Initial Community Organization and Development: 1970s – 1990s
The story of the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco began with a handful of women who started to gather in each other’s homes to spin and weave in the 1970s. These Quechua weavers from the community of Chinchero realized that Cusqueñan textile traditions were beginning to disappear. People preferred the convenience of cheap chemical dyes to expensive natural dyes. The more complicated patterns and techniques were at risk of extinction as younger generations failed to learn from older relatives. Racism against indigenous people also meant that women and men were ashamed or afraid to use their traditional clothing.
Worried that their sacred textile tradition was in danger of disappearing forever, the weavers decided that the fate of their traditions was in their own hands. They came together to try and recover old designs, relearn ancient techniques, and sell their textiles to tourists as a way to support themselves independently from male relatives.
At this time, an ethnobotanist and anthropologist from the United States moved to Chinchero with their small children. The weavers taught them how important weaving was to every aspect of daily, spiritual and community life. They also met a young weaver and spinner, Nilda Callanaupa, who became their weaving teacher. Along with the weavers they founded a community cultural center in Chinchero. Working together throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Nilda, the weavers and their supporters also formed a young weaver’s group to recover traditional designs and techniques from Chinchero that were being lost.
Another time, I was weaving a horse pattern technique called pebble weave. I learned it by analyzing a piece from one of the distant regions. I had woven only a little bit, and a tourist bought it, loom and all. I could see that there was value in creating the more intricate, traditional styles rather than the usual simple pieces made of bright synthetic yarn most people were weaving for the tourist trade.Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, Chinchero weaver, CTTC founder and director
The Birth of a Non-Profit: 1996
An endeavor as large as reviving traditions and cultural pride is not easily undertaken, and the community cultural center in Chinchero floundered. Undeterred, the weavers, led by Nilda Callañaupa, revised their goals, and with many international supporters, founded the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC) in 1996 as a non-profit association. After much work, the CTTC became an official non-profit organization, an NGO, registered in Peru in 1998. The goal of the new NGO, which was based in the city of Cusco, was to work with various communities from the Cusco region to revive textile traditions and empower weavers, especially women.
To begin with, the CTTC partnered with a small number of communities, including Chinchero, Chahuaytire and Pitumarca. In each community the first goal was to work with community elders to recover the designs, techniques, and knowledge they knew and help them teach it to other weavers. The second goal was to build a weaving center in each community where women and men could come to meet and work, free from the distractions of home life and sheltered from the rain. As the skill of the weavers improved and they created traditional textiles in increasing numbers, it became a priority to market them.
Through the support of international donors and foundations, the CTTC was able to build weaving centers in partner communities, hold workshops with the weavers, and open a store, office and museum in Cusco, Peru.
The CTTC Today
The CTTC now works with ten weaving communities from the Cusco region: Accha Alta, Acopia, Chahuaytire, Chinchero, Mahuaypampa, Huacatinco, Patabamba, Pitumarca, Santa Cruz de Sallac, and Santo Tomas. Huacatinco, from the Ocongate region, was the latest community to partner with the CTTC in 2012. Each one maintains unique ancestral styles, techniques and designs that the weavers are working hard to maintain. As of today the CTTC and the weavers have rediscovered the process of natural dyes and recovered hundreds of designs and techniques that were almost forgotten.
The CTTC also runs an Education Department whose mission is to “provide an interactive space for weavers and the public through programs, investigations, and publications that promote and revalue ancestral textiles.” The Center has published four books, regularly attends national and international art festivals and speaking events, participates in national and international museum exhibits, and organizes educational events for the weavers, their families, and the public. The largest event the CTTC holds is Tinkuy: A Gathering of Weavers, an international conference in the city of Cusco that brings together textile artists and enthusiasts from across the globe.
As it was in the beginning, the Center’s most important work is with the Young Weavers Groups. Each Saturday children and young people gather in their community weaving center to learn from their elders. It is through educating younger generations that the CTTC hopes to ensure a future for textile traditions in the Cusco region.
The Future of the CTTC
Since 1996, the Center has watched a transformation play out in the communities and in the city of Cusco. Where before indigenous people were ashamed of their identity and traditions, they are now proud of their textiles, proud of their community, and most importantly, proud of themselves.
The hope of the CTTC is that this momentum not stop at the borders of Peru, but that the world should come to know and respect these weavers as artists and their textile traditions as world patrimony. Through continued investigations, educational programs, and work with the weavers, the CTTC hopes that one day this dream will become a reality.
I have learned that each and every piece of cloth embodies the spirit, skill, and personal history of an individual weaver. Weaving is a living art, an expression of culture, geography, and history. It ties together with an endless thread the emotional life of my people.Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, Chinchero weaver, CTTC founder and director