Crafting Traditional Textiles High in Peru’s Andes Mountains

High in the Peruvian Andes, life is lived much as it has been for centuries. Locals farm corn, potatoes, and other crops. The indigenous tongue, Quechua, is the first language for most of the locals, who are descendants of the Incas and fiercely proud of that heritage.

As part of that link to history and their Incan culture, local craftspeople follow ancient tradition in pottery, woodworking, metalworking, and textiles. Often a village will specialize in a certain craft.

In the small hamlet of Chinchero (at an elevation of 12,400 feet), in the Urubamba province, they are known for their textiles. The village lies midway between the regional capital of Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas and its focal point, the 15th century Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. It’s easy to get to, just off the main road. And it’s a well-traveled route thanks to the many visitors who fly into the international airport in Cusco and head to Machu Picchu.

Yet the old ways stay strong.

Natural dyes are painstakingly created from minerals, insects, plants, flowers, and other materials. For example, cochineal is an insect that lives on a cactus. It is dried, crushed, and mixed with lime, salt and other substances to create a vivid red dye. Purple corn is used to make…purple.

The wool, from sheep and alpaca, is handspun after being washed with a soap made from a tree root called saqta (which is also said to be a great shampoo). It is hand-woven using a basic loom over many weeks to create a finished product.

The patterns, symbols, and shapes on shawls and other finished materials, like llamas, condors, and sacred lakes, have deep links to Incan tradition, religion, and culture.

The Quechua people feel a deep link to history and the natural world that surrounds them…and that is evident as they weave elaborate textiles and keep their traditional methods alive in the face of an encroaching modern world.


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