A little more than ten years ago, I was visiting the breathtakingly high, beautiful Andean village of Accha Alta. This very traditional small community was still farming potatoes the old way, tilling near-vertical land with handheld hoes. They were still weaving sacks (costales) of handspun llama wool on backstrap looms to take those potatoes to market on the backs of their llamas. They were still weaving dark wool twill fabric for the men’s trousers on a simplified sort of pedal loom, and sewing the trousers by hand. They were still spinning cordage on a stick.
The weavers of Accha Alta were so welcoming, offering us roasted potatoes of many kinds and a delicious quinoa soup for lunch. We admired their intricately patterned shawls (llicllas) and the adorable popcorn-stitch knitted caps of their babies. We were dazzled by the intense red dyes of their textiles, derived from cochineal bugs. Their world was hard and challenging, but they lived with careful intention and handcrafted beauty. I snapped a photo of a young mother and her baby girl just for the charm of it, but it ended up gracing the cover of Thrums Books’ first book, Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands.
Spinning the Generations
Fast-forward ten years. I’m back in Peru, at the Center for Traditional Textiles’ weaving center in Chinchero, to work on a new book, a book revealing the techniques that make Andean spinning, weaving, and knitting so remarkable. I’ve asked to meet with young people who have learned these techniques and who are carrying the traditions forward.
A small group has made the long trek over the mountains from Accha Alta to share what they know. One girl, about ten years old, immediately sits down and starts spinning. Is that her mother sitting beside her? Can this be? Yes—it’s Hilda and her mom, Andrea Chura, ten years later. Her mother has taught her well. At age ten, Hilda’s spinning and weaving skills rival those of many adults, and her pride and dedication are manifest.
You wonder what ten more years might bring. Hilda’s ambition is to be a professional tour guide, which will mean leaving the little kingdom of Accha Alta for a larger town first, and then the city. Maybe she will wear tight jeans and high heels, take selfies with a cell phone, go to the discos at night when she doesn’t have to study. Or maybe not. Maybe she’ll stay in the mountains, marry and have children, and teach them to weave. Whatever comes to pass, her deep training in the traditions of her family, her people, will be with her for life.
Enjoy this video of Hilda spinning with two other young spinners from Accha Alta, Lourdes and Presentacion. Learn more about the spinners and weavers from Accha Alta and other Peruvian Highlands communities in these Thrums Books available at Amazon, ClothRoads, and your favorite bookshop.