Weaving the Threads – A Look at Peru’s Textile Industry

In The Forest Online, Peru-based research is considered especially honorable. In the classroom, Dani and Jimmy, who investigate aspects of Peruvian culture, are members of an elite squad known as the Community Group. These are their thoughts (on weaving).

Dani: I love to knit, so I did some research on weaving in Peru, such as how it’s done and what materials they use.

Jimmy: And I researched Peruvian economics to see where textiles falls into the economy. I found out that Peru’s main exports are gold and mercury. At first I imagined that these exports brought wealth to the people, but I was incorrect. In reality, gold and mercury exports are not only diminishing the economy of the country, but they are also harming its environment.

Peru's exports by sectors. Image by The Cotton Forum.
Peru’s exports by sectors (2010/2011). Image by The Cotton Forum.

Many Peruvian weavers had switched to synthetic dyes and even fibers at some point, but in the later part of the twentieth century there was resurgence of interest in the traditional practice of weaving and in natural processes that have been used for centuries, having been developed by the Incas.

Peru’s textile industry is starting to gain some ground in the economy of the nation. In 2012, Textile exports represented five percent of Peru’s total exports. The revenue from this five percent is roughly 45 million US dollars (almost 149 million Peruvian Nuevo soles) per year.

Peruvian GPD. Image by The Cotton Forum.
Peruvian GPD from 2000-2011. Image by The Cotton Forum.

The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC) founded by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez in 1996 has been part of the renewal of natural dyes. It helps supports nine villages through their weaving communities. The Center itself includes a store, a museum, and even a dorm for weavers studying and working there.

Companies such as Thimble sourcing have gained an interest in the textile industry of Peru. In the company’s website, Thimble sourcing states that “The textile industry in Peru has its legacy in ancient pre-Columbian cultures,” and it continues to say that “Ancient Peruvians, pre-Incan cultures like Paracas and Chancay, and even the Incas, knew how to cultivate cotton and take advantage of Andean camelidae fibers, developing extraordinary textile dyeing and weaving techniques that amazed the world.”

Wool dyed with natural dyes. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Wool dyed with natural dyes. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Alpaca and wool fibers are used in the weaving and knitting of hats, blankets, bags, purses, and other accessories and clothes. Plants and other natural materials from the mountainsides and forests are used for the different colors: copper sulfate added to certain flowers makes green; a vine they call shapy makes pink; an insect called cochineal makes purple.

The company’s approach is one that not only aims to improve the economy of the country but also to preserve the customs of the native culture.

Yarn is boiled in water with the natural ingredients, all of which must be picked off the yarn by hand when the dying is done. Village women devote entire days to dying the yarn. An article in the Turkey Red Journal, which is devoted to natural dyes, discusses more specifics of natural dying and the experience of dying with some village women in the Chinchero valley.

Animal patterns. Image from CTTC.
Animal patterns. Image from CTTC.

Peruvian weaving and knitting is highlighted by bright colors, geometric patterns, and natural inspiration, such as flowers, animals, and water.

Many countries are now beginning to invest in the textile industry of Peru for many reasons. To begin with, Peru’s exports have increased at an annual rate of 10% between 2001 and 2011. Countries like the United States can also take advantage of the fact that Peru is a nearby market only hours to the south. There are way more many reasons why countries should invest in Peru, and you can find more information here

Designs are often arranged in stripes and repeated along the length of a piece. I think it’s amazing that the weavers know their patterns by heart and pass the knowledge from generation to generation. I am always looking at my knitting patterns during a project, and they’re a lot simpler than a lot of the traditional designs CTTC shows on their website.

One of the reasons I chose to research the economy is because I wanted to understand how it’s changing and if they’re becoming more sustainable for the environment and the people. While in Peru, I plan to keep this in mind when interacting with the Lucerna community.

I find creativity to be a key aspect of culture, which is one of the reasons I focused my academics on the written word. However, since I do not know any Spanish, the next creative thing I am interested in is knitting and similar crafts, like weaving and crochet. While in Lucerna, I hope to learn from the people how these crafts and other creative pursuits affect their lives and relate to their identity. 


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