Run your hands across the surface of this Peruvian knit alpaca hat covered by a thousand small, colorful bobble or popcorn stitches. This textured stitch is one of the most distinctive and most asked about Andean knit techniques called q’urpu. Traditionally knit for babies and children by the women, men, and young weavers of the Accha Alta community in the Peruvian Highlands, today this knit technique is used in a range of items from hats to booties.
The Secrets of Q’urpu Knitting
If you’ve ever knitted a small bobble or popcorn stitch, you know the tedium of increasing and decreasing into the same stitch to build a dimensional surface. Imagine how many bobbles you would have to knit to make just one Andean chullo (hat). But wait, here’s a secret if you don’t want to knit bobble stitches–the q’urpu can be made as a string and treated as a pattern yarn, carrying it along the knitting as a second color and inserting it between stitches based on a design. Or the entire hat can be knit and the q’urpu can be pulled through the fabric with a crochet hook or hooked needle.
The process of making q’urpu is one you may have learned when young called finger crochet or looping. The Peruvian knitters learn at a young age and make q’urpu in very consistent sizing with even spacing.
The Bobble-Making Process
While at Tinkuy, a weaving gathering in Cusco, Peru, I noticed a woman chatting with friends while her hands worked in rapid motion. She wasn’t knitting or spinning so I looked closely and saw a colorful string of knotted yarn trailing from her hand forming a pile in her lap. She was making q’urpu, and each string was a solid color of very consistent size and evenly spaced bumps. It was shortly after seeing this, that I turned a hat inside out and started unraveling it.
When knitting, the strings of q’urpu 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.
Step 1: Tension the yarn by tucking or pinching the ball under your left arm and pulling on the end of the yarn. Next form a slipknot.
Steps 2 & 3: Make a chain of three to five slipknots in the yarn depending on the weight of the yarn–more for a light weight, less for a medium weight.
Step 4: After tying the last slipknot, form one more but bring the loop over the entire chain of slipknots and tighten it so the chain of slipknots folds up upon itself forming a q’urpu.
Thrums Books recently published 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. It was here I learned about a few ways to tension the yarn both while forming the stitches as well as during knitting.
Ronaldo Condori Layme knits the string of q’urpu in his chullo. He purls, working from the inside of the hat, feeding the q’urpu through the front side between stitches. He tensions the yarn around his neck, but keeps the string of q’urpu off to the side as he works.
Wear a Hat
These alpaca hats are generally worn by babies and small children but we have found that adults like them too. We carry both the traditional shape worn by children in the Accha Alta community and one slouch-shaped beret designed by Colorado designer Bonie Shupe which pays homage to the traditional one yet offers a modern interpretation. Both are loaded with colorful bumpy q’urpu. Shop ClothRoads for various sizes and patterns just in time for the winter chill.