A number of pre-Columbian textiles are so technically sophisticated that scholars today can’t be sure how they were made. Breathing new life into “lost” textile forms has been an important focus of the ten community weaving associations of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC), where they continue to re-vitalize Andean textile traditions and techniques.
Between roughly 600 and 900 CE, the Nazca and Wari peoples evolved a very complex textile form, referred to as “Wari tie dye” by museums and scholars. These ancient pieces rival 1960’s tie dye in their vibrant designs, but the techniques are dauntingly complex, combining resist dyeing and multi-colored, de-constructed, and re-constructed woven cloth shapes.
In 2020 Andean artisan weavers living in several of the communities working with the CTTC came together to work out a complete re-vitalization of Wari tie-dye techniques. With no prior knowledge of the ancient attributions and within the context of their own culture and heritage, the weavers have re-named this technique “ticlla-watay” (pronounced tea-key-a wa-tay) in Quechua.
Sallac and Pitumarca were the first two communities to start the revitalization work. Individually their weavers had already mastered and revived certain ancient techniques that are components of ticlla-watay. In Sallac a single elder had retained an ancient Andean ikat technique thought to have been lost. Called watay, this is a combination technique where resist areas are tied into warps, which are then dyed. Once the ties have been removed, the warp is then woven into an ikat-patterned cloth. Sallac has moved this technique forward with some very sophisticated watay creations.
At the same time, Pitumarca had revitalized, mastered, and evolved the technique of ticlla, a form of discontinuous warp or scaffold weaving. Pitumarca’s weavers now use this technique to reflect their own voices.
The revitalization project combined the techniques from both Pitumarca and Sallac to reproduce the ancient Nazca and Wari technique. Ticlla-watay textiles entail multiple processes. They begin with a scaffold-woven cloth that is then de-constructed into its component pieces.
The individual pieces are tied with a pattern, then dyed, and finally re-constructed into the shape of the original textile. This process produces the distinct color areas, geometric shapes, and pattern combinations that make every piece unique.
After sharing and teaching each other’s weaving associations their techniques, the weavers of Sallac and Pitumarca began creating ticlla-watay textiles and teaching the process to others. Currently, the communities of Accha Alta and Huacatinco have also learned the how to create these textiles.
All four communities use group cooperation and planning sessions to work out design and construction details. Projects are based primarily on extant Nazca and Wari pieces, but the weavers’ modern works are not copies. The textiles of the weavers’ ancestors provide reference, inspiration, and guidance for the new endeavors. The weavers bring their own spirit of creativity, preserving the technique but also giving it new life in a modern Andean tradition.
The outstanding mastery of today’s ticlla-watay textiles reflects the incredible talent and potential of the many weavers of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco and those that have supported them in this continuing re-emergent process. It is important to honor also the ancient voices and creative weaving hands of the ancestors who conceived and evolved ticlla-watay some 1,400 years ago. It is lovely to see these textiles sing in living and joyful color as they re-emerge from ancient slumber back into the brilliant sun of the Andes.
Want to know more? Stay tuned to Andean Textile Arts’ blogs for more in-depth exploration of this unique and beautiful textile technique!
Special Thanks: Creating complex ticlla-watay textiles is often a community effort, with individual steps being done by different people. ATA donors have been an extended part of that community by providing the funds to pay for yarn, dyes, samples, transportation to museums and amongst communities, video and photographic documentation, and coordination services needed for the project. Thank you for your support and participation in this community of revitalization and re-emergence
Ercil Howard-Wroth has always had a love of history and tradition. She holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MS in education from the State University of New York at New Paltz. An educator for many years, she now focuses on teaching fiber arts to adults and children. Her current work brings together her love for traditional societies and her twenty plus years of working in the textile arts. She has served on the ATA board since October 2014 and oversees social media.