If you’ve ever wondered what “handmade” means when buying one of those intoxicating and colorful weavings in Peru, Chinchero is a great, informational, stop. In this small town outside of Cusco, demonstrations of the processes that go into creating these colorful pieces are done for curious tourists.
There are many different ways of weaving, and the tools and looms vary from one type of weave to the next. A Jacquard loom may be used to make fabrics or tablecloths, while a backstrap loom may be used to create other types of textiles. Both of these methods can be seen in Chinchero.
Weather it’s made from wool or alpaca, the raw material goes through the same basic process from animal to weaving. Once the material is sheered from the creature, it must be washed to get all of the dirt out. In Peru there is a root which is used for soap – the raw root is grated into clean water which then becomes sudsy. Dirty wool is cleaned in this soapy water, and rinsed in a bucket with fresh water. The potency of this root as a cleanser is clearly apparent in the difference of color between the dirty and clean wool.
Once the wool is clean, it is ready to be dyed. Natural dyes are made from natural materials. Different roots, berries, leaves, or other organic resources are collected – each with a specific color property. The natural matter is then placed in a pot to cook with the wool or alpaca, which will transfer the color to the material. This color is set permanently by adding salt to the pot. Once the material is rinsed of excess pigment, it is hung in the sun until it is a dry, usable material. Some of the color results are quite surprising to the untrained eye, when you see the yarn sitting with the plant that created it’s color.
Wool or alpaca may be spun into yarn before or after it is dyed. The process of hand-spinning wool is pretty much the same across the globe – a drop spindle being the small (and lightweight) primitive tool of choice.
The knowledge of raw materials in Peru is quite impressive. I learned here that one of the resources used to create a color is a small worm, found on cacti. The blood of these worms creates a red pigment, which with one drop of a lemon, becomes an intense orange.
These particular natural pigments would have also been traditionally used as makeup (lipstick or blush). This knowledge is something that has been collected and passed down by the Peruvian people over time. The traditions are a part of their culture and livelihood – the intoxicating colors interwoven with their lives and history, just as they continue to be incorporated into the woven arts of the people throughout the country.