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. 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. 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.
Peruvian Connection's Kansas headquarters on Dec. 30
Most winters I find that my closet of warm and woolly alpaca sweaters does not see as much use as it deserves. With thermostats set on 70 and typically mild winters, my warmest sweaters spent most of their days in dark seclusion, waiting for their day in the sun. This winter, however, has been different, with record lows and snowfalls. All around the PC headquarters, employees are donning their warmest alpaca sweaters, scarves and pima t-necks.
Now I'm thinking I need more alpaca sweaters, like the cozy handknit Terrazzo Cardigan, and perhaps a hat like the Snow Queen Cap, or even a cape to throw on over it all, like the Alchemy Cape.
Forget the two front teeth! All I want for Christmas is to wrap myself in the addictive lusciousness of our Vicuña Cape. Imagine wrapping a fluffy cloud around your shoulders drizzled with the majesty of pure luxury and you are one step closer to experiencing the unforgettable indulgence of this buttery fiber. This ambrosial delight will leave an ever-lasting impression, with its sumptuous softness, silky drape and rich legacy.
Vicuña fleece is one of the most sought-after fibers in the world and, incidentally, happens to be the rarest and most costly. Once revered as precious enough only for Inca royalty, vicuñas continue to be worshipped as sacred animals by the Aymara Indians of Peru and Bolivia. After reaching near extinction in the 60’s, vicuñas are strictly protected and only limited commercial harvesting of the fiber is allowed. Every year in spring, following the ancient tradition known as chaccus, the shy vicuñas are gathered and carefully sheared by the native villagers.
A treasure to be cherished for generations, the gift of vicuña will make a lasting memory. Like to try a bite before buying the entire pie? For a sampling of heaven, you can order a small swatch of our vicuña fabric by calling our customer service at 800-221-8520. For the most decadent feast of the senses, wrap yourself in the pure luxury of our Vicuña Cape, a delicacy beyond the scope of any descriptive words. With one touch of its ethereal softness, you will understand why the vicuña has shined from a golden pedestal for millennia.
Peru may seem a world away, but the Western traditions of Christmas will be highly recognizable. Even though Christmas actually occurs during the summer months in Peru, Santa Claus, known as Papa Noel, is still depicted as a jolly white-haired man wearing a large red coat, gloves and a hat. The western influence is obvious, but many aspects of the holiday have been melded with decidedly Peruvian features.
With nearly 75% of the population identifying with Catholicism, the celebration of the birth of Jesus is an important event. The rural context of the nativity scene makes it especially identifiable to the people of Peru. On December 24th, known as "Noche Buena", people flock to the Plaza de Armas in Cusco for the annual Santuranticuy market, which literally means "buying of the saints". Artisans fill the street with handmade figurines, including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds, carved from Huamanga stone, gourds, glass or even wood. Retablos, wooden boxes with a carved image of the nativity scene inside, are also wildly popular. Most families traditionally buy the pieces for their nativity scenes at this market, keeping them on display until the celebrations on January 6th.
Another distinct feature of Peruvian Christmas is the practice of "chocolatadas". During the week of Christmas, especially on the 24th, it is common for families, churches and organizations to offer cups of hot chocolate to those less fortunate. Chocolatadas are a celebration of togetherness and selfless giving.
After the preparation of the nativity scene, families return home for a grand Christmas Eve dinner, often replete with an all too familiar turkey, wine and a fruit filled bread known as Paneton. At midnight, fireworks light up the sky and dancing fills the street. The Christmas celebration continues through the week until la Bajada de los Reyes, "the arrival of the three wise men", on January 6th. Following the tradition of the three wise men, people typically exchange gifts on this day.
With Christmas only a couple weeks away, we want to wish everyone, from North and South, a Happy Holiday! Be sure to check out our fabulous gift-gallery or to give the gift of hope, consider an altruistic donation to the Pro Mujer foundation, which helps empower and support women in Peru. You can help support ProMujer with the purchase of a silky-soft Baby Llama Throw, with all proceeds benefitting ProMujer, or by sending them a tax deductible donation.
December 15, 2009
Tagged Bajada de los Reyes, Christmas in Peru, Cusco, Cuzco, Feliz Navidad, nativity, Noche Buena, Peruvian Christmas, ProMujer, retablo, Santuranticuy
The holidays are in full swing, and so is the holiday party circuit: business lunches, festive get-togethers, chic soirées. So how to de-code the dress code for all of these events? Black tie is pretty self-explanatory, but what does “Festive” mean? Or “Creative Black Tie”? Or “Dressy Casual”? Don’t worry… we’re here to help. One thing to keep in mind when planning your outfit: Evening events are always dressier than events that take place during the day.
The look here should be sophisticated and chic. Stick to tasteful, knee-length options paired with kitten heels or sexy, strappy sandals. Think of that perfect LBD. Or for a more conservative look, try a classic sheath dress. PC Suggests: For a real head-turner, we suggest the Rosebud Dress. Other beautiful options include the Lombard Dress (made even more chic with the Victoria Falls Collar) and—an elegant two-piece option… the Sugarplum Sequin Skirt with the Soirée Top.
Business attire is a glammed-up version of what you would wear to work. A polished suit is fine—with either trousers or pencil skirt. Go a little bolder with the jewelry and accessories. Stacks of bangles, a statement necklace or pretty scarf add an elegant touch. PC Suggests: We love the Femme Fatale Jacket and Dietrich Skirt. Also the timeless, versatile D’Orsay Dress.
No, this doesn’t mean donning a holiday sweater with a 3-D Rudolph or light-up Santa. Festive attire actually falls somewhere between business and cocktail attire. PC Suggests: Try the Picadilly Riding Coat and Treasure Trove Necklace over a pair of skinny black trousers. We also recommend the Sullivan Skirt with either the Celeste Cardigan or Jackie Cardigan. For a chic trouser option, try the Balmoral Trousers with the stunning Victorian Corset Blouse.
Creative Black Tie:
Think formal, but with a trendy, creative twist… a modern touch to the traditional. PC Suggests: The floor-grazing, fabulous Taffeta Fishtail Skirt is oh-so glam yet contemporary. Pair it with the Chevron Lace Cardigan and Stitchery Tank. It’s also possible to go shorter here with the Riverbend Skirt.
Black Tie Optional:
You don’t have to wear a long evening gown (but you can if you want to). You can also wear a formal cocktail dress, a dressy pantsuit, or even a long full skirt with an elegant sweater. PC Suggests: The hand-beaded Wonderland Dress is stunning in winter white, and even dressier in go-everywhere black. Another option: the hand-crocheted Lattice Lace Dress.
This doesn’t mean casual; it actually means “semi-formal.” A chic cocktail dress or dressy separates would work well for this. Make sure to complete the look with stand-out accessories and a great pair of shoes. PC Suggests: The Faubourg Dress—in twilight-blue velvet—with our Black Orchid Headband would fit the bill beautifully. Another option: the French Quarter Dress in silk georgette.
Dressy Casual/Elegant Casual:
This means just what it sounds like: relaxed, yet polished and pulled together. PC Suggests: This could mean something as simple as an elegant sweater-dress with cool accessories—like our East-West Dress with Pompom Sash, the Tambora Batik Dress or Camilla Dress. Or you could wear a crisp pair of Pencil Jeans with a cool jacket or dressed-up sweater, like the Raj Jacket or Delia Cardigan.
This doesn’t mean wear your sweats, but it does mean relaxed. For evening, a pair nice jeans or cords with a pretty top or nice sweater would be appropriate. PC Suggests: Start with a pair of Pencil Jeans, Boot Cut Jeans or Stretch Pinwale Cords. The sweater/top options are endless, so we’ll give you just a few suggestions: Jacinta Top, Lotus Blossom Kimono, Vineyard Blouson, Paisley Lace Cardigan, Eden Top.
Need more tips on sailing through the holiday season with grace? Read our Holiday Party Etiquette Guide:
• Never arrive early (unless, of course, you have a specific request from the host). For formal fêtes, arrive within 15 minutes of the time listed on the invitation. For informal invitations, it’s best to show up about 20–30 minutes after the party officially begins.
• Always say hello to your hosts within a few minutes of arriving. And make sure to say good-bye before you leave.
• Although it’s not required, it’s nice to bring a bottle of wine or a sweet treat when showing up to a dinner, lunch or cocktail party. Don’t bring flowers that need arranging; this will just add more stress to a harried host. If it’s a large, formal event and you don’t know the host well, you don’t need to bring anything.
• Always bring a gift if you’re staying at the host’s home overnight. The longer you stay, the more expensive the gift.
• Keep cocktail party conversations light; in these situations, it’s always best avoid controversial subjects, like politics or religion.
• Holiday parties are not the place to check emails, send texts, surf the Internet or make cell phone calls. Turn off your phone and enjoy the people who are actually in the room with you.
• If the invitation has an ending time, don’t linger too much longer; it’s rude to overstay your welcome. If the party doesn’t have a specific end time, keep an eye on the crowd and plan on leaving when approximately half the guests have departed.
• Always, always, always say thank you! Don’t email your appreciation. Call the next day to thank your host, or send a handwritten thank-you note within a week of the party.