Cusco now



"Watay" Weavers Association of Santa Cruz de Sallac

Lacalization: Province of Quispicanchi

Altitude: 11,715 f.a.m.s.l.

Santa Cruz de Sallac is located 39 km (24 miles) to the south of Cusco in the mountains above Urcos, a market town where highways meet and products from the Amazon jungle and the Andes highlands mingle in colorful abundance. With spectacular views of the valley below, the weavers here can watch the headlights of cars at night, work their way up the switchbacks of the road that goes up and over the mountains and down to Puerto Maldonado and the jungle on the other side.

Until the agrarian reform of the 1970s, much of Santa Cruz de Sallac was part of the oppressive hacienda system that forced local Quechua people into serfdom. Rather than being free owners of their time and land, the Spaniards, renowned for their violent abuse of local peoples, owed their property, time, and labor. Since the 1970s, the people of Santa Cruz de Sallac have recovered their lands and have

reconstructed their lives. For the weavers of this community, it has meant the freedom to weave for themselves as creatively and finely as they choose for they no longer owe what they weave to the owner of the hacienda.  

The Watay Weaving Association from Santa Cruz de Sallac maintains an impressive sense of community, the weavers are incredibly well organized and united. They focus on helping each other, even when it comes to lunch. Rather than taking turns at cooking or eating at home, each Saturday when they meet to work, they hold a potluck where everyone contributes a dish to be shared equally between all those present.

The CTTC partner with this association in 2004, they are approximately 45 adult weavers and 20 children and adolescents. Before joining the NGO, the weavers of Santa Cruz de Sallac only wove large, coarse textiles. Today, after years of working to recover old techniques and designs, the weavers once again use natural dyes and fibers, although many still prefer to wear clothing made with the fluorescent colors of aniline dyes. Neon green is the most popular color, both men and women wear shirts of a vibrant green under their traditional vests or jackets.

About Sallac Textiles

Of the many textile traditions that the weavers of Santa Cruz de Sallac recovered, they are most known for the varied techniques they use. While most of the other communities rely on either the doble cara (complementary warp) or ley (supplementary warp) weaving techniques, weavers from Santa Cruz de Sallac for the most part do not use woven techniques to create their designs. Instead, where they wish to create patterns in their textiles, they weave sections of light pink or white plain weave between the stripes of color. After they finish weaving their textile, they return to the white or light pink sections with needles and threads of many colors to embroider highly elaborate geometric designs representing the flora and fauna of their community. While embroidery is the principal design technique used by the weavers of Santa Cruz de Sallac, they also use ley (supplementary warp faced weave) to create patterns.

Besides their embroidery, Sallac is renowned for their revival and use of ikat, which in Quechua is called watay, or ‘to tie.’ In this technique, weavers tie knots in their warp and then dye it. The dye cannot penetrate the knots, so these sections of the warp remain un-dyed. After dyeing, washing, and drying the warp, the weavers will untie the knots in the warp, revealing the sections of the warp that remained undyed. They then mount the warp on the loom and weave the textile as plain weave, that is, they do not have to actively use a special weaving technique to form the design because the dyed and undyed sections of the warp naturally form the pattern as they weave it. Typically, the weavers of Santa Cruz de Sallac use the watay technique to create the chakana pattern, a design of a cross that was deeply significant for the Inka and remains to this day an extremely important motif both in textiles as well as in the lives of the people of the Andes.

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