Drive an hour or so south from Cusco, then head left up a steep dirt road with countless switchbacks, and eventually you come to the village of Pitumarca. The weaving center here, Centro de Tejedores Munay Ticlla de Pitumarca, is lively and productive. Young girls sit together learning traditional patterns by weaving narrow bands in traditional patterns; young men knit elaborate caps called ch’ullos, rich with beads and tassels.
Women weave remarkably patterned mantas, or llicllas, on ground looms using an ancient clasped-warp technique
other women pick up traditional motifs such as roses, sun, moon, and rabbits on their more conventional backstrap looms. And everywhere grandmas are spinning companionably.
Except for the women’s cotton blouses and some of the girls’ school uniforms, virtually all the textiles you can see are handspun, naturally dyed or natural wool colors, and handwoven.
There’s a distinct look to the weaving of Pitumarca, yet every woven piece is different. Each one reflects the imagination, mood, and life experiences of its weavers, from the color choices and stripe sequences to motif selection – never two exactly alike. We knew this when we asked these weavers to make some spindle bags especially for ClothRoads, but that didn’t dampen our astonishment when we opened the box they sent. The soft, dusky colors, both from plant dyes and natural fibers, are typical of Pitumarca. The prominent use of their own traditional motifs, also typical. But even with these common characteristics, here were dozens, scores of bags, all looking like sisters or cousins, but no two alike. They are a triumphant blending of individuality and a strong cultural tradition.
Now, Andean women don’t use spindle bags, even though they all spin. They carry their fibers, spun yarns, and pushkas (spindles) 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. They might have a small bag (ch’uspa) for carrying coins or coca leaves or amulets, but it wouldn’t be large enough to hold all their ever-present spinning supplies.
But they were happy to apply their skills to creating larger bags, wayaqas, for North American spinners. Of course, you don’t have to carry spinning stuff in these. Their dimensions and sturdy handwoven shoulder strap make them just right for a knitting project or even a Kindle or iPad.