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Ancient Textile Traditions of Chinchero

by guest blogger, Kezia Huseman

Chinchero is a small village in Peru, located in the departamento (state) of Cusco but it is about 28 kilometers (17 miles) northwest of the city of Cusco.  The village gets quite a bit of traffic flowing through it because of its close proximity to Cusco, the archeological site located there, and the beautiful handmade textiles made by the villagers.  Many people, tourists and otherwise, marvel at the textiles, but sadly, many never come to fully appreciate the process by which they are made.

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Hand-dyed and handwoven mantas in an array of colors and patterns.

It all starts with animals.  Sheep and alpaca are raised and tended to throughout the year; they are sheared usually just once a year.  This provides the raw material with which this process begins: dirty wool filled with pieces of earth and twigs.  To clean the wool, women wash it with a root from the jabonera (soapwort) plant.  This root is a natural detergent which creates a lather and removes the dirt.  Interestingly, it is this same root which the people use as shampoo to wash their own hair.

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Jabonera Root, used to wash wool. 'Jabon' means soap in Spanish.

Once washed, the wool is ready to spin.  They use a drop-spindle, or pushka, allowing the spinner to walk or do other activities and spin at the same time.  The wool is spun into simple 1-ply yarn.  At this stage, it is time for dyeing.

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Spinning using the drop-spindle, pushka, to ply the already dyed yarn.

All dyes used are 100% natural and hand-gathered.  Leaves, bark, moss, corn, flowers, and seeds are all used to make varying shades of different colors.  For red colors, pigment from cochineal is used, extracted from a small beetle which lives on the prickly pear cactus.  The beetle’s raw pigment also serves as women’s lipstick and rouge.

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Cochineal insects; crushed cochineal; wool being dyed with cochineal.

The dyes are added to boiling water, and then the single-ply yarn is added to the pot.   The time left in the pot depends on the intensity of the desired color.  For a mordant, to hold the color, they use collpa, a mineral found in the jungle.

Once the yarn is dyed, it is rinsed and hung to dry.  Then, the yarn is spun again to ply it.  A slightly larger drop-spindle is used to make the yarn 2-ply or 3-ply, thus stronger and able to be woven.

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Varying shades from natural dyes. Greens & blues: leaves, purples: purple corn, oranges: 'beard of the rock' moss, yellows: seeds & flowers.

To weave the yarn, they used a back-strap loom, which is simply straps, strings, and sticks fashioned together.  Tools used in the weaving process are bones and sticks.  Weaving an entire loom takes at least two months of solid weaving.  The people of Chinchero make designs in their weavings specific to Chinchero.  While other villages around Peru use the same techniques to make yarn and weave, the designs imprinted in the textiles are specific to the location where they were woven.  An outsider may not be able to recognize the subtle differences in designs, but the people of the Andes can pinpoint where someone is from simply by the designs in their clothing and textiles.

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Woman weaving with back-strap loom.

The final products consist of shawls, skirts, scarves, belts, ponchos, table runners, bags, coin purses, and much more.  All are stunning and beautiful, but perhaps the most stunning of all is the physical effort and craftsmanship that goes into making those products.

Weaving is not a simple weekend craft for the people of Chinchero.  It is definitely a long, delicate process.  At the same time, it is much more than that.  Weaving is a living testament to their heritage, proof of their workmanship, and their livelihood.

See Peruvian Connection’s handwoven textiles for Spring 2013:
Kenko Pima Belt
Ocongate Pima Belt
Tarma Wrap Bracelet

About Peru, Ethnographic Inspiration, The Craft of Art Knitting, Travel, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Permalink | ShareThis

13 Responses to Ancient Textile Traditions of Chinchero

  1. mnicholas@frontier.com' Margaret Polino Nicholas says:

    That was an interesting piece. Thanks I really learned some things about the uniqueness of the rugs.

  2. chenaultwf@yahoo.com' Felicia says:

    I love the colors, vibrant, bursting with culture and inspiration. Just the right thing for Spring!

  3. britton.nm@gmail.com' Dr. Britton says:

    Thank you so much for insight to the hand woven heritage.

  4. bebecygnet@yahoo.com' Rebecca says:

    Marvelous article; appreciate the photos too!

  5. iruhrmann@sympatico.ca' Ingrid says:

    i so enjoy your newsletter … it’s a wonderful way of staying close to Peru where i spent 3 weeks last year … i would also like to know where i can get a pin to pin my chinchero .. ingrid

  6. karenbwestfall@aol.com' Karen Westfall says:

    Was recently in Cusco and admired the textiles! Wish I had the opportunity to visit this village!
    Thank you for sharing.

  7. bconole@wi.rr.com' pat conole says:

    What beautiful pictures and what a beautiful story. I feel like I am there looking at the beautiful designs on the fabrics. Thanks for telling their story.

  8. isauraisflourishing@hotmail.com' Isaura Mashiko says:

    Amazing! I have been a Peruvian customer for long time…and always been awed when I get a new garment…this article on how these amazing people make it this possible made me feel a great respect for their work. So hard and detailed…thank you for your great effort to make us happy when we used your art.

  9. Kissyscreations@verizon.net' Kristin Rogers says:

    I visited this area of the world in 2009 and was completely awe-inspired. I love that such a poor people can find such a wealth of beautiful surroundings to inspire their amazing craftsmanship. I am also grateful that time and modern technology have not robbed them of the ability to make a living from these age old and inherited resources. Thank you PC for sharing with the rest of us what it truly means to be handcrafted and giving these people a customer base so they can continue their legacy.

  10. Kissyscreations@verizon.net' Kristin Rogers says:

    I visited this area of the world in 2009 and was completely awestruck.I love that such a poor people can find such a wealth of beautiful surroundings to inspire their amazing craftsmanship. I am also grateful that time and modern technology have not robbed them of the ability to make a living from these age old and inherited resources. Thank you PC for sharing with the rest of us what it truly means to be handcrafted and giving these people a customer base so they can continue their legacy.

  11. covernote.alton@virgin.net' Virginia Wiltshire says:

    I have long admired the colours and designs in Peruvian Connection’s art knits and woven fabrics.
    I am pleased to have seen the processes by which they are made.
    Thank you for the lovely pictures.

  12. huseman7@att.net' Terri Huseman says:

    LOVE the pictures. Very interesting and awesome to read and see some of the specialness of Peru.

  13. bonnie.towles.wg74@wharton.upenn.edu' Bonnie Towles says:

    I came to love and respect Andean textiles during my two years in the Peace Corps (67-69) and later during a consultancy with USAID in Bolivia in 1977. I purchased many items with the intent of resale, but could never part with most of them, and own them still. After all these years, they still bring back memories and give me great pleasure. It is interesting to see many of the designs in my items are still being woven into the items for sale in today’s markets. But then, most have lasted for many decades before my purchases more then 40 years ago. In studying the Andean designs I was fascinated to discover that many of the basic symbols/designs appear in the textiles and art of other cultures throughout the world. Thank you for a wonderful article that helps others understand just what is entailed in creating these beautiful works of art.

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