It’s like reading braille except it’s knitted versus punched. Called grutas meaning lumps, this distinctive handknitting technique produces a textural stitch like none other. The hats, designed and knit by the women and men of the Accha Alta community in the Peruvian Highlands high above the Sacred Valley, are a unique style for which these artisans are known.
If you’ve ever knitted the popcorn stitch, you know the tedium of increasing and decreasing into the same stitch to build up the dimensional surface. Imagine how many popcorns you would have to knit to make one of the hats. A baby hat has almost a thousand of them. But wait, here’s the secret–the grutas are not knitted, nor are they made at the time of knitting the hat. They are made anytime, anywhere, with pieces of yarn until a whole pile of them are made, all in different colors.
The process is one you may have learned when young—it’s a form of finger crochet or looping, These skilled artisans are able to make grutas which are very consistent in size and evenly spaced. (If you want to learn how to make them, let me know and I’ll do a how-to lesson in a future blog.)
When knitting, the strings of grutas are carried along like intarsia (a method used to knit isolated areas of color), the knitter inserting one between stitches according to the pattern. This creates a very tidy interior, no long pieces of yarn floating inside, and an intricate textural pattern on the outside.
These hats are generally worn by babies and small children but we have found that adults like them too so we’ve added them in various sizes and patterns to the ClothRoads shop as part of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. It’s just about time to fend off the chill with winter approaching and these make a colorful crown for your head.
If you want to learn more about Andean Knitting, invest in this video. Every time I watch it, I learn more about knitting culture, history and techniques from Nilda Callañaupa.