Read Part One of this story here.
ARE YOU GOING TO WEAVE TODAY?
I probably make a thorough nuisance of myself at weaving events like the Encuentro de Tejedores in Cusco Peru earlier this month. I have so many questions and want to be into everything and not miss a thing.
Bright and early on day one, I registered along with other participants. The receptionists, looking smart in their uniforms with colored conference scarves and headbands, were efficient and clearly trained to be able to handle anything. The whole process was very slick and it was interesting to hear all the different Spanish accents and Quechua being spoken in the line-up of participants from all over Peru and South America. I recognized fondly the accent from Chile where I lived for five years as well as the song of the Argentinean-style of speaking used by my ex-boyfriend and the special way that Bolivian highlanders pronounce “rr”.
I then stepped outside to the courtyard to another world…a buzz of colorful activity… where I watched all the stands being assembled by weavers from all over Peru, Bolivia and Latin America, saw all the marvelous textiles emerging from travel sacks and being arranged and labeled, touched the fiber, tools and implements which were used to create the colorful cloth and spoke with the creators themselves. Some of them seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the high level of interest in and admiration for activities that are quite normal and commonplace, almost passing without remark, in the communities, villages and towns where they live.
The question that I really wanted to ask everyone right there and then is “Are you going to weave today?” Is today the day when we will get to sit by you and see how you created all these exquisite textiles? And all the while the excitement is building as I see more and more gorgeous textiles and looms being extracted and arranged. I had already seen at least ten things that I wanted to explore further after having passed just once quickly by each of the twenty-two half-erected stands.
Wide warps, narrow warps and everything in between… A Tinkipaya weaver’s leaning vertical loom, holding fabric covered n complementary-warp pick-up patterns, rests on the ground. A weaver from Pitumarca speedily edges her finished woven lliclla with a tubular woven band using three sets of string heddles and a shed loop.
And then there was that tantalizing backstrap loom with its twenty-four heddle sticks…Señora Araceli, are you going to weave today?
Just before lunchtime one day when we were indoors listening to speakers, I got the uneasy feeling that I really needed to be somewhere. I got up and tip-toed out at the start of the morning’s final presentation by Manos del Uruguay to find Araceli seated and preparing her warp for an afternoon session of weaving.
Well, you know that I am fascinated by the entire process and so I was happy to be able to sit alone with her and watch her make her heddles. I was tickled to see that she makes her heddles with the extra security hitch just as I have chosen to do. I have seen and learned so many ways to make string heddles for backstrap and other kinds of weaving and this method is by far my current favorite. I always say “current” as who knows what cool new method I will find tomorrow.
Here is a short video clip of Araceli making her heddles. She certainly has a smooth and elegant way of doing so. I know some people don’t like making heddles and dread that part of the process…I like it!
And what about the woven cloth produced by these looms and the pieces produced by talented hands using knotting, braiding and crochet?
Cloth from different corners of Peru. The variety!
Of course, each piece has its story and it was those stories that we were told in the weavers’ own words in the seminar sessions that were held in the mornings and afternoons. The stories were very inspiring and educational, often with very personal touches which brought life and meaning to the fabric that simply could not be transmitted from the market stall or loom alone. All told of hope, perseverance, strengthening of ethnic identity and a revival of pride in oneself and culture and were often very moving.
The faja sara ( the one created with the twenty-four string heddles) has its own fascinating story. It is part of an unbroken weaving tradition that dates back at least 500 years to Incan times. The belt is described in the chronicles of Mercedarian Friar Martín de Murúa in 1590 A.D. and the knowledge of how to create one has been passed on ancestrally over all these years.
Lynn Meisch has written an article about her research on these belts here. We were told by the weavers that the name “sara’ comes from the verb ”sarear”, although I have never come across this verb before, which means to choose, or in a weaving context, to pick-up.
Interesting to me from a structural point of view is the rolled edge of the belts which is surprisingly easy to create. I am guessing that it serves the same purpose as the woven bands I have seen added to other textiles in that it strengthens the edge. When I was in Holland, Marijke van Epen and I followed Mirja Wark’s explanation of the rolled edge used by the Wayuu people of the Guajira Peninsula in Colombia and Venezuela and the way the weavers of the sara belts create theirs is equally as interesting and practical.
Here is Araceli in action with a band of spectators. When doubt was expressed by the onlookers about the quality of the cloth since Araceli does not use a ruki, the llama bone tool, to beat in her weft, Araceli immediately invited them all to feel the belt. They were all surprised and impressed by the firmness of the weave. It is a very dense piece of weaving.
The poncho shown above is from Catamarca Argentina and represents the recovery of the exquisitely fine work done with handspun vicuña fiber on floor looms which has the made the poncho Catamarqueño famous for centuries.
Two people weave the pieces side by side and have to coordinate the strength of their beat perfectly to maintain a consistent weave. With the fine vicuña thread a piece that measures 2 meters by 1.30 meters weighs only 320 grams and takes up to eight months to complete.
Fine vicuña shawls are also woven and embroidered using designs copied from old colonial textiles.
We had a chance one afternoon to handle and clean pieces of vicuna fiber and everyone was invited to try their hand at spinning it on the 25cm spindles.
…. a bulsico , or cotton double-pocket saddle bag from San Ignacio de Loyola with beautiful patterns in simple warp floats worked in two colors. The weavers from Tarabuco and Potolo in Bolivia of course brought large fine examples of their textiles. I decided to show you here some very small and practical pieces that they also brought to sell. The tiny USB pouch is from Tarabuco and the cell phone pouch with its woven khuru figures is from Potolo.
The supplementary-warp patterned pieces in lovely pastel colors are from Ayacucho, Peru and the last shot is of an impromptu sling-braiding demonstration from one of the Peruvian presenters in the coffee break.
More lessons along the way…
Diana from Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala showed me how to wrap her hair and head with a woven hair sash. You can see that most of the band is plain red with just the last part, which will be seen on the outside, decorated with pattern. Albina’s husband showed me how married men wear the typical chullo of his home…with the flaps standing out sideways. A single man will wear his with the flaps pointing out front and back.
So, now you have seen a selection of the stands, looms and textiles and heard a few backgroud tidbits about some of the weavings and the people who produce them. You are probably dying now to see the weavers in action, right?
ARE YOU GOING TO WEAVE TODAY?
Sorry, but I am saving that segment for the next blog post as uploading the video will be so much easier for me when I am in the US.
In the meantime I am packed and ready to leave tomorrow and I did manage to finish the discontinuous warp piece that I started in the workshop on the last day of the Encuentro. Handling alpaca fiber is not a nice business in this heat with sweaty hands, I can tell you!
Here is my ticlla piece off the loom and all curled up…
The overspun alpaca yarn made the grey and black panels curl in and the other two panels curl under. You can see my finish line on the white panel. I ended up removing one weft as I had packed too many in. I really need to remove two as now I have two wefts in the same shed. The finish line isn’t as noticeable on the other panels. I am really pleased with this!
I wove and sewed on a tubular band to the edges….… in the same way as the Pitumarca weaver that I showed earlier in this post, using three sets of string heddles and a shed loop. See how nicely the piece lies flat now? I hemmed the sides before applying the tubular band because I didn’t like the way the warp stripe at the edge was interfering with the color of the tubular band.
Here’s a better look at the tubular band and that lovely dovetail join of colors…
Done! I am keen to try this all again!
See you next time from the US :-)