As an avid traveler, I’m always deeply appreciative when I encounter a culture’s unique architecture, design, and textiles, and I was completely blown away by the colors and textures of the textiles of Peru during my recent visit.
I simply couldn’t get enough of the patterns and vivid hues I saw as I strolled the shops and market stalls. As I walked around I’d find so often my mouth was just open with wonder, loving at how beautiful it all was.
The history of textiles in Peru stretches back thousands of years. In ancient times, textiles were a predominate art form, and over the centuries weavers developed original styles, designs and techniques.
I had the opportunity to stroll the streets and markets of Cusco to observe how contemporary weavers continue in modern times to recreate the designs of their ancestors. These textiles depict both realistic and abstract design, their pictures and patterns tell stories with bold medleys of color, present on the immense variety of clothing, home goods, and artwork.
Bright colors are an important part of Andean aesthetics and the Peruvian people so proud of their bright textiles, they wear them as their daily clothing.
The villages surrounding Cusco are the epicenter of Peru’s textile industry, with alpaca, llama, and goods in high demand. The herds of alpaca, llama, and vicuña are cared for by indigenous shepherds and breeders. Once a year, they shear the animals, harvesting five pounds of wool from each female and eight pounds from males, equating to thousands of tons of wool. The dense fleece of the alpaca makes soft and plentiful fibers that are extremely durable with a high thermal quality.
Acrylic yarn was invented in the early 20th century and is made from synthetic materials. In recent decades, weavers in the Andes stopped using natural fibers in favor of acrylic because pre-spun acrylic yarn was cheap, easy to use, and offered brighter colors. Neon is has become popular in some communities, so natural dyes have been pushed aside for chemical dyes, but the traditional more muted colors are present in natural fibers. Alpaca and synthetic blends are less expensive, pure baby alpaca will cost more.
In Chinchero, a small village outside of Cusco, we visited an area of textile production where the women demonstrated the natural dyeing process of yarn, and where the backstrap loom is still used with wood and bone to weave elaborate patterns. (You can read a lot more detail about the process of weaving Peruvian textiles here.)
I felt so fortunate to have seen and touched these textiles and learned about the hand-woven traditions. I didn’t have much room in my suitcase, but I did bring home a pillow cover and a small clutch purse that I purchased at a market in Cusco, but I secretly wished for a second suitcase to bring home so much more.
If you’re interested in adding an authentic Peruvian textile or two to your home, find some at these sources. :)