SO, I think I’m slightly obsessed with Peruvian textiles…
Everywhere you go in Peru, you see textiles on sale. The markets are brimming with the vibrant warm hues of traditional blankets, ponchos, and the famous chullo hats, which I’ve happily adopted as my cold-weather hiking hat. I love walking around the markets, absorbing the colour, evesdropping on the chatter, getting lost in the chaos.
With the growing popularity of their handiwork, artisans and textile businesses have extended their production beyond the traditional garments to appeal to the tastes of international tourists, and now table cloths, place mats, belts, bags and shoes are all available with the iconic patterns of the Andes. Even smaller trinkets and souveniers like fridge magnets and pens (another personal fav) are decked out in traditional patterns.
From generation to generation
Peru is actually the country with the longest tradition of textile production, going back over 10,000 years. Over the centuries it has developed into a highly technical and skilled craft, with weaving traditions passed down from generation to generation.
The Incas inherited the tradition of weaving from the civilisations before them, dying alpaca fiber and weaving it into meaningful patterns and shapes, representing the area and family the weaver was from, and to demonstrate the wealth of the nobility. They also used their textiles to honor Pacamama, Mother Earth. Rather than abstract patterns, the shapes convey many layers of meaning and many designs feature mountains, rivers, the sun and the stars. With no written language, textiles were intrinsic to their society as the mechanism for recording information – everything from taxes, accounts and stories were communicated through cloth.
“I have learned that each and every piece of cloth embodies the spirit, skill, and personal history of an individual weaver… It ties together with an endless thread the emotional life of my people.”
– Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez, Peruvian author of ‘Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands: Dreaming Patterns, Weaving Memories’
Fast-forward to 2016, and besides filling the backpacks of tourists, Peruvian textiles are hitting the runways, and adorning the pages of high fashion magazines world-wide. Before I left London, H&M, TopShop and others on the high street were all full of what they call ‘tribal patterns’ – some from Africa, but many using Andean patterns. So for me, it’s great to be in Peru and see the authentic textiles that are inspiring designers and trends worldwide. And I can’t get enough of them. My collection now includes blankets, make-up bags, scarfs, a coin purse and a case for sunglasses.
And I’m rather pleased with my latest purchase. After walking into the Apple Shop in Lima and being horrified by the prices of covers for MacBooks, I headed to the market and found this beauty. Made of leather and cloth it’s a perfect fit, and saved me about US$60.
If you’re interested in reading more about the history of Peruvian textiles, including pre-Inca civilisations and the impact of Spanish colonialism, read my (much longer) blog for Aracari Travel.