We set off this morning to drive to the nearby town of Chinchero. Adriana had told us that this town specialised in weaving and having seen my reaction to the lady braiding the other day, she said she thought it’d be right up my street.
How right she was!
Marco dropped us off in the middle of the town and Adriana bought our tickets. The weaving workshops are run as a cooperative and are controlled from a central point. As we waited for the business to be completed, a chap was coming down the path. I won’t point out the central water channel again because you know all about that now, don’t you?
Quietly, Adriana explained that these people don’t shower every day, that their clothes are the same ones they wore yesterday, last week, maybe last month. But if we looked into his face, we’d see his story. Not only that, he’d be happy to have his photograph taken if we gave him 1 sol – about 20p – because that would buy his lunch.
He shook hands, asked where we were from and wished us happy days in Peru. His feet were muddy, his hands similarly dirty and he had a heavy pack on his back. But he was polite – charming, even, and he went on his way with a wave.
He was the first of several new friends we met this morning.
We turned up a side street and there in the courtyard of the first house sat a lady, weaving. Dressed traditionally, she hardly looked up from her work and seeing me peering inside, Adriana suggested we go further up the street where there would be more to see. We had only just begun!
In the next yard sat an old lady – 87, she claimed – weaving a narrow band in a similar way to the woman in the market yesterday. She told us – via Adriana – that she had poor eyesight, but that she still enjoyed weaving and could manage.
She managed the pattern by picking up the warp threads by hand, before threading the weft through with her fingers. This was slow work indeed. The pattern is the puma claw design, she told me.
Her daughter – aged 50 – was plying some baby alpaca yarn opposite and she chatted with Adriana as I took photographs. Delightful, friendly people.
We were getting braver now, poking our heads into any open door and hoping for something interesting. This one proved particularly worthwhile, don’t you think?
The goods laid out on tables all around the courtyard were colourful and enticing…
There was another corner, where we were invited to come, sit, watch.
But I’d spotted one of those back packs carried by the women here, which she’d just tied up with goods for the market. I tentatively went to pick it up.
I could hardly lift it. It weighed easily as much as my suitcase, possibly more – ie 25kg.
She picked it up easily and swung it over her shoulder and off she went.
Meanwhile, a group of cruise passengers came into the workshop and we suddenly felt a little outnumbered! With all of these people around, there was no way we could chat to the weavers, nor did we feel able to have a good look around. We decided to leave them all to it and move on to the next workshop.
We were glad we did, for just a few doors down, this lady was working on something rather complex. She was braiding the edging for a handwoven blanket, creating the pattern in her fingers and attaching it to the edge of the blanket as she went along. She’d completed about three quarters of the edge and reckoned she’d need another two or three days to complete it.
Her work was beautiful and the skill with which she did all of these processes together was remarkable.
We stepped inside the yard of her workshop and were invited to sit in the “VIP seats”!
That was near the guinea pigs!
Alfonso gave us a demonstration of how the alpaca wool was processed here. First, he grated some saqtana root into a bowl of hot water and washed the fleece in the soapy bubbles. This root has been used for centuries for scouring the fleeces before spinning.
As he demonstrated each step, the two ladies working to his left hand side commented, corrected or made fun – who knows? But there was a jolly atmosphere and for this short time, we were all part of the family!
He then explained the different natural dyes available to them. Firstly, purple could be obtained from the purple corn husks and depending on the time it was left steeping, a range of shades could be achieved.
He had some yellow yarn dyed with these flowers – I’m not sure what they were.
There were other baskets of a whole rainbow of colours but the most used dyestuff here is cochineal which comes in dried form. Here, Alfonso blended some in his hand and added a drop of lemon juice to half of it, to show that other colours could be obtained.
At this point, someone stepped forward and giggled as she explained, it also made natural lipstick – “good for 200 kisses”, she claimed!
Alfonso quickly got on with the dyeing sample!
The weaving going on around us was becoming too much of a distraction to keep watching him though, so we left him to clear up his pots and pans and went over to chat with the other ladies.
This woman was weaving a table runner or wall hanging, from alpaca yarn. Using only naturally dyed threads, she was creating the design without reference to any pattern or chart. After each couple of weaves, she’d use a sheep’s horn to beat down the weft, creating a tightly woven and very dense fabric.
Then, she pulled on the heddle and showed how she was weaving a reversible fabric. Beautiful.
The woman opposite was weaving one of those narrow braids as we’d seen being sewn onto the edge of a piece of weaving earlier.
She was proud of her hair and was glad to have my attention.
They were all wearing hats such as those we saw yesterday and they all confirmed that yes, they do keep their money in their hat!
Of course, we couldn’t resist buying a couple of bits after such a super show although we left this heavily beaded man’s cap on the stand.
We accepted their invitation to use their loo and stepped over a few household objects as we went.
What a great place to visit!
When we left the workshop, the lady who’d been sitting on the step, making and attaching the braid was buying her lunch from a woman selling cooked potatoes, boiled eggs and mayonnaise. She smiled as I asked if I may take her picture and said to Adriana that though she had only one hand, she was proud to be able to make a living just like everyone else. I hadn’t even noticed her hand but loved the idea of having a fresh lunch brought round each day, served in a plastic bag for just 1 sol 50.
I think I’d better stop at this point and create a second post once again, or else you’ll be sitting here all day waiting for all those photographs to download. I’ll be back with the gourd carver in the next post.