The Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC) is a non-profit organization that promotes the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. This enables the weavers to maintain their identity and textile traditions while improving their quality of life through education and promotion of their textile art.
To elevate the textile artisan as a recognized global artist, forging a just recognition by society and assuring the continuity of the ancestral practice.
Accha Alta is located approximately 2 hours northeast of the city of Cusco. At 12,930 feet (3,941 meters) above sea level, it is the highest community that the Center works with. Nested on a steep mountain slope close to the ruins of Ankasmarka, an ancient Incan granary. Here, the weavers look out over a stunning vista of the valley below from their weaving center. There are approximately 40 adult members of the Accha Alta weaving association and 30 children and adolescents.
Acopia is one of the seven districts of the province of Acomayo and is located 140 km (87 miles), or two hours south from the city of Cusco. At 3,715 meters above sea level, this community is known as the land of Valicha, the beautiful woman who inspired the famous huayno that bears her name and is now one of the most popular songs of Cusqueño folklore. Acopia is also known as the land of Four Lakes, being located on the shores of one of them.
Chahuaytire, one of the communities pertaining to the famed district of Pisac, is located 53 km (25 miles) from the city of Cusco, half an hour by road up into the mountains at an altitude of 3,850 meters (12,631 ft) above sea level. It is located on one of the Inca roads that connected Cusco to the jungles of the eastern lowlands. This ancient road continued to be heavily traveled the construction of the modern road that passes through Chahuaytire. Until recently, people still traveled the old road with packs of llamas carrying loads of potatoes and other products to the jungle to sell or trade, after which they would return to the highlands with coca leaves, fruits, coffee, natural dyes, and more.
Chinchero has been known as the birthplace of the rainbow, long before it became the birthplace of the CTTC. Located 28 km to the north of the city of Cusco on a high rolling plain, Chinchero over looks stunning views of the Urubamba cordillera. Here, rainbows frequently arch across potato fields after thunderstorms, life-supporting rain that farmers need for their crops. Chinchero is the capital town of a district that goes by the same name and is located on a major highway that connects the city of Cusco with the town of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. Thousands of tourists pass through Chinchero in route either to or from Machu Picchu, while many make the quick stop to visit the ruins of Tupaq Yupanqui and the colonial church located at the heart of Chinchero.
11,811 - 13,451 f.a.m.s.l.
The community of Huacatinco is located in the Ocongate province to the south of the Cusco region, a land that is rich in natural beauty, culture, and ritual, yet it is considered one of the poorest regions of Cusco due to the lack of sustainable food growth for its inhabitants. Many remote communities of the Ocongate province must be self-sufficient as government services, including health care and public education, are often too far away to be easily accessible. The people of Huacatinco`s survival depends primarily on their herds of alpaca and llama, as these animals provide them with both wool for warmth as well as meat for their families. Huacatinco is a very small community, and many family members live high up in the mountains, where they can more easily tend to their herds which graze on a tough grass called ichu in Quechua, a native language that is spoken throughout the Andes.
The community of Mahuaypampa, tucked into rolling hills of farmland, is located about 50 km (31 miles), or 1.15 hours by car, to the northwest of the city of Cusco in the Maras district. Just a short drive off of the highway that runs between Cusco and Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. Although Mahuaypampa is close-by to the famous archaeological site of Moray, an ancient Inka agricultural laboratory, very few people have a reason to visit this community. While many tourists visit the near-by town of Chinchero, both for its weaving as well as for the ruins of Tupaq Yupanqui, the community of Mahuaypampa remains virtually unknown to national as well as international visitors.
The community of Patabamba is tucked high up in the mountains overlooking the Sacred Valley and the town of Pisac. With stunning views of the valley floor and the mountains that shoot up sheer on the other side, Patabamba could be the perch of condors at 3,800 meters (12,467 ft) above sea level. The one-hour drive to Patabamba starts off on the highway to Pisaq, but then takes a left-hand turn at the small town of Ccorao where a rutted, dirt road begins its twisted ascent up into the mountains. At just 37.5 km (23 miles) from the city of Cusco, Patabamba is the second closest community that the CTTC partners with. Despite its proximity, Patabamba still feels quite remote.
Pitumarca is located at 3570 meters (11,712 ft) above sea level and 105 km (65 miles), or about a two-hour drive, south of the city of Cusco just a short way up a dirt road from the main highway Checacupe that continues on to Puno on Lake Titicaca. Pitumarca itself is a larger town and the capital of its district, it includes many outlying communities that are hidden far up in the mountains where the colder climate permits people to care for large herds of alpaca and llama. Some families may have up to 1,000 animals or more and depend on them for survival, as alpaca provide both meat as well as soft fiber for warm clothing. The district of Pitumarca is also well known for the Machu Pitumarca archaeological site, a ruin from the Wari culture. In more recent years, Pitumarca also gained fame for the new tourist attraction of Vinicunca or the Rainbow Mountain. This hillside dazzles visitors with its stripes of naturally occurring colors that are the result of a number of different minerals in the soil.
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.
Santo Tomas, the capital of the Chumbivilcas province in the Cusco region, is hidden high in the mountains at 3,678 meters (12,067 ft) above sea level. From the city of Cusco, it’s a seven-hour trip (200 km / 124 miles) over winding, bumpy roads that meander up into the Contisuyo, or the western region of what was once Tawantisuyu, as the Inka Empire was called in the native Quechua language of the Andes mountains.
Since pre-Columbian times, many types of fiber were available to the people of the Andes: llama, alpaca, guanaco, vicuña and cotton. Cotton, a plant fiber that originated on the warm coast of Peru, was traded in ancient times by the people of the coast with the people of the highlands; today it is used only in some parts of the coast and in the jungle. The most common fiber in the Andes is protein fiber that comes from animals rather than plants. The llama, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuña are all members of the camelid family and are native to the Andes. While the alpaca and llama have been domesticated, the guanaco and vicuña are wild and roam the altiplano freely to this day.
Today the people of the Cusco region use three types of fiber in their textiles: alpaca, llama, and sheep’s wool. Alpaca fiber is very soft and comes in a wide variety of colors from whites and creams to blacks, grays, browns, and tans. Alpaca is used for important textiles such as lliklla (shawl) or ponchos. LLama fiber is coarse and short. As they are larger and stronger than alpacas, llamas are generally used as pack animals and their fiber is used only for thick, rough textiles such as ropes and sacks. The third fiber readily available to the people of the Andes today is sheep’s wool. Sheep were introduced to South America by the Spanish in the 1500s. Their fiber is softer and finer than that of llamas, but coarser than alpaca. The advantage of sheep’s wool is that it takes dye better than alpaca, and weavers often prefer the brighter colors they can obtain in dye sheep wool. Many families own herds of alpacas, llamas, and sheep that may number from just three or four animals into the thousands.
Spinning in the Andes is the most fundamental activity in the creation of any textile. For thousands of years, people have been turning camelid fibers and sheep’s wool into thread using the simplest of tools: the pushka, or drop spindle. Spinning is a never-ending pursuit and pushkas are weavers everyday companions. For children in the Andes, the pasture is the original learning space. Children are put in charge of their families flocks of alpaca, llama, sheep, and other animals, and with time to spare and little else to do, they play and experiment with spinning. Often, they bump into elders who are spinning masters and produce the finest, most beautiful yarn imaginable. Children become captivated by all the different types of pushka and fiber these elders have tucked away in their carrying cloths. Today in villages closer to urban hubs and major roadways, fewer and fewer children go out to pasture animals and spin. Instead they focus more on modern schooling and activities. In remote communities where traditions are still preserved, children continue to pasture their family’s herds and learn spinning in the centuries-old way. Often, community members are judged for their spinning ability, and people always chatter about who is a good spinner and who is a waylaka (lazy good-for-nothing) who cannot produce quality yarn. Also, it is believed that spinning provides emotional support to older community members, it is a form of meditation, a way to forget personal problems. Handspun yarn expresses the emotional, cultural, and physical role that it plays in the life of a community. It represents an individual spinner, their family, and culture as each thread is wholly unique. Handspun yarn takes on such importance in the lives of spinners that they will save yarn from the different periods of their lives, bringing it out later to recall memories and past experiences. Physically, each handspun yarn is unique in texture, fineness, and strength, lending these qualities to the textile it will become. Finely crafted balls of yarn are the true wealth of a spinner. Skeins are made usually from a ball of two single yarns and it is needed to wash the yarn. Alpaca and llama yarn is usually washed in the skeins for the first time. Plying yarn is twisting and joining two threads of dyed or undyed yarn from the skeins and balls of yarns. The twist is in the opposite direction from spinning. For backstrap weaving, it is required a tighter twist and for knitting, usually, a looser twist.
The CTTC has worked to recover the ancient practice of natural dyeing through intensive research, participation in workshops, communication with natural dye experts from outside Peru, and above all extensive work with elders and in-depth experimentation since 1989. The Center has been able to revive a process that had disappeared from common knowledge. Recovering natural dyeing was not easy; what was learned from research and dyeing processes in other countries often could not be applied to Cusco. The high altitude and difference in water hardness meant we couldn’t reproduce the same results as at sea level, while local dye resources are distinct.
In the early 20th century, natural dye practices disappeared in the Cusco region due to the introduction of chemical dyes such as aniline. These dyes were not only easier to use and inexpensive, but they also produced much brighter colors than natural dyes. As many local weavers preferred bright colors in their textiles, they eagerly accepted aniline dyes. Unfortunately, this meant that, by mid-century, the practice of natural dyes had become a mere memory.
After years of experimentation and hard work, the CTTC now can achieve a wide pallet of bright and color-fast dyes. In the last decade, many weavers of the Cusco region are once again embracing natural dyes for a variety of reasons such as they are colorfast, healthier for the environment, and that the market has swung in the opposite direction from aniline dyes. Today, many buyers prefer naturally dyed textiles as they get delighted with their one of a kind colors, and, most importantly, are more conscious of their environmental impact and the importance of eco-friendly products. Despite yarn companies, in the last years, have incorporated similar colors to the natural color palette creating confusion within the market, naturally dyed textiles manage to bring to light their own power.
The majority of textiles in the Andes are warp-faced, warping is thus perhaps the most important part of the weaving process. It is at this moment that the weaver must decide the size of the textile, the color combinations, and the patterns that will be woven. Creating good tension in the warp will determine how smoothly and easily the weaver will be able to work. For these reasons, in the Andes warping is more than a thought-out process but, moreover, a ritual. It involves a spiritual moment of prayer in which the two warping partners will bury coca leaves in the holes where the warping stakes are put and drop some chicha (corn beer) to ask for luck and blessing in the new weaving project.
Throughout the process, two or three people always work together. Frequently, warping partners are found between family members, friends, and neighbors. Traditionally young people will enter a type of apprenticeship and work with an experienced warper to learn the details of the process. If no one in a weaver’s immediate social circle is available to help warp, help might be elicited from a neighbor through ayni, the tradition of reciprocal work (“one day for you, the other day for me”). Warping is very much a social activity involving not only the warping partners but onlookers. Many stories, knowledge, jokes, food, chicha, and coca leaves are shared among them during the process.
There are two methods of warping in the Andes: vertical or horizontal. Vertical warping produces a warp that is ready to mount on the loom and requires little loom set up other than the illawa (heddle). In some communities, weavers prefer horizontal warping, creating their warp between four stakes driven into the ground. In the past, weavers wound their warp on wooden stakes. Today, many prefer to use rebar, as the metal is stronger, resists being bent out of shape by the tension of the warp, and is easy to hammer into the ground. The quality of a textile in the Andes is determined by a number of factors. The textile should above all be tightly woven with the warp firmly packed together, this is why this particular stage of the weaving process is of great importance.
Most weaving in the Andes is done on backstrap looms, which come in different forms. In
many communities, the weaver wraps one end of the loom around her waist with a strap
while the other end of the loom is secured whether to a tree or post. The second form of
backstrap loom is when one of its ends is tied to two posts hammered into the ground while
the other end remains wrapped around the waist. In some communities, weavers use a third
type of loom where both ends are tied to four stakes hammered into the ground; this loom is
known as a four-stake loom.
As most fabrics are warp-faced, the process of weaving is based on patterns being woven by picking up warp threads by finger, pickup sticks, with ruki (beating bone), or picking up groups of threads with a heddle. Thus, Andean weaving, for all its sophistication, uses the simplest tools: a loom made of sticks, a belt for the backstrap, and a llama bone to beat the weft firmly in place. The process of weaving is a reflection of the weaver’s daily life.
All Andean weavers learn techniques and patterns on a step-by-step basis, beginning with the most basic and working up to the most complex. Before weavers learn how to weave a design, they must learn kh’ata (plain weave), working on a warp that has been made with alternate colors for pattern weaving. Once they feel comfortable weaving plain weave, they move on to weaving a design, like tanka ch’uru or any other narrow pattern of the region in narrow ribbons or ties called jakima, watana or wato, depending on the community.
Once the weaver masters these first steps by weaving simple patterns and understanding the structure of the technique, they progress easily to weaving larger textiles, such as belts with wider designs. Over time, a weaver will develop a broad vocabulary of motifs and techniques to create one-of-a-kind fabrics.