Home PageBoliviaLearning Handspinning High in the Andes

Oct 26

Learning Handspinning High in the Andes

In a few weeks, I will be sitting with a group of Peruvian hand spinners at Tinkuy, A Gathering of the Textile Arts in Cusco, Peru, attempting once again to learn the traditional ways of Andean spinning. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve watched these women spin and did some spinning myself on the traditional pushka (handspindle), I am not a spinner at heart—I am a weaver. But in the Andean artisan world, by claiming myself to be a weaver there’s an automatic assumption that I know how to spin and dye. Which I do, but it’s not imbedded in my tactile memory. I didn’t grow up with a handspindle ever present, nor did I learn to use my spindle from the elders around me, or spin while walking in the fields, going to meetings, or taking care of children.

How We Learn
I’ve taken scores of fiber-related classes and workshops over the years and I no longer set high expectations for myself. I usually hope to learn just a few new things. My goal for the upcoming Andean spinning class–to learn the plying process and the hand-skeining process for doubling yarn before plying. If I can do this with just my two hands, without all the fancy equipment we use here in the States, I’ll be happy.

Then when I get home, I’ll teach myself how to chain skein a yarn directly from my handspindle in preparation for washing and dyeing. Again, no equipment required. This time, I’ll learn from the new book, Secrets of Spinning, Weaving, and Knitting in the Peruvian Highlands by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez and the Weavers of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. And I’ll continue to repeat these techniques over and over until my hands just do it, no thinking required.

Carrying My Handspindle Bag
Of course, I’ll be carrying my spinning supplies to Tinkuy in a bag that was handwoven by a weaver from the Pitumarca community and made exclusively for ClothRoads. She’ll probably be at the conference. I wonder if this bag will be a curiosity to the Andean women because they don’t use spindle bags. They carry their fibers, spun yarns, and pushkas in a cloth bundle, or tucked in with their baby on their back, or stuck in the waistband of their many skirts, or maybe in a vast pocket formed by tucking the outermost skirt up into their waistband. Will they view it as a convenience and start using one themselves, or view it as something they made for us Americans who use way too many bags?

And Lastly, Spinzilla
Handspinning is serious stuff. Spinzilla just announced the final results of the spinning challenge to see who can spin the most yarn in a week. For four years running now, ClothRoads has sponsored the Bolivian handspinning team, Warmis Phuskadoras. They placed 27th among 72 teams! And they spun on handspindles, not on spinning wheels, while they tended to their daily chores. Read more here.





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