Teaching in Peru

 

Peru ClassPre-Columbian Andean weavers were as masterful as any the world has ever known, working on simple backstrap looms, but in a wealth of sophisticated techniques. One of these techniques, doubleweave pick-up, developed in the Andes about 3000 years ago, and while still being done in other parts of the world, died out in Peru after the arrival of the Spanish in the fifteenth century.

Nilda Callanaupa, who is the founder and director of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC) has devoted her life to re-introducing traditional textile techniques, materials and designs. I met Nilda at various weaving conferences and at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, which I volunteer for and which Nilda has attended every year since its inception. In 2010 I had the great pleasure of attending the first Tinkuy (gathering of weavers) conference in Urubamba, Peru, and going on a tour to the various villages in her cooperative afterwards.

While Nilda was attending the Folk Art Market in Santa Fe in 2012 she told me that she was planning the next Tinkuy conference to be held in Cusco in 2013, and she asked me if I would come and teach doubleweave pick-up to members of her weaving communities at the conference. This was both an incredible honor and a daunting challenge, as all of my experience in weaving has been on European-style floor looms and I would have to teach on backstrap looms, without the benefit of speaking English.

I spent the better part of a year preparing for this experience by reading everything I could find on pre-Columbian doubleweave, and taking private lessons in backstrap weaving. I also listened to nothing but Spanish tapes in my car and studied both Spanish and Quechua weaving terminology from diagrams in Nilda's books.

I made a dozen backstrap looms with narrow cotton warps in natural off-white and brown, and shipped them to Cusco, where staff members of CTTC made another dozen looms using the ones I had sent as models. Nilda chose twenty master weavers from her communities to attend my workshop and be the ones to pass on the techniques they learned to other members of their communities.

Our workshop was held in a large open room that had two large pillars in its central space. Ten weavers tied up their looms to each of the two pillars and we started in. At first I found it challenging to communicate with my limited Spanish, but once I started demonstrating how to weave the two layers, they quickly grasped the concepts and began weaving separate layers, double-width cloth and tubes. I had woven a sample with these techniques and with a pick-up design of two llamas facing each other. On the second day of the workshop I showed the weavers how to read the graphed design and to count the threads to create the image. On the third day the weavers each wound a warp and set up their own backstrap loom for doubleweave.

Aside from my workshop, the conference itself was an amazing spectacle, beginning with a parade that went through the center of Cusco to the conference center. Members from each the CTTC communities marched and danced in their finest traditional dress with banners announcing which village they were from. Each evening we were treated to live music and traditional dances. Each day we attended keynote lectures and panel discussions and during the morning and afternoon breaks we could walk around the courtyard and see a variety of weaving techniques being demonstrated or buy beautiful textiles from the vendors.

At the end of the conference I traveled for ten days with six women from Oregon. We visited Nilda's hometown of Chinchero, where we wandered through their famous weekend market and took a workshop on natural dyeing at Nilda's weaving center. We visited two other villages that are part of the CTTC organization, Chayhuatire and Aacha Alta. We visited Incan archeological sites at Mora, Salinera, Pisac and Ollantaytambo. And of course, we took the train along the Urubamba river and ended up at Machu Picchu, where we hiked up the Inca trail to the Sun Gate.