From the moment our plane banked over the Andes in the final turn for the landing in Cusco, I was awestruck. I leaned over my husband Richard’s shoulder, as we both looked out the window and simply said, “Wow.” We live in Colorado, so mountains are not new to us. The Andes, however, are truly special. You can see it. You can feel it. This is a majestic and sacred place.
The Andean Textile Arts tour has been on my life-list for a long while. While I am struggling neophyte weaver, I am a lover of all things fiber. I love the color of hand-dyed yarns. I love putting my hands in a big bag of wool. I love creating something special with my knitting needles, knowing that the thread in my hands comes from the critters that graze in pastures and high mountain meadows. The anthropologist in me is a student of culture, people, and the systems that create sustainability in their lives. The Andean Textile Arts tour checked all the boxes for me. Richard, a now-retired mountaineer and fluent Spanish speaker, took the opportunity to add to his South American “country count.”
When friends and family ask us, “What was the best part of the trip?” we say in unison: “Our day in Pisaq.” Nilda (CTTC director), Maria Jose (CTTC education coordinator), and team had planned a gathering of the adult weavers from the villages supported by the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC). This gathering was not on the original trip itinerary and a complete surprise to our merry band of travelers. We gathered in a private park, surrounded by the beautiful Andes. The sun shone brightly in an almost cloudless sky—a gift from the mountain gods. (The “apus” as the Quechua people call them.)
Our day began with a demonstration of the various skills of the weavers. (We’d missed their morning yoga class as we’d gotten a late start, but we heard the stories.) Nilda greeted us as we made our way from the vans and hurried us to a waiting group of villagers ready to give us the first gift of the day. We watched in awe as the fingers and shuttle sticks flew through backstrap looms, fingers holding knitting needles made of bicycle spokes created caps of amazingly complex patterns, and spindles popped up and down, making thread from bundles of alpaca fiber. The pride of these people was so evident. They welcomed us with eagerness, with smiles and words of greeting in their native Quechua.
And then . . . the games began. Tents had been set up to shelter participants from the ten associations who’d gathered for the day. Over two hundred people participated, dressed in the magnificently embellished dress of their specific communities. Set against the clear blue sky and the beauty of the mountains, the spectacle of color was truly breathtaking. It was a field day for weavers. A time to gather and celebrate with songs, joy, and laughter. We laughed, we sang, we watched hoops being chased through the field, we joined in the dancing and the pure joy of being together.
After lunch, the members of our tour group set out samples of their own work they’d brought to share with the weavers. I had not brought anything to share, but simply watched as hands, textiles, and smiles crossed any language barrier in a shared understanding of what it means to create something by hand. Artists, across countries and cultures, sharing, simply sharing.
As the sun rose higher in the day, we lunched and then broke apart for afternoon activities. Some of our group opted to visit a ruin or two with Raul Callañaupa Alvarez (our trusty guide). A few of us stayed behind, lingering with the weavers. I sat with some wonderful women elders of one village, watching them weave and spin. Again, with no language between us except for the few words of Spanish that Richard rescued me with, we shared what we were working on that afternoon. I was knitting a simple scarf with a gorgeous hand-dyed yarn from Wyoming. The ladies delighted in the changing colors of the two-ply thread and tried hard to bargain for the little plastic hand scissors I had in my bag. I could share the yarn. Next trip I’ll bring a box of those scissors.
As the day ended, the weavers—all two hundred plus of them—lined up to say thank you in their native Quechua. There were hugs, there were wide smiles, and more than once, I heard whispers of “mama,” a word to honor their beloved Nilda and us, their guests. As the line ended, Alvaro, our Peruvian assistant guide, turned to me. With tears in both of our eyes, he said to me, “These mountain people. They are so beautiful . . .”
I shall carry that day in my heart forever. There is a purity of heart in this land and its people. Yes, we are in awe of the work of their hands. Yes, we celebrate the patterns they keep in their heads, taught from early childhood. Yes, we work to protect all that is good and sacred about these mountains and these people. Pam Art, before we left on the tour, sent an email to our group to “prepare to have our hearts touched forever.” I know mine was forever changed. Wow. Simply wow.
Sandi Cardillo is President of Conrad Associates, LLC, a management consulting and coaching company based in Fort Collins, Colorado. In her work she assists executive leadership teams with structure and strategy needs related to growth and change. Born and raised a Nebraska farm girl, Sandi has a life long love of textiles and fiber. Her undergrad degree in Textiles, Clothing and Design with an emphasis on merchandising launched a successful career as a jewelry buyer. Mid-career, Sandi made the change to training and development, coming full circle to an early love of teaching and eventually leading to forming her own company. Sandi is an avid traveler; a student of culture and people. She is a hobbyist knitter whose mantra for creating is “simple patterns, beautiful fibers”. Sandi joined the board in 2019, after a serendipitous meeting with Marilyn Murphy at the ClothRoads store in Loveland, Colorado.