The colors of the rainbow are ever-present in the lives of Luz Gabriela Valencia and Luz Clara Condori. Both of these young weavers are from Chinchero, Peru—a place where rainbows frequently arch over their heads. So common is this visual spectacle after a rainstorm, the city, located on a high plain approximately nineteen miles northwest of Cusco, is known as the birthplace of the rainbow.
These vibrant rainbow colors also inspire the fabrics woven by the two young women and other weavers in the community. “This manta has the colors typical of Chinchero,” says Luz Clara, as she points to the shawl-like textile she is wearing. “We dye in a big pot according to what color we are going to dye.”
Luz Gabriela explains how spun yarn is dyed with cochineal to obtain the purple color and ch’illca to obtain the green color. “Qolle is a plant that grows in our town and with this plant the yellow color is obtained,” she says. “We also make combinations to obtain other colors.”
Both of the girls participate in the Young Weavers Groups, a program offered by the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC) and funded by Andean Textile Arts. In this program, the girls and other young weavers learn about their ancestor’s textile traditions, such as natural dyeing and how to weave centuries-old designs. “On my manta there are aysa kuti, ch’aska in three colors, and loraypo (motifs),” says Luz Clara. This part, which is pure plain weave, is called the pampa of the manta.”
Luz Gabriela’s manta also showcases luraypo, one of her favorite designs to weave and a main iconography of Chinchero. The pattern is often displayed prominently in the center of design sections woven into the region’s textiles. “This is taqlla chili in three colors,” says Luz Gabriela about another motif that complements the four-color luraypo design on her manta.
“The edges (of the manta) also have a weaving that serves as decoration and protection (from unraveling),” she adds. Luz Gabriela is referring to a unique border technique called ñawi awapa, or “eye border,”traditionally used by local weavers. In this process the weft of the border is also the thread used to sew the border onto the textile at the same time that it is woven.
The girls are particularly proud of the weaving expertise of Chinchero. And rightfully so. The community is famous worldwide for its exquisite textiles and has been a pioneer in the revitalization of its traditional weaving techniques. In fact, both girls first learned to weave from watching their mothers and sisters. “From the beginning, I had a curiosity about weaving,” says Luz Gabriela. “There are master weavers in my family, so it was easy to learn.”
As members of the CTTC’s Young Weavers Groups, they have been able to develop their skills even further. Both girls appreciate how the program has provided them with opportunities to meet with weavers from Chahuaytire, Pitumarca, and other Andean communities. “We learn how they weave and we also teach them (how we weave),” explains Luz Gabriela. Through the program, they also visit museums and participate in activities that teach them more about the history of their traditional Andean textiles.
Traditions are important, especially when it comes to the textiles woven and worn in their community. “The clothes represent us from Chinchero,” explains Luz Clara. “They are the traditional clothes worn by our ancestors.” The girls describe how their colorful customary clothing includes a jacket, skirt, and petticoats to protect them from the cold.
While the girls weave scarves and other items for their own use, many of their pieces are also sold to tourists through their association with the CTTC. “Sales of our weaving helps with (paying for) our studies,” says Luz Clara.
Earning money through their art is important, but weaving means much more to these two young women. “It’s about the customs of our community, what we ourselves wear and make,” says Luz Clara. Her fellow weaver Luz Gabriela agrees. “It represents our traditions, the plants that grow in the place were we live, and our animals.”
It is clear that weaving gives Luz Clara and Luz Gabriela a sense of pride and place—in a land where rainbows and textile traditions are interwoven into their lives.