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A Way of Life
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A Way of Life

Before traveling to Peru, I did not completely understand how the fiber arts could play such a large role in a culture – not as a hobby – but more as a livelihood and a deep-rooted tradition. I knew about the Peruvian weaving techniques, the knits and the crochet, and a little about the spinning. Reading about these things in glossy travel magazines is one thing; yet seeing the fiber arts in action is definitely another thing all together.

Andean Woman Spinning

This woman sat on the steps of the Cathedral in Cusco, quietly using her hand spindle and working the roving through her fingers. She was the first spinner I saw in the city, and we had only been there for a few hours. And there were many more that we saw! As I looked around, I saw many more women, spindles stowed away in their mantas, or in their hands – ready for a free moment to make more yarn for more textiles.

The fiber comes primarily from alpacas, sheep, and llamas: these animals are important to the families and to the societies as a whole, creating fiber, textiles, a revenue stream, and even as food later. It appeared that the baby alpacas were most prized for their fleece, which is soft, warm, and water resistant. Their fleece also commands a higher price, and their spun yarns are used to support the mills, the hand knitters, and the knitting machines that produce the ubiquitous alpaca sweaters, blankets, and woven textiles all over the Andes.

Lolly and the Alpacas

While knitting, crochet, and spinning are important to the Andes, the fiber art that truly defines the culture is weaving. The traditional dress includes elaborate woven garments: a poncho for men, and a manta (cape) for women. Even young children and babies have the beautiful woven clothes!

Traditional Andean Clothes

Andean Boys in Traditional Dress

We had the opportunity to see many weavers working with the traditional back strap looms. The most interactive place to see these weavers (and to learn about the textiles in general) was at the Center for Traditional Textile of Cusco. The Center invites weavers, knitters, and crocheters to demonstrate their work. The Center also serves as a repository for the traditions of the surrounding Andean villages: their textiles are surveyed, and the Center purchases textiles to encourage talented weavers to continue weaving and learning while earning money to support their families.

Andean Weavers

Andean Weavers

Education programs are in place to teach the importance of the textile tradition passing from one generation to the next. The Center’s education department has started organizing oral histories originally collected by the village children. The Center also encourages the retainment of the Quechua language. Each textile sold in the Center’s store supports the family that made it – and each textile has a small card with the photograph, name, birth date, and location of the weaver or knitter who made that particular textile. It is a very important tool to connect the buyer with the creator. One particular shawl stood out for me – I was amazed by it’s colors and design. When one of the weavers saw me observing the shawl, he suggested that I try it on, and we could pose for a photograph. Once I put it on, I knew that it was coming home with me. More details on this shawl will come in a later post…

There is no shortage of textiles on the streets of Cusco and the surrounding villages, but the true quality garments are harder to come by (The Center, mentioned above, has excellent quality textiles, and a few other shops do as well). There are many markets that offer up woven and knit alpaca hats, sweater, blankets, rugs, and wall-hangings. The trend in these large markets is to sell the synthetic dyed garments with non-traditional motifs. When I saw the naturally dyed alpaca, wool, and llama shop, I made sure to stop and pick up a hat. I found a lovely woven purse made from orange and brown wools at one of the largest markets in the region: in Pisac, north of Cusco in the Sacred Valley.

Lolly's New Bag

[More photos from the Pisac Marketplace]

It was in the village of Chinchero, well known for the quality of their textiles, that I saw two knitters. One was a young teenage boy, using his backpack to hold his skeins of yarn. He was sitting in a group with his peers, and was knitting quickly with double-pointed needles. I was not close enough to see exactly what he was working on or to photograph him. When I saw him again, he was walking down the cobblestone street. I was happy to see this young man carrying on the tradition, knitting in a public place with his friends. The second knitter was an elderly man, standing solitary on the roadside, knitting on an elaborate colorwork chullo.

Roadside Knitter
Click for detail view

I had heard that knitting needles are often recycled bicycle spokes, sharpened to a fine point, and this photograph seems to confirm it. His technique is quite different from European circular knitting – he is actually purling every row in the round, working from the outside of the circular loop, not the inside. This is supposed to be “easier” and with more tension for the integrated colorwork. It is also a tradition that the working yarn is looped around the neck for added control over the tension – it is here, although hard to see. (The end ball is in the small bag near his foot on the ground). A commenter on Flickr noted that his yarn appears to be three or more threads held together. While I did not notice this at the time, it helps explain how quickly he was able to produce the colorwork for the hat.

The techniques of Andean knitting and weaving have piqued my interest, and I plan to do more research on the topic. I was chatting with Eunny about this technique over the weekend, and she mentioned an Andean Knitting workshop she had seen advertised, possibly at a Stitches event. If any of you have seen these classes offered, or have taken them yourself, I would love to hear more about it. In the meantime, I am checking out some books on Andean knitting (review to come) and I even signed up for a beginning weaving workshop this winter…

Tethered Alpaca



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48 Responses

  1. kelly

    so cool! we saw lots of similar things in Guatemala last yr but we were alittle distracted ;)

  2. Bee

    Hi Lolly! Your travelogues on your trip to Peru have / are so well put together. You’ve put so much thought and detail into your writings and photographs, we’re all privileged to read about them. I love how fiber arts is quite well integrated into their culture, with men and women as active participants. The colours are so vibrant as well. It looks like you had an amazing experience in Peru. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Caitlin

    Lolly, I read your blog everyday and your knitting never siezes to amaze me, but your experience in Peru was insane. You have some crazy life experiences! keep up the good work!

  4. Dorothy

    So many beautiful things and the colours are amazing. I love that they are dressed so warmly around their bodies while their legs are in short pants and their feet in sandals. Fascinating. The contrast of warm and cool clothing styles really makes the colours in the textiles stand out.

  5. Amy

    Beautiful pictures Lolly. What an amazing trip.

    I took an Andean knitting class at TNNA two years ago. The teacher was awful, but I can’t remember her name. I would have gotten more out of a book.


  6. Kristina

    I’m really enjoying your pictures. I traveled to Peru in Apr 2006 and had an extraordinary time. I too spent some time in Cuzco, hiked the Inca Trail and then went to Lake Titicaca. And the fiberarts are a complete way of life. At one point, while we were traveling, I saw a woman spinning while herding her cows.

    We have several hats on display from our trip, including an hat which has a gauge of about 12 stitches per inch from Tequile Island on Lake Titicaca. The men on Tequile Island wear two types of hats, both of which resememble santa claus hats in their shape, which is to say that they are long and fold over and have a pom-pom at the end. The married men wear a hat with full patterning, while the unmarried men and boys wear hat with patterning that ends at the crown. It’s really fascinating.

    I’m glad that you enjoyed your trip. I found the people of peru to be wonderfully hospitable and I would return in a heartbeat.

  7. Sarah

    Love, love, love, love, LOVE all of the travel adventures and fiber and textile tour!

  8. Heather

    All of these posts have been so interesting–you have such a keen eye for detail, keep ‘em coming!!

  9. Gaile

    Lolly, thank-you for sharing so much of your trip on your blog. I am thoroughly enjoying seeing all your photos and reading about your travels.

  10. Jenna

    I love your description of how integrated fiber arts are in the culture. I feel like it’s really validating to see that these things we are passionate about for fun can also be seen and studied so seriously. It makes it feel bigger than just the hobby that my friends and I do, ya know? Thank you for sharing your images and impressions, it makes me want to go even more!

  11. Reve

    what an inspiring trip!

  12. Karma

    Another very interesting post, thank you! I love this piece of travel, the coming to understand culture via textiles. The colors in Peruvian work are just breathtaking.

  13. emicat

    Thank you for sharing your photos from your trip. Loved all the photos, especially of the elderly man knitting. What a beautiful shawl you brought home too!

  14. Katinka

    Thank you for your Peru posts — they’ve been fascinating to read. And your shawl is lovely!

  15. Sarah

    Ooh this is my favourtite of your posts on your trip – the textiles are fabulous and so lovely to see that what you read about is actually practised. Great choice of woven shawl.

  16. jiva

    wow! what great information and beautifully illustrated. Loving the story of your trip and investigating fiber arts.

  17. Suz

    Lolly, your posts really bring the people and culture of Peru to life. I’ve been enjoying each post. I’m off to Flickr to browse more pictures.

  18. vera

    Lolly, i am really enjoying reading all about your experiences with Peru and it’s people and history. Thankyou so much for sharing your experiences with us. x
    I am so glad to hear that the people of this country (and i am sure many others) are making sure that future generations learn the history and skills of it’s people. It is very important, not only for their livelihood but also the maintenance of culture, history and traditional values. It is so wonderful to hear.
    I am with you on the weaving too. It is the one thing that i am very interested in exploring at the moment but do not have the means to. Hopefully there will be some weaving in both of our futures. :0)

  19. Mai

    How peaceful there. If the whole world can knit (spin, weave…) and contemplate on the art wherever we are, and whenever we have time, it would be true peace on earth. Thank you for the wonderful and uplifting news from afar :)

  20. Elemmaciltur

    What an insightful post! And the photos are gorgeous, especially the very first one with the woman and her spindle….I liked it so much that I favourited it on Flickr. Can’t wait to read more about your experiences there.

  21. Whitney

    What a fabulous post! I’m enjoying reading your writings about Peru so very much, and the pictures are just spectacular. I absolutely love the bright, vibrant colors that seem to be so prevalent in Peruvian fiber arts. Thanks for sharing this!

  22. Vickie

    I have read all of your posts about your trip and this is the best so far. I think you would make a great writer. Must be all the time spent in the library.

  23. stacey

    Pretty neat – it’s amazing how fiber can be such a mainstay in some cultures. All the colors are amazing – so bright and pretty!

  24. Leigh

    Thanks so much for posting all these beautiful pics from your trip! This is such an interesting and inspiring post, along with all your other trip posts, so thanks so much for sharing with us! Beautiful stuff!

  25. paideia

    Wow….. thanks for sharing all of those amazing pictures and for the thoughtful discussion of Peruvian textiles…… fascinating!

    I especially love how even the wee folk have elaborately designed clothing….

  26. lekkercraft

    Wow. What a great post! Thank you for the educational and thoughtful insights, photos, and history.

  27. margene

    Peru is one place I would love to visit because of all the textiles. You took full advantage of what they had to offer because you love textile arts, too. Thanks for sharing your trip and thoughts about it with us!

  28. jessica~

    What beautiful photographs! I love the one of you petting the alpaca, so pretty! I’ve really enjoyed all your Peru stories and was glad to read that you and Chris made it out of the earthquake ok.

  29. Claire

    Thanks for the welcome comment you left for me! It’s so nice to have my first ever comment from someone who’s blog I’ve been reading for ages! Anyway, much appreciated :)
    Your photos are absolutely stunning by the way, sounds like you had quite a trip!

  30. lomester

    Terrific narrative!
    Growing up in Argentina my little cousin had a weaving loom. We tried and tried but never learned how to use it. I contacted her the other day and asked her about it, she said she gave it away because she was frustrated by it. After seeing these pictures, I wish she would have kept it so I could have brought it home with me on my next trip back home.

  31. Susanne

    Your account of your travels is soo colourful and picturesque! Thank you for such inspiring words and of course the pictures too! the shawl you purchased is gorgeous, can’t wait to see more and hear more about it in a later post.

  32. Sarah

    That shawl is gorgeous! Your photos are great evidence that knitters have made a good start on taking over the world — we’ve already got Peru, now we just have to work on the rest of the Americas. :)

  33. Patricia

    Oooooo- now I have to go back. I missed so much the first time! Wasn’t even thinking of textiles, etc.

  34. Jessica

    Oh wow, these pictures are gorgeous! How wonderful that you were able to experience so much fiber-arts fun on your trip–your posts totally make me want to plan a visit to Peru!

  35. Donna

    I love the baby alpacas!! Whenever I tell anyone that I love to spin and knit alpaca people look at me like I am crazy. I can’t wait to move to a larger home so that I can have a few alpacas. Their fiber is sooooooooo soft, its like spinning a cloud. They are the sweetest little guys and they make this little mewing sound. Its so cute!

  36. tiennie

    Lolly – I’ve really been enjoying your posts about your travels! Your pictures are so beautiful and vibrant and your words are so interesting and thoughtful to read. Looking forward to many more!

  37. ck

    You got some fantastic photos!

  38. earthchick

    Wow, what amazing photos. Thank you so much for sharing them, and for sharing your reflections. Your posts have really reminded me of my time in Bolivia (specifically my time in La Paz, which is in the high plains like Peru). Thank you!

  39. Laura

    I am really enjoying this series (and the airport story made me cry). Thanks for sharing words and pictures!

  40. Moni

    These photos are awesome! The colors of thier clothing are just gorgeous next to the muted colors of the backgrounds. beautiful!

  41. Mimi

    Lolly! I can’t wait to be home and hug you. I love you so much. I am glad you are home safe. I did not know about the earthquake. We were cut off from a lot of news here as well, staying in smal hotels with no tvs, local newspapers only and such.
    I can’t wait to hear about your trip in person. I only got to glance at the blog. I look forward to reading more.

    I am still in Wellington. Flying out tonight.

    Love you and see you soon.

  42. Liz K.

    Just wanted you to know how much I am enjoying your posts about Peru. I really appreciate the detail you are including in these travelogues.

  43. eyeleen

    Your photos capture the people and their fiber arts perfectly!

  44. amisha

    oh!!! this is so inspiring… i love seeing these fiber arts traditions from other places. an andean workshop would be amazing! xo

  45. Wanda

    It’s so fascinating seeing the fiber arts and textiles as a true way of life for the Peruvians. I’ve heard about it, obviously. But seeing it in action is really neat. Thanks for sharing your perspectives and the people.

  46. Tobari

    I love this blog… so when did you say my knitting lessons were going to start?

  47. March 24th – World Cultures « Hand Spinning

    [...] Weinhold, Lauren. “A Way of Life.” Lotty Knitting Around. 23 Aug 2007. Web. 22 Mar 2010. [...]

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