Home PageKnittingSpinning Andean Stories of Handspun Yarn

Jan 08

Spinning Andean Stories of Handspun Yarn

Picture this. It’s my idyllic self—sitting in a comfy chair, fire roaring, basket of fleece with handspindle on the floor next to me. Now it’s snowing and the wind is howling outside. But never mind that. I’m sitting contentedly, knitting away with my handspun Peruvian alpaca yarn on a hat that I could use right now. And I’m watching the video Andean Spinning, listening to the voices of two of my favorite women, Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez and Linda Ligon, as they talk about spinning the Andean way, sharing tales of culture and textile heritage, and teaching me to spin. Could there be a better winter day?

Children learn to handspin by watching their Elders.

Children learn to handspin by watching their Elders.

I learned that if I grew up in the Peruvian Highland villages, I would have received a handspindle as a child, I would tend my sheep flock, and learn to use my spindle from the elders around me. Instead, I was given a music box that, when wound, played “Baa baa black sheep have you any wool”? It would be many years later when I became acquainted with a handspindle and fleece far removed from any flock of sheep.

Then I heard Nilda say that spinning for some women in the Andeans can be a bit of an addiction. They want to spin all the time–while walking in the fields, going to meetings, taking care of children, and chatting with friends. And because of this, they have many different spindles going as they may be spinning yarn for weaving (which is spun firmly and twisted tightly) or for knitting (which requires a softer spin and twist). Upon hearing this, I knew I could relate to these women. Many spindles. Different projects. Can’t stop spinning.

Chinchero young women chat while spinning away.

Chinchero young women chat while spinning away.

 

 

But what about one’s reputation? Is it a negative if you’re addicted to spinning? Nilda didn’t make it sound that way. It seemed that the more you spun, the more yarn you had, the more knitting or weaving you could do, the more clothes you and your family had. So now I knew my reputation wasn’t sullied by all this spinning, knitting, and weaving.

But then Nilda told the story about the Elders who no longer had the physical strength to weave or the eyesight to see the intricate patterns. But they had the tactile ability of spinning a consistent yarn. Glancing down at my knitting, I knew that one of the Elders had spun this fingering weight alpaca. It was at this point, that their lives and mine knit together as I wrapped one yarn over the other.

The Elders of the Pitumarca community still spin a consistent yarn.

The Elders of the Pitumarca community still spin a consistent yarn.

So what are you doing on these cold blustery winter days? Bring your spinning or knitting and sit down by the fire while listening to Andean Spinning or Andean Knitting available here. Or help the Elders by purchasing their softly spun alpaca yarn in creme or brown. You can become part of their tradition too.

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