June 16, 2010 Threads of Peru Fiber Dyeing Workshop Revives Traditions

by guest blogger, Kelsey Quam

Last month, the textile project Threads of Peru sponsored a wool dyeing workshop led by textile expert Daniel Sonqo in the remote indigenous communities of Chaullaqocha, Chupani, and Rumira. Weavers of each community weavers association worked for several months to hand-spin up to 3 kilos of wool from their own alpacas which was sheared and washed prior to spinning and dyeing. (The entire weaving process is shear > wash > dry > comb > spin > wash > dye > rinse > ply > warp > weave). The alpaca wool was mixed with different plants that grow locally. Over two arduous days spent in each community, weavers worked together to obtain over ten different shades of colored alpaca wool that will be used to weave textiles. They also learned how to select and use plants that grow locally in future dyeing projects, thus contributing to the survival of this traditional practice that was practiced by their ancestors but is being used less and less as synthetic fiber has become common in Andean weaving. 

Cochineal, an insect that grows on the face of cacti, yields over 20 shades of red, pink, and even blue depending on the type of fixant used. In addition to textile art, its red color serves as a food additive and as a cosmetic dye. Since cochineal is nearly neutral (5.5 pH), it requires a large amount of fixant (ie. table salt, alum, iron oxide, citric acid, or a combination of the above). Cochineal grows in the Sacred Valley, about 1000 m below these communities, but is not easily accessible and is mainly sold commercially. Price makes it nearly impossible for weavers of these communities to obtain cochineal. This year, torrential rains and flooding in Febuary wiped out a substantial portion of the cochineal crop and caused the price to jump from around $20/kilo to nearly $80/kilo, depending on where it was sold. For more information on cochineal, see the book Cochineal Red: The Art History of a Color by Elena Phipps, and our blog: Color Your World.

Fulbright_Peru_2009-10_363 While the vivid shades of red and pink obtained through cochineal are irreplaceable, several alternatives come close to matching cochineal’s beauty. Mot’e mot’e, for instance, is a tree with black fruit whose red, pulpy pit produces red-purple wool when fixed with salt and citric acid. However, it grows at 3700m on jagged mountain slopes away from sunlight and is difficult to collect. Yamamiyo produces many of the same shades as cochineal and is cheaper but still requires a bit of cochineal. Nukch’u is a plant with bright red flowers that grows near the community of Chupani. It doesn’t yield a color as bright as cochineal but produces softer reds and pinks that resemble a cochineal whose water bath has been used several times. While these alternatives are still possible to use, cochineal continues to dominate the market through its unique red colors that mark the beauty of Andean textiles and are craved throughout the world.

Besides the potential to use plants that currently grow near the communities, Daniel Sonqo pointed out the possibility of planting new plants for wool dyeing, trees for firewood, and starting greenhouses where plants not accustomed to the harsh environment and high elevation could be cultivated for dyeing. Several plants used in wool dyeing could grow in such environment, including q’olle, ch’illka de altura, tallanka de altura, and kinsaqocha. Community members could plant queuna, pine, and eucalyptus trees on vacant land to use for firewood and reforestation. The empty greenhouse at the primary school could provide an environment for non-native plants.

The potential to develop easy access to a variety of plants used in wool dyeing is here, but as textile expert Daniel Sonqo puts it, ‘Right now the people do not care for nor value the plants. No one is teaching these values. This is why they’ve started using what is easy- synthetic dye.’ ‘Now we’re in the age of recovering these traditions, but it’s difficult to change from what was before.’ Cultural revitalization programs – such as dyeing workshops – sponsored by NGOs, cooperatives, and textile projects, bring hope to indigenous weavers in revitalizing their textile traditions and revalorizing the culture in which these traditions were born.Fulbright_Peru_2009-10_382

Examples of traditional Andean dyeing and weaving can be seen our Chuspa Bag and Inca Sash.

About the author: Kelsey Quam just returned from a year in Peru as a Fulbright scholar. She worked with the textile project Threads of Peru in three remote, indigenous communities in the Cusco region: Chaullaqocha, Chupani, and Rumira Sondormayo. Her project examined traditional weaving ‘revitalization’ efforts taken by NGOs, cooperatives, and international organizations as intersected by a growing interest among the international community in recovering traditional practices in Andean weaving. While in the communities she also learned a bit of Quechua and mastered the backstrap loom. She holds a BA in International Political Economy from the University of Puget Sound.

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May 10, 2010 The Allure of Lace

Characterized by its delicate workmanship and intricate, airy patterns, lace has been cherished as a decorative adornment for centuries. There’s been some controversy as to when and where lace-making began. Some believe that its origins are in ancient Rome, where relics of bobbin-shaped bone cylinders have been found. Others say that net-work (the art of making decorative nets) is the earliest form of lace, and that examples of this date back to 2000 B.C. And there are those who point to the land of the Pharaohs, who used to decorate flax cloth with colorful threads worked into geometric patterns. What we do know is that some of the earliest documentation about lace dates from the 15th century, when King Charles V decreed that lace-making was to be taught in Belgian convents. But whether the origins of true lace-making actually began at this time in Flanders (Belgium) or Italy is still up for debate. The fact is, though, that lace-making was a very important industry in both of these countries, and that over the following two centuries it spread to all the countries of Europe.

So what is lace? It’s an ornamental openwork fabric, patterned with open holes in the work. These holes Point_de_Gaze can be made by removing threads from a previously woven piece of fabric. But true lace—bobbin lace and needle lace being the oldest—is when a threads are twisted, looped or braided together.  These threads can be made of flax, cotton and silk, as well as metallic threads like gold, silver and copper. Even hair—especially the silver hair of older women—was sometimes used to create "hair lace."

The threads can be worked with a needle, known as "needle lace"; with bobbins, pins and a pillow or cushion, known as "bobbin lace" or "pillow lace"; and, centuries later, by machinery. Needle lace was more popular in Italy, whereas in Flanders, lacemakers preferred working with a bobbin.

The making of lace was firmly rooted in fashion and the desire to make clothing more decorative. And, unlike embroidery, a piece of lace could be unsewn from one garment and replaced onto another, reusing it time and time again. Thus lace became traded like a commodity.

Because of the skill and labor involved in producing lace, it was extremely expensive. By the 17th century, the wearing of lace was restricted by law to the nobility. But that changed in the 18th century, when anyone with money could purchase it. Wearing lace became an important status symbol among the upper classes, and the buying of lace was blamed for the loss of many a fortune. Duque-de-Luynes A man might sell a few acres of a vineyard, or an entire farm, in order to purchase enough lace for a large ruff. Because needlework was considered a highly acceptable pastime for upper class women, many of them made their own lace. These cherished textiles were often listed amongst the most valued possessions in the wills of great ladies and gentlemen.

During the height of its popularity, lace-making was one of the few respectable ways that a woman could make an honest living. Girls were schooled in the craft, sometimes starting as young as five years old. Through the years, they would learn all of the skills involved in making lace—from measuring thread to pricking out the patterns, and finally, to working on the lace itself, starting with the background pieces. Some of these girls would never get beyond a certain ability level and would spend the rest of their lives doing that one skill. Only the most talented lacemakers would be allowed to work on the intricate lace patterning. Thus one piece of lace could pass through many different hands, and it could take several women many months, or even an entire year, to create a single piece of lace.

With the 19th century came the invention of the lace machine, making lace easier and faster to produce, and therefore much more affordable. While gaining in popularity among the masses, lace also began to lose its luxury status. Fewer and fewer women were making lace by hand, and the craft almost became extinct. Fortunately, a few lace-making schools were revived in Belgium and Italy, and so the art and craft of making lace was not lost. Today, there’s an increased interest in newer forms of lace-making, such as tatting, crochet and knitted lace.

At Peruvian Connection, our greatest love is the preservation and perpetuation of ancient and important textile traditions, like lace-making. You’ll find a plethora of gorgeous lace designs throughout our latest collection—from the Victorian-inspired Chatsworth Blouse to the summery, hand-crocheted Belvedere Tunic and Bayshore Lace Cardigan, amongst others.

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April 29, 2010 Labor Day in May?

That’s right, for the majority of the world, May 1st is a day to pay homage to those who ardently struggled for the worker’s rights we now have. Although Labor Day in America (celebrated in September) involves cook-outs and swimming pools, May Day around the world involves organized street demonstrations and marches.

The Labor Movement first began in the early 19th century during the Industrial Revolution in Britain, when large factories imposed dauntingly long hours and poor working conditions. Without labor protection rights, even the youngest children were subject to working 10 to 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. In 1817 Robert Owen had formulated the demand for "Eight hours labor, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest" which became a popular slogan as workers across the globe fought for better working conditions. It was not until 1866 that the International Workingmen’s Association took up this order for an eight-hour day at its convention in Geneva, stating, "the legal limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvements and emancipation of the working class must prove abortive." However, these conditions were not guaranteed to most workers for decades to come.

The International Worker’s Day (or Labor Day) was formally recognized beginning in late 19th century when international demonstrators were called upon to strike and protest against poor working conditions. This call for protests and strikes was born as a commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. On May 1st, 1886, workers had organized a strike in the streets of Chicago, demanding an 8-hour work day. During the strike, Chicago police opened fire, killing several demonstrators. In 1890, at the Second International meeting in Paris, Raymond Lavigne called for international demonstrations on the anniversary of the Chicago protests. This riot was so successful that May Day was subsequently declared an annual event. Then in 1904 the International Socialist Conference called on "all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on May First for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace." Although rights were not guaranteed all at once across the world, countries slowly realized they had no choice but to meet these demands.

Ever since these formidable events, May Day has been a focal point for demonstrations and protests. Today, May 1st is recognized as an International Holiday to celebrate the social and economic achievements of the international labor movement. Out of their struggles, the 8 hour work day has become standard, child labor laws have been enacted and basic workers rights have been upheld. This May Day workers in countries such as Peru, France, Brazil, Japan, Germany and many, many more will march through the streets in solidarity for the great achievements of years passed.

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April 21, 2010 Think Green!

Earth Day is Thursday, April 22nd… and we can think of no better time to start doing what we can to protect the environment and make the world a better place for future generations. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of eco-friendly tips for better health and sustainable living. We’d love to hear more ideas from you, so please share!

• Instead of driving everywhere, consider walking, biking or using public transit when you can.

• Carpool whenever possible.

• Keep your tires inflated. It saves fuel and tires, and it lowers emissions.

• Doing lots of traveling and commuting? Offset your carbon footprint at www.carbonfund.org.

• Plant a tree! They absorb carbon dioxide, provide shade, help control water run off and are a natural habitat for animals.

• Let your grass grow longer. Don’t over-water your lawn. Plant native or drought-tolerant plants.

• When gardening, use natural predators instead of pesticides, which are harmful to the environment.

• Get a push mower for your lawn. Traditional gas mowers are terrible for air quality and the environment. If a push mower isn’t a feasible option for you, consider purchasing a plug-in electric model.

• When you’re done mowing, keep your clippings. They make great mulch.

• Get rid of your leaf blower. These too are awful for the environment. Try a broom, or a rake, instead. (Plus, it’s great exercise!)

• Be particular about the fish that you eat. Many species are over-fished, which can have a devastating impact on the ecosystem. Visit www.seafoodwatch.org to learn about sustainably harvested fish. Also, learn more about high mercury content in some seafood species.

• Buy shade-grown coffee to protect bird habitats.

• Think globally, shop locally. Try to buy organic, locally grown food rather than food that has been transported across long distances.

• Shut your blinds or curtains during the day to keep your house cool, reducing the use of air conditioning

• Lower your thermostat in winter; raise it in the summer.

• Turn the lights off when you leave a room.

• Replace your light bulbs with LEDs. They have a much higher lifespan than ordinary bulbs and reduce energy consumption

• Conserve water. Don’t let your faucets run. Run the dishwasher only when it’s full. Collect rain water in barrels and use it for your plants.

• Switch from disposable to reusable products: cups, plates, shopping bags, storage containers.

• Switch from paper napkins to cloth napkins.

• Donate, barter or re-sell items that you no longer use.

• Use environmentally friendly cleansers in your home.

• Reduce, reuse, recycle!

• Avoid buying products that are packaged for single use—such as drinks, candy, etc). Buy in bulk and keep things in reusable containers.

• When purchasing new appliances, make sure that they are Energy Star efficient.

• At the office, use bleach-free, recycled paper and environmentally friendly soy-based ink.

• Volunteer for the environment. Work locally and globally to save natural spaces, reduce pollution and prevent urban sprawl.

• Buy clothes that utilize natural, sustainable and earth-friendly resources.

• Hand wash rather than dry clean whenever possible. If you must dry clean your clothes, go to a dry cleaner that uses nontoxic chemicals and cleaning techniques.

• Do laundry only when you have a full load. Washing requires lots of water and energy, so only do it when necessary. Use the lowest possible temperature possible. Choose phosphate-free and biodegradable detergents. And line-dry as much as possible.

• Teach your children to love and care for the planet.

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April 19, 2010 Clothes that Work


You don’t have to limit yourself to a wardrobe of conservative suits in order to look like you mean business. Give your working wardrobe a modern makeover with pieces that are chic without being stuffy… taking you from Monday morning meetings to Friday après-office cocktails in effortless style. Here are a few working points to get you started, sprinkled with some seasonal suggestions from our latest spring collection:

1. Knit one, purl two. Consider adding knits to your working repertoire: They’re versatile as all get-out, excellent for travel (business or otherwise) and can be instantly dressed up or down with a change of accessories.

PC Spring 2010 suggestions

These are a few of our favorite knits: the Gathered Waist Dress, the Pacifica Cardigan and Skirt, the Banda Ikat Dress, and the Wisteria Tank Dress topped with the Madeira Lace Cardigan. And we can’t leave out the Sabrina Jacket and Tank Dress—Audrey Hepburn–chic meets endless styling potential.

2. And speaking of accessories….

The right jewelry, belt or bag can energize a look and inject your own personal style to an otherwise basic outfit. Go ahead and get creative; change out your accessories according to moment and mood, whether it’s artsy, feminine or a little fierce. But be careful; accessorizing correctly means straddling the line between bold and restrained. When in doubt, remove one piece. Oh, and don’t forget scarves… they’ve worked for generations of über-chic Parisians, and they’ll work for you, too!

PC Spring 2010 suggestions

Feeling a little flowery and fanciful? Make a feminine splash with the Chintz Ruffle Scarf. In a more boho frame of mind? Go for accessories with an artisan touch, like chunky beaded jewelry, colorful belts and bags (we love the Andean Braided Belt, the Bohemian Bracelets, the Sunburst Beaded Earrings and the Andean Manta Bag, for starters). Opt for the Gunmetal Chainmail Lariat to add an edgy, downtown vibe. And a Hand-Dyed Silk Scarf—offered in a host of heavenly hues—adds instant panache to virtually any ensemble, whether tied at the neck or knotted around a ponytail.

3. Think outside the cubicle:

Try substituting a drapey wrap or lacy cardigan for the predictable button-down suit jacket. The look is still professional, but softer and less structured. For something a bit more edgy, try a fitted jacket in an unexpected material, like luxe leather or waxed cotton.

PC Spring 2010 suggestions:

The Monterey Cardigan fuses the polish of a jacket with the ease of a knit—a perfect combination. The Catoga Kimono and Bandar Cardigan are fabulous toppers—we adore them over the black Karina Tank Dress. Another favorite is the Chintz Knit Coat… belted or left open. The Chloé Cardigan and Lace Wrap are lovely, light layers to wear over virtually anything—from dresses to tops to tanks. For a more contemporary take on the structured jacket, we recommend the Tivoli Jacket and the Dolce Leather Jacket—both fitted and fabulous.

4. The pencil skirt.

It’s the skirt of all skirts—retro-chic, super-flattering and shaped to pair beautifully (and professionally) with a myriad of top options—from lacy knits to a you-mean-business tailored jacket. 

PC Spring 2010 suggestions:

Kitted out with menswear herringbone stripes, we love the Savile Pencil Skirt topped with a super-femme shirt, like the Brontë Ruffled Blouse.

5. The new suit.

This season, suits embrace the hot trend of military styling (think slim lines, sharp tailoring and epaulets) combined with a more feminine twist (puffed shoulders, lighter and brighter hues). The look is sleek, polished and undeniably modern.

PC Spring 2010 suggestions:

Our must-have suit for spring:  the Alabaster Jacket, Pants and Pencil Skirt—a versatile, interchangeable collection in stonewashed stretch cotton.

These quick and easy updates will have you looking polished, professional and contemporary, on and off the clock.

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