February 25, 2010 Blooming Inspirations

Spring is here…at Peruvian Connection at least. Although the snow is falling and winter is still calling, warm up your wardrobe with our latest spring selections. We traveled back in time and across oceans to bring you an inspirational palette of ethnic textiles. From Tajikistan embroidered bridal veils and traditional Mexican pottery to antique textiles from India, discover a cultural feast of prints.

For centuries, India has been at the heart of textile traditions, renowned for their brilliant use of color, ingenious embroidery techniques, and artistic patterns. This season, our designers were particularly inspired by the ancient textiles of Gujarat, India. Once the home of peace leader Mahatma Gandhi, Gujarat is now the economic center of India, representing 25% of the country’s textile production.

Both our Ocean Tide Cardigan and our Gujarat Cardigan were inspired by a Gujarati antique block printed head covering, known as "Odhani". Block printing is an ancient technique that was used more than 4,000 years ago. It involves cutting a pattern out of a block, usually wood or tile, which is then used as a "stamp" to transfer the cut-out design.

Odhani Our Spice Route Dress melds two distinct cultural traditions: Gujarati and Irish. The jacquard for this dress was inspired by an ancient textile from Gujarat that was block printed and then resist and mordant-dyed. Resist dyeing methods are used to "resist" or prevent the dye from reaching all the cloth, creating a pattern and ground. The most common resisting agent is wax, which is used in batik-prints. Mordant is a substance used to set dyes, resulting in a complex shading or intensification of color. Interestingly, this ripe Gujarati pattern is then paired with a crochet neckline inspired by traditional Irish Crochet.

Another ancient textile hub, Turkey, provided the artistry for our gorgeous Sardis Cardigan. This design is inspired by a Turkish plate made in the Turkish plate Ottoman reign of Suleiman the Magnificent in the early 16th Century.  The decorations are commonly known in Turkish as "saz leaf and rosette style," which translates "reed leaf and rose."

Let’s travel now to the gorgeous coasts of Uzbekistan, where our designers discovered the majesty of ethnic Russian textiles. Once considered part of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has managed to preserve the cultural traditions of the Uzbek nomads, who still represent a large portion of the country’s population. The jacquard for our Tashkent Top and Chintz Knit Coat was inspired by a Russian printed cotton cloth from the 2nd quarter of the 20th Century, which was used in Uzbekistan to back tribal textiles.

Our globally inspired prints carry cultural customs, ethnic ties, and ancient legacies. We take you across oceans and centuries to fill your closet with histories and traditions. We have only elaborated on a handful of inspirations here, but our catalog is filled with cultural heritage. If you ever want to know more about the story behind your garment, please feel free to ask! We hope you will cherish these unique pieces and carry forth their legacies for years to come.

–Amanda Hart

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February 11, 2010 H.E.L.P. Makes Dreams a Reality for Orphans in Malawi

Over one million children in Malawi are without a parent, a home, and an education. Peruvian Connection has joined the efforts of H.E.L.P, a nonprofit organization, to make it possible for these children to make their dreams a reality, by providing Hope, Education, Love and Protection. Malawi is one of the most poverty stricken countries in the world, with the majority of its 12 million inhabitants living well below the poverty line. Malawi is currently ranked 164 out of 177 on the Human Development Index, due to the devastating lack of clean, safe water, primary health care, primary education, and sustainable food (meaning it’s the 7th poorest country in the world).

The H.E.L.P organization was founded in 2006 by Jillian Wolstein and her family with the ultimate vision of carrying out their mission on a global level. Currently, H.E.L.P is focusing their efforts on the destitute community of Malawi with projects that include Nutritional Education, Life Skills Class, Libraries, Day Care, Drama Club, Water Hyacinth, Providing clean, safe water, Wound Care Clinic, Malaria Nets, andSpring10_39A-0091_highres much more. It is through donations and sales of merchandise that H.E.L.P is able to collect the much needed funds for these humanitarian projects. Sales of our Fetish Bead Necklaces, Malawi Wood Bangles and Fetish Bead Bracelets will directly fund these aims. 100% of the funds collected by H.E.L.P will go to direct services. Together we can all continue to make a difference in the lives of children faced with a suffocating barrage of daily challenges. 

One of the most foundational feats H.E.L.P has achieved is the construction of a full primary school and health clinic. The traditional open-aired rural school in the Balaka district of Malawi was transformed into a well-equipped primary school with eight classrooms, seven teachers housing units and latrines. Originally, the Nanthomba Primary School nurtured 320 students, but thanks to generous donations and support, this number has risen to over 750 students. H.E.L.P provides training for teachers, which has contributed to the rising educational standards for the area. In the future, this school will have the resources needed to allow H.E.L.P to provide a nutritious breakfast to students every morning, including a generator, fruit orchard, livestock and storage facilities. H.E.L.P is also hoping to build another secondary school in the near future. These goals will be achieved if we work together in the effort to bring hope and education to Malawi children.

The Wound Care Clinic, which was also established in 2006, serves the teachers, students and even the local communities. The clinic is currently able to treat wounds, infections, illnesses and diagnose urgent needs that will require hospitalization. H.E.L.P has set goals to construct a fully-equipped healthcare clinic and maternity wing that will provide vital medical care. Without this clinic, the closest health care facility is 3-4 hours away by car. This new maternity wing will help reduce the astounding maternal death rate by providing a safe, healthy delivery. Malawi has the third highest maternal death rate in the world. Recent statistics show that 1, 120 mothers and 4, 200 babies die for every 100,000 births. 

This new healthcare development will also serve as an approved HIV/AIDS testing and treatment site, which has increasingly ravaged African communities over the last couple decades. Currently, over 14% of the Malawi population is living with HIV/AIDS, which includes 641,000 children (of which 550,000 are orphans) and 500,000 adults. For more detailed information about the heath-care services that will be provided, please visit www.helpchildren.org. With each donation, they are one step closer to opening the new facility and reducing these heart-breaking figures of death and disease.

Spring10_38B-0104_lowres In an effort to raise support and awareness of this charismatic foundation, Peruvian Connection is offering a selection of H.E.L.P products, including the Fetish Bead Necklace and Fetish Bead Bracelet. These products use hand-crafted beads that have been collected from the African trade markets. Culturally, African beads are used as repositories of ancestral wisdom and tradition. Each bead is not only unique, but contains a piece of African history. We are also offering the Malawi Wood Bangles, which are entirely hand-carved by African master carvers. 100% of the proceeds collected by the H.E.L.P foundation will be directed towards education, healthcare and relief in Malawi.

Please join Peruvian Connection and the H.E.L.P foundation in the journey to spread Hope, Education, Love and Protection to the children of Malawi. If you would like to donate to the cause directly, please visit www.helpchildren.org. Little contributions will bring big changes: $5 will buy a life-saving mosquito-net to protect against malaria, $20 will buy three baby blankets and $50 will purchase much-needed school supplies for 25 local village children. Your generosity and support will help now and future generations for years to come.

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January 28, 2010 A Rose is a Rose…

Spring10_BC01-0087_lowres No flower in human history has ever been as beloved as the rose. Spanning centuries and cultures, roses are symbols of love, war, passion and politics. Their timeless beauty has inspired poetry and plays by everyone from Shakespeare to Robert Burns to Gertrude Stein, and their heady fragrance has filled our senses, perfume bottles and imaginations.

Thanks to fossil evidence found in Colorado, Oregon and Montana, we know that roses were growing some 35 million years ago. Early civilizations, including the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans loved roses and grew them extensively. Confucius had many books about the cultivation of roses in his library, though the flowers had been cultivated in China thousands of years before his time. Roses were considered a sacred flower in ancient Egypt and were used as offerings to the goddess Isis. Cleopatra loved the flower so much that she had rose petals strewn on the floor of her palace for special occasions. The Greeks used rose-scented olive oils to perfume their bodies, keep illness at bay and to anoint their dead.

Ancient Greek mythology tells how the rose was created by Chloris, goddess of flowers, with the help of love goddess Aphrodite. Cupids-3 According to Roman myths, Cupid offered a rose when trying to bribe the God of Silence to hush Venus's amorous escapades, thus making the flower into a symbol for secrecy. Roman dining room ceilings were decorated with roses, reminding guests that what had been discussed during dinner was to be kept secret. To this day, sub rosa, or "under the rose," means confidentiality.

During the years of the Roman Empire, roses were grown widely throughout the Middle East. They were used for medicinal purposes and for perfume; their petals were strewn as confetti during celebrations; Roman patricians filled their baths with rose water and sat upon carpets of their petals. Roses eventually became synonymous with the worst excesses of the Empire, when peasants were forced to grow roses instead of food in order to satisfy the demands of their hedonistic rulers.

Rosa_Poppius1HELLAN When the Roman Empire fell, Europeans spent their energies fighting marauders, and the popularity of the rose began to decline. It wasn’t until the 12th and 13th centuries, when Crusaders returned from the Middle East with specimens of Damask roses, that interest in the flower was rekindled. By the 17th century, the flowers were in such high demand that royalty used roses and rose water as legal tender.

One of the most ardent lovers and greatest patrons of the rose was the Empress Josephine of France, wife of Napoleon I. Her extensive gardens at Malmaison contained 250 varieties of the flower, and her garden was so well known and highly esteemed that the English, who were at war with the French, allowed her head gardener free access to travel across the Channel in order to bring back plants for her. As a result, France became a leading exporter of roses.

Cultivated roses weren't introduced into Europe until the late eighteenth century from China. These flowers367px-Illustration_Rosa_majalis0 were repeat bloomers, making them of great interest to hybridizers who no longer needed to wait once a year for their roses to bloom.

Roses are intricately entwined in the history and culture of the world. As a motif, they have been adopted by nations and social and political causes. But mostly, they still remain symbols of love and beauty. On Valentine’s Day all across the world, bouquets of red roses are given as gifts of love.

Everything’s coming up roses in our new Spring collection at Peruvian Connection. You’ll find the beloved blooms flourishing on the pages of our catalog, on our website and in our stores—from the English Rose Dress to the Cabbage Rose Skirt, the sweet Rosebud Cardigan, and the graphic black and red roses of the Chintz Knit Coat, shown at top.

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January 15, 2010 Sweet Peaks of Suspiro de Limeña

Suspiro de limena0001 With an irresistible layer of dulce de leche custard topped with a port spiked meringue, Suspiro de Limeña is one of the most beloved desserts in Lima, Peru. Tracing its origins to the reputable cook Amparo Ayarez from the early 19th century, this Peruvian parfait has earned its renown as a cultural favorite. Translated to mean "the sigh of a woman (from Lima)", it is believed that this special name was coined by Ayarez’s husband, the famous Peruvian poet and author José Gálvez. When asked what inspired the name, he reportedly replied "because it is soft and sweet like the sigh of a woman". If that statement doesn’t melt your heart, the delectably smooth richness of this dessert surely will.

This classic Peruvian dessert has a clear Spanish influence. The limelight of Suspiro de Limeña, Dulce de Leche, comes from a Spanish dish common in the Middle Ages known as Blancmange. It was a thick custard made from milk, sugar, almonds and flour. The concept of meringue also came to Peru via Spanish colonizers. Despite this Spanish influence, this mouth-watering parfait is distinctly Peruvian.

Add some ethnic flair to your cuisine and impress your friends by preparing these remarkable parfaits yourself. Although time-consuming, Suspiro de Limeña is relatively simple to make. The traditional recipe for dulce de leche uses only milk, sugar and egg yolks, but more modern versions of the dessert use evaporated and sweetened condensed canned milks. Suspiro de Limeña is sweet, creamy and unbelievably rich. It will spark an explosion of flavor and texture and elicit a sigh of pure pleasure.

The recipe below is found in our favorite Peruvian cookbook: The Art of Peruvian Cuisine by Tony Custer. This book is not only a gastronomical wonder abounding with authentic recipes, it is a feast for the eyes with a smorgasbord of beautiful photographs. Even though the book is no longer in print, we harbor a limited supply at our retail stores. If you are interested in snagging one of these foodie gems, please call our Customer Service department at (800) 221-8520 and an agent will be happy to assist you. I hope you feel as inspired to delve into the Peruvian culinary arts as I do!


-1 can evaporated milk (14 1 /2 oz)

-1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)

-8 egg yolks

-1 cup port wine

-1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

-4 eggs whites

-ground cinnamon for dusting

To prepare the caramel:

Combine the two milks in a heavy-based pan and simmer gently over low heat, stirring continually with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and the spoon leaves tracks across the bottom of the pan, about 1 hour.

Take off the heat and whisk in beaten egg yolks. Leave to cool and then pour into shallow dessert bowl or individual serving cups.

To prepare the syrup (for the meringue):

Combine sugar and port in a small pan and boil until syrup forms an unbroken thread when dropped from the spoon.

To prepare the meringue:

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Continue beating, adding hot syrup in a slow steady stream.

Mound the meringue on top of the caramel mixture and dust lightly with ground cinnamon.


(For more Peruvian recipes, see the newsletter section of our website, or see our latest recipe for empanadas.)

Amanda Hart

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January 11, 2010 Color Your World…Naturally

Women in Pitumarka dye alpaca in cochineal (photo courtesy of Kelsey Quam)

In a world where more and more objects are created artificially, it’s comforting to know that dyes can still be obtained from natural sources—mainly plants, animals and minerals. Natural dyes have been around since the dawn of civilization, with the first written record of dyestuffs dating back to China in 2600 BC. Egyptian mummies—including King Tutankhamen—have been found wrapped in cloths dyed red from a pigment extracted from the madder plant. By 715 BC, wool dyeing was an established craft in ancient Rome. And legend has it that Alexander the Great deceived the Persians into thinking that his army was wounded by sprinkling his soldiers with a red dye, also probably madder juice.

Natural dyes have created a wealth of beautiful textiles—from Persian carpets to sumptuous tapestries to kingly regalia—and yet the origins of some of these selfsame dyes can be pretty unappetizing to think about. 800px-Cochenille_z02 Vivid shades of red, like scarlet, crimson and garnet, come from crushed cochineal bugs, which live on cactus plants. Coveted by the ancient Mexicans, the insects were dried and sold in the Aztec marketplaces. In the early 16th century, they caught the attention of the Spanish conquistadors, who had never seen such brilliant red hues on textiles. The conquistadors brought the cochineal insects back to Europe, where they became one of the world’s most precious commodities.

Tyrian purple, also known as royal purple or imperial purple, derives from a mucous secretion from the gland of the Murex, a sea snail found in the eastern Mediterranean. Julian Pollux, a Roman mythographer writing in the 2nd century BC, attributed the discovery of Tyrian purple to the Greek mythic hero Heracles—or more specifically, to his dog, whose mouth was stained purple by chewing on snails along the Levantine coast. Murex However, recent archeological evidence—including ancient pottery and a substantial number of Murex shells found on the island of Crete—suggests that the Minoans may have been the first people to extract the dye back in the Bronze Age.

It took approximately 8,000 Murex snails to extract just one gram of the purple dye, making it extremely expensive. Textiles dyed in Tyrian purple were considered status symbols, and early sumptuary laws restricted their use to the imperial family—hence the saying, “born into the purple.”

So what is the moral of this little tale? That beauty can be derived from the beast! At Peruvian Connection, we still use natural dyes on several pieces in our collections, including the handwoven Patabamba Bag and Belt.

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