it is used in the expression ‘Columbus discovered America’ it is fair to say that I discovered Machu Picchu.” Nonetheless, he did shine the public spotlight on the ruins of Machu Picchu, which are now a major source of tourism in Peru.  As Heaney explains, “no one had yet described Machu Picchu, photographed the ruins, or tried to understand them as a historical site.”

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One of the original photos of Machu Picchu taken by Hiram Bingham

Upon Bingham’s rediscovery, The Yale Peruvian Expedition immediately set to work uncovering  and documenting the ruins.  With the help of the indigenous families, they cleared the overgrown vegetation to fully reveal the stunning stone buildings, captured forever in Bingham’s breath-taking photographs of the ruins.  When he returned to Connecticut, these photos helped him garner support from both Yale and the National Geographic Society for his return excavation trip the following year, 1912.

On his return trip, he first had to secure the Peruvian government’s approval, which had strict laws against the exportation of any Peruvian artifact.  Although highly contested and debated, Bingham finally won the assent of the law, but only under two conditions: 1) that his crew finish by the first of December that year (shortening excavation from 10-20 years to less than a year); and 2) that Peru had the right to request the return of all excavated materials.  In other words, Peru had agreed to loan these artifacts to Yale for the sake of research.

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Hiram Bingham and a local man at Machu Picchu during the excavation

On July 24, 1912, one year to the day that he rediscovered the ruins, Bingham’s crew opened the first of several machays, or burial sites. In this first grave, they found only some broken pots and a few human remains, “sitting upright with the knees pulled up to the chest in the manner of most Andean burials” (137).  Again with the help of the local Peruvian farmers, Bingham’s crew managed to excavate 107 graves, ultimately yielding 173 human remains and thousands of potsherds, stone carvings and bronze and silver artifacts.  This massive collection was sent back to Yale in 93 of the expedition’s food boxes, which, as Heaney explains, represented the “only intact collection of human and artistic remains from an Inca royal estate that escaped the torches of the Spanish conquest” (150).

With this tremendous collection, Bingham set to work theorizing the historical significance of this ancient civilization: Who were these people?  How did they fit in the timeline of Inca history?  Why were they located in such a remote location?  As Bingham asked his readers in the February issue of National Geographic, “Is it possible that at Machu Picchu we have the ruins of Tampu-tocco (the legendary birthplace of the Incas) and also the ruins of Vilcabamba the Old, the sacred city of one of the last Incas and the home of his women and priests?”  To his death, Bingham believed Machu Picchu was both the cradle and the grave of Inca civilization.

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Ruins at Espiritu Pampa

But, time has proven both theories to be wrong.  Tampu Tocco, that legendary cave from which the first Inca was “born,” is now understood to be south of Cuzco in Pacariqtambo.  Vilcabamba, the last city established by Manco Inca as he fled from the Spanish, is now associated with Espiritu Pampa.  Machu Picchu is now believed to be a royal estate that was built for Pachacutec, an early Inca emperor who greatly expanded the empire from the Cuzco valley to nearly the entire civilized South America.  Heaney explains that Machu Picchu is hailed as “the best of all Inca sites,” representing the realization of their architectural and religious ideals: “to worship the sun by building toward it, aligning altars along its path; to honor mountains by building out of them, quarrying stone from the site itself; to glorify water with acequias, canals of waters that fed burbling baths” (214).  Bingham’s vast excavation has yielded a wealth of knowledge about the Inca people, from their daily habits to their overarching beliefs about life and death.

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An Inca relic bottle, one of the thousands of pieces excavated from Machu Picchu that are to return to Peru this year. Image courtesy of Yale Peabody Museum

The year 2011 marks the hundredth anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s epic scientific discovery of Machu Picchu.  This year also marks the rightful return of all the objects excavated in 1912 by the Yale Peruvian Scientific Expedition.  In celebration of these landmarks, a new museum and research center is being jointly inaugurated by Cuzco University and Yale University in the Casa Concha, the former palace of the emperor Topa Inca.  The museum in the center of Cuzco will house the artifacts excavated in 1912.  The adjacent research center will conserve and investigate the collections, serving as the home of an academic collaboration between the two universities.  This new museum and research center embodies one of Bingham’s last wishes concerning the excavated objects and the ongoing partnership between Peruvian and American researchers.  In support of this monumental collaboration, Peruvian Connection will donate all proceeds from the sale of our Expedition Vest to this new establishment.  Designed after the original vest Hiram Bingham wore on the 1911 discovery expedition to Machu Picchu (which you can see at the top of this blog), our Expedition Vest packs a remarkable story in every stitch.

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