In the weaving villages of the Peruvian Andes, almost no one describes herself as a spinner. Yet most women, and many men, spin in every spare moment for their entire lives. The paradox comes from the fact that the end result of spinning (or dyeing, for that matter), is weaving. So everyone is a weaver. And spinning is what they do to get ready to weave, just as warping their loom is part of that preparation.
Weaving on a backstrap loom is hard work, though. Lifting the closely-set warp threads takes a lot of strength. Beating the weft in place is aptly named – and beating is hard physical work. Picking up the intricate patterns that are the magic and beauty of Andean textiles requires good eyesight, too – and it’s truly rare to see anyone wearing glasses, even though bright sun, dim interiors, and years of close work take a serious toll. Glasses are a luxury that hasn’t come their way.
So the old women, the ones without the strength or eyesight to weave, spend their days spinning. Their hand skills are so highly developed, so embedded in their cultural consciousness, that they can hardly NOT spin.
We traveled to the weaving villages that are part of the CTTC network to take portraits of the elders, and in every case their hands were busy with their pushkas, their spindles. Ask them to stop for a minute just for the camera, and they really can’t. It would be like asking them to hold their breath for five minutes. Just not natural, and not really possible.
We’ve asked the elders of the CTTC villages to spin yarn especially for their gringa sisters. The yarn they spin for themselves and their families is fine and tightly spun to withstand the rigors of the warp-faced weaving. What they’ve spun for us is a bit heavier, about fingering weight, and softly spun in 100% alpaca. We call it Q’aytu (kie-two), the Quechua word for thread. It’s lovely for crochet, knitting or weaving. It has the charming slight irregularity of handmade yarn, but of very skillful hands with decades, a lifetime, of practice. There are at least 24 distinct shades of white, brown, and gray alpaca in the Andes.