Friday, March 4, 2011

Peruvian Textiles

Last year I took a trip to Peru.  The main attraction was, of course, Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas.  It was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.  It is hidden in the Andes at almost 8,000 feet above sea level.  My party and I had to chew on coca leaves to help us breathe while climbing the most treacherous mountain upon whose summit I have actually trod (Huayna Picchu).  The leaves really do work well, and the tea is delicious!  The climb was certainly worth it because at the top, one can look down and see the Incan city, or simply look around to see the surrounding peeks that stretch on forever.

Aside from the amazing Machu Picchu, my favorite part of the trip was discovering the Peruvian textiles.  The best market I visited was in Pisac.  There were hundreds of vendors selling a variety of Peruvian crafts.  But one must have an eye for quality when looking for textiles.  There are the textiles that most people probably associate with Peru; the brightly colored blankets in magenta and greens and reds.  Those are not made with natural dyes, however.  I was keeping an eye out for the natural ones that use plant and insect dyes.  The Pisac market had everything I was looking for.  I could hardly close my suitcase!

One of our taxi drivers showed us a hidden little community of weavers.  We got a demonstration on how freshly shorn alpaca wool becomes colored yarn.  The lovely weaver woman, dressed in her traditional clothing and hat, began by washing the wool.  She grated a large root, which looked like a white yam, into a bowl of water.  Apparently this root works as well as any detergent.  I am fairly sure it is called Sacha Paraquay, but I can't find it anywhere here!  The wool started out brown and became pure white with just a few minutes of scrubbing.  Brilliant!

She then showed us the natural dyes.  There were bowls of each plant with a ball of yarn on top to show what colors they produce.  There were all kinds of dried flowers and leaves.  These get crushed or ground to bring out the colors.  In a small covered area, there were large cast iron pots filled with boiling dyes.  Behind them was all the dyed yarn, hanging to dry.

Among the bowls of dried plants and leaves was a bowl full of dried grayish-black berries.  But the ball of yarn in the bowl was a rich red color.  I asked how they got bright red dye from gray berries.  The weaver took a few of the berries and crushed them in her hand.  The result looked just like blood.  Then I realized they weren't berries, they were little bugs!  I found that very inspiring.  Everything they need can be found in nature.

My next trip to Peru will involve the purchasing of as many textiles as I can send back to the States.  I have noticed that if you find them here, they are incredibly expensive (hundreds of dollars for one small blanket).  I could not believe how low the prices were in Peru.  It was like stealing.

My next stencil patterns might be based on South American designs.  Their designs are simple and complex at the same time.  And if anyone knows where I can find Sacha Paraquay, I'd love to know.  We can introduce an even greener detergent!

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