During a recent ATA board visit to weaving communities in Peru, the village of Mahuaypampa was our first stop. Of all our visits, this community was the hardest hit by illness and low morale over the past few years. But this day, we were warmly greeted by the weavers who showered us with rose petals, followed by an honorable request to be padrinos (godparents) of their weaving shelter (we were the first group they welcomed into their center). With hammer in hands, held jointly by at least five of us, we smashed a clay jar filled with chicha, a corn-based beverage, and entered the compound. Construction of their weaving shelter was still underway (a project begun in 2019 with the purchase of land and the start of construction partially funded by an ATA donor) but had been delayed due to Covid. We learned that the very next day, the group was making 2,000 adobe bricks by hand so they could complete the building and begin weaving together again.
On a very positive note, three of the women weavers were voted onto the legislative section of the municipality and are letting their requests be heard particularly in trying to solve issues with water desalination (they live near Moray and the Incan salt pans of Maras). An added plus was the young weavers who joined us during their school lunch break.
The next day, we drove to the highest elevation community of Accha Alta (12,930 feet). These weavers are still going strong, as are the community’s young weavers. They surprised us with demonstrations of tapiz (tapestry) weaving (an ATA funded project in 2020 reintroduced this technique to communities beyond Pitumarca), ticlla-watay (a pre-Columbian technique being revitalized with grant funding through ATA in 2020-2022), weaving of potato sacks, and the making of small, colorful q’urpus (a chain of finger-crocheted yarn made into small bobbles and used in their hats).
Then off we went to Chahuaytire, one of the first weaving associations to partner with the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC) in 1999. Unbeknownst to us, a wedding was taking place across the street from the weaving compound and many weavers were in attendance there providing some competition (and gaiety). This is such a vital community of both men and women weavers. The association’s president, Eudes Guava, spoke about the past two years of his term, “I didn’t know how to manage this or what to do. But for those who could return to weave [with us here at the shelter], they did, and more will return next year. Thank you for helping with indigo and cochineal, yarn for our weaving, and seeds and animals. It has helped so much.”
Eudes Guava addresses the ATA. Crisostomo, the young weaver’s coordinator, said there are now 33 children as part of their group. “They are the next generation. The first group of young weavers are no longer part of this association. They have gone on to jobs and families.”
Our third day was long but rewarding. Santa Cruz de Sallac isn’t one of the communities we often have a chance to visit on our tours. It’s many hours’ drive to-and-from with hairpin-tight curves on a narrow road (some of us closed our eyes through portions of it). What a tight-knit community of weavers they are. They share everything from food, to yarn, to techniques. That’s how they made it through Covid. Years ago, they had revitalized the tie-dye technique of watay. So when the CTTC requested a grant from ATA to revitalize the pre-Columbian technique of ticlla-watay, the Sallac weavers shared their knowledge of tie-dyeing with the Pitumarca and Accha Alta weavers. We also learned that the designation of “master weaver” in the community doesn’t mean the absolute best. It means that when the weavers are in their 20s and 30s, they have nimble fingers and good eyesight for mastering traditional designs and techniques
Pitumarca is one of ATA’s stops during our annual tour. This association is brimming with special techniques—scaffold weaving (ticlla), tapestry (tapiz), braiding, knitting, and three-color supplementary and complimentary techniques. During the past two years, they were one of the groups committed to revitalizing the Paracas needle-looping technique, as well as sharing their knowledge of ticlla for the revitalizing of ticlla-watay. In fact, there were several young weavers so engrossed in their work, they barely raised their heads during our visit. The high-in-demand weaving at Pitumarca forced us into an “auction” for some of their exquisite pieces.
Of all the communities we visited, Chinchero has experienced the most physical change. With the new international airport well underway and projected to open in 2025, this location is well poised to receive tourists. The weaving compound here encompasses not only the Chinchero Away Riqcharicheq weaving association, the very first weaving community in the 1960s (Chinchero also being the home to the CTTC director Nilda Callañaupa and her extended family), but it is also a center for all ten of the CTTC weaving associations. The member communities sell their work in the store, use the facility for education and training, and now have a place for shared exhibitions.
During the past two years, the reconstruction of the main building was completed with funding from Andean Textile Arts, the Delta Foundation, the Flora Foundation, and others. The lighting and exhibit space on the second floor was just being finished the day of our visit. We look forward to a future visit with bustling activity both inside and out.
Our final day on the road was a visit to the Patabamba weaving association—a small community whose members haven’t all returned since Covid. Their weaving shelter is eight years old and surrounded by stunning views. We were warmly greeted by both adult and young weavers as they showered us with rose petals. During our time of sharing, Señora Catalina expressed, “We were totally closed from everyone the first year (of the pandemic). We so appreciated your support during this time, especially the seeds because we had none. We had frost so not many potatoes and we didn’t have a lot of food until we received seeds.”
They asked us so many questions too—whether we wove, or knitted, or spun yarn, and who was married and for how long (that brought a lot of laughs!). The young weavers thanked us for providing yarns, dyes, and tools that made it possible for them to weave the past two years.
These visits certainly bolstered the weavers and our spirits. They are coming back stronger and hopefully more resilient in their determination to keep their culture and weaving heritage alive during a rapidly changing world.
Marilyn Murphy is President of ATA and managing partner of ClothRoads.com, an online marketplace and blog devoted to global textiles. An ATA board member since 2013, she co-curated the exhibition, “Weaving Lives: Transforming Textile Traditions in the Peruvian Highlands,” at Colorado State University’s Avenir Museum. Previously Marilyn was president and editorial director for Interweave media. She also owned the Weaving Workshop in Chicago and founded the Textile Arts Centre there.