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Meet the female weavers of Peru
What is the inspiration behind Threads of Peru? What is the history behind the brand?
Threads of Peru was formed in 2009. The year before, Apus Peru Adventure Travel Specialists, a local travel agency in Cusco, worked with a group of design students from Halifax, Canada to create a website to promote the woven work of the women in the communities where Apus Peru operated trekking routes. This collaboration was called Project Peru. The project was so successful and so inspiring that two members of the design team and the co-owners of Apus Peru joined forces to found a non-profit organisation in Cusco called Threads of Peru. Since then, Threads of Peru has continuously evolved, improving the quality and design of the textiles produced, and helping the weavers hone their skills.
When we started out, our motivation was simply to help. We saw a beautiful weaving tradition that was being ignored, and we wanted to get the word out there. Our first website was packed with information about weaving, dyeing and Andean culture in general.
We work with artisan associations in seven communities in four different regions around Cusco. These are mostly remote highland communities, located between one and four hours away from Cusco. Although these are all Quechua-speaking, indigenous Andean communities, each region has a distinct cultural dress and is known for specific weaving techniques or traditions. In total, we work with about 100 individuals, mostly women.
Our textiles are handwoven on backstrap looms. Andean backstrap loom weaving is a long and labour-intensive process. Many steps are involved to create a single piece, from start to finish, from fibre preparation to yarn spinning, dyeing, warping and, finally, weaving. One item alone might need up to five weeks to be made.
After shearing fleece from a sheep or alpaca, and cleaning the fibre, it is spun into a fine yarn using a drop-spindle. Drop spindles are the oldest tool used for making yarn, and consist of a wooden stick with a weight (in this case, a wooden disk) at one end. Weavers clasp the stick in their hands and give it a spin, letting it hang freely as it spins. The energy and twist from the spinning motion of the spindle travels into the fibre, twisting the fibres together to form yarn. The weaver simultaneously draws the fibre out to control the thickness and evenness of the yarn. With each spin of the drop spindle you can form about 50cm of yarn. This spun length of yarn is then wound around the spindle in preparation for drawing out and spinning the next section.
Spinning is the most time-consuming aspect of the weaving process, and can comprise up to 60% of the time involved in producing a finished product. It is also a very fine art! It is difficult to master the drop spindle, for which reason most people start learning at a very young age.
After spinning, yarns need to be plied. This is a process that is also done with the drop spindle. Two spun yarns are essentially twisted together to form a slightly thicker, much stronger and more balanced yarn. Yarn needs to be strong enough to withstand the rigours of the backstrap loom, and so even prepared yarn passes through this step – called k’antiy – in order to be ready to weave.
In the Andes, there is a history of using locally available plants, minerals and insects to impart colour to animal fibre. This usually involves collecting the materials necessary, preparing them for use (for example, drying and grinding the leaves), and then adding them to boiling water in various quantities and combinations in order to produce a myriad of different shades.
Once a selection of yarn has been prepared, then it can be used to set up a weaving. The weaver must know ahead of time what she is going to make: what size and shape the final product will be, what colour combinations it will use, and most importantly, which designs she will weave into it. This will affect the number and order of yarns used in the warping process.
Depending on the length, warping can be a two-person job. Wooden stakes are hammered into the ground some distance apart, and the women toss balls of yarn back and forth, wrapping the yarn around the wooden bar at each end, until the all the yarns are in place. Once these warp yarns are all laid, the heddles must be attached and the shed created by tying additional yarns onto and around specific warp yarns.
Once that is finished, one end of the warp is then attached to the ends of a strap that goes around the weaver’s waist, and she can begin weaving! The textile is woven row by row: the weaver selects each individual warp yarn by hand, picking up certain yarns while dropping others, and then passes the weft yarn through the space (shed) created between these upper and lower layers of warp yarns. This secures the particular selection of warp yarns in place. The heddles are used to change the shed and the yarns tamped down with wooden or bone tools to ensure a tight and compact weaving .... and then the second row is begun, selecting each yarn necessary for the next line of the design.
Everything in our in-house collection passes through these steps, followed by a final wash for added softness. For made-up products, woven textile is taken to a local tailor in a nearby community to be sewn up into bags, change purses, pillows and more.
How do you empower artisans and what is your pledge to them? What is your pledge to the craft?
Threads of Peru’s mission has three pillars: to strengthen cultural traditions; empower indigenous artisans; and connect global cultures.
Threads of Peru seeks to alleviate poverty and revitalise cultural traditions in rural indigenous communities by providing sustainable markets for their incredibly fine textiles. Our commitment is to breathe life once again into the incomparable value and knowledge of natural fibres, natural dyes and backstrap weaving only found in this awe-inspiring corner of the world.
By marketing the work produced by weavers in these communities, Threads of Peru is providing an opportunity for women to earn supplementary income while continuing to live a traditional lifestyle and care for their children. We dream that this will inspire young Quechua men and women to take pride in their cultural heritage and pass it along for centuries to come.
We also aim to educate the global community about the value and unique beauty of Quechua weaving as well as how to be conscious consumers. Our website, blog and social media networks are collaboratively maintained by team members who have all been deeply inspired by the Threads of Peru mission and seek to share that passion with the world. The overall mission and model of Threads of Peru is concretised in reaching global citizens and communicating the importance of socially conscious investment.
We believe in providing a more sustainable future for the textile and clothing sector, linking fashion with awareness and responsibility. We work hand in hand with artisans to create beautiful, handcrafted, natural accessories and home textiles, each piece carefully woven one at a time according to centuries of tradition. Our products foster ecological and cultural integrity, as we focus on producing unique pieces from 100% natural materials.
What are some of your favorite items and how do you style them?
That's a difficult question, even though we have been working in this field for many years, we still marvel and love seeing all the textiles, especially when it was only an idea or a mock-up, then you get to see it as an actual item, it's just amazing!
Personally, one of my favorites is the Sonqo poncho because it's the best example of how rich Peruvian textiles are. The Chaska and Kallpa ponchos are just stunning, light yet really cozy and stylish. Either of these can be styled with jeans and sneakers for a more relaxed look, and we have tried to show this in our photoshoot. But also, they can be part of a more polished look, by wearing boots and solid color clothing. Luckily we have had help from fashion designers to get that right!