Have you heard about Spinzilla and the Warmis Phuskadoras? The what? Let me tell you–this October, ClothRoads is sponsoring a group of twenty-five Bolivian hand spinners, named the Warmis Phuskadoras, in an international hand spinning competition, Spinzilla. (Warmis is Quechua for women, Phuska is Quechua for drop spindle, and the doras part is Spanish for women who spin.) In its second year, Spinzilla decided to expand its boundaries to include international spinners. Upon learning of this, the Warmis Phuskadoras team formed with women representing four rural communities in the municipality of Independencia, Bolivia, with members from Centro de Artesania in Huancarani being the largest.
What is Spinzilla?
Why it’s a monster of a hand spinning competition where competing teams and individuals challenge each other to see who can spin the most yarn in a week! The length of yarn spun between October 6 -12 will be measured to determine the winning team. The type of fiber or yarn spun, doesn’t matter. Awards and prizes will be given and any registered spinner who spins at least a mile is entered into a special drawing for random prizes. Spinzilla is a project of the The National NeedleArts Association’s Spinning and Weaving Group. Learn more here.
Four years ago, we met Doña Màxima Cortez, the Spinzilla Team Captain of Warmis Phuskadoras, at Tinkuy, the Peruvian weaving gathering. It was during the spinning competition there, that her usual timid persona changed into a competitive one. So when Dorinda Dutcher, founder of PAZA in Bolivia, contacted us and said Doña Màxima was interested in forming a Spinzilla team and asked if ClothRoads would sponsor it, we didn’t think twice. After all, these are women who spin every day of their life.
In Bolivia, weaving is an integrated activity in the subsistence farmer lifestyle of the rural Andean weavers. The women hand spin daily using a drop spindle while shepherding their sheep, thus providing the yarn for their weaving. Doña Màxima learned to spin as a young girl for this very reason. She would meet up with her girlfriends tending their flocks, and spin together. As adolescents, they’d continue to meet and talk about their weavings in progress. The aguayos (square carrying cloths) they wove at that time were their finest work.
Doña Màxima is now the trainer for the Club de Artesanas and PAZA coordinator. The Club began as the Club de Chicas in order to involve chicas in traditional and modern skill-building activities, to broaden their worldview, and encourage them to learn weaving in order to preserve the tradition. It expanded to include women but the main focus remains–to empower the weavers by helping them gain financial stability through the sale of their craft. And while the chicas are more interested in crocheting than spinning, Doña Màxima hopes Spinzilla will be an encouragement to them.
Dorinda Dutcher provided information about the forming of the team and how they are preparing. What follows are details she has passed along to us:
“Women who have never worked with PAZA have asked to join the team, including elders. I met Doña Nicoleza Correa last week. I buy spun yarn for the dye pots from her, via her daughter-in-law, but didn´t think I´d ever have the opportunity to meet her. She´s ancient and her home is a long walk from transport to Independencia. I hope to visit her during the competition week to get pictures of her pasturing her sheep and spinning. I have a feeling she´ll be a hand spinning phenomenon.
I´m so pleased with how they took over the initial discussions and began planning on how to make it happen. I doubt some of the grandmothers who will be involved and who have never traveled beyond Independencia will ever understand there is a “competition” for doing what they always do. The team participants will be submitting balls of yarn for measurement. They traditionally spin equal amounts of yarn on two pushkas then pair the spun strands by balancing a pushka between the big toe and the adjacent one on each foot, winding the paired strands off the phuskas into a ball.
Elections take place in Bolivia every five years, and October 12 is national Election Day. All registered voters from Huancarani must come to Independencia to vote, so we will probably take the majority of measurements that day.”
The benefits of participating in Spinzilla keep growing. Spinzilla is attracting spinners who have not participated in PAZA activities in the past, especially elders. The passing of the spinning and weaving tradition from mother to daughter ended with the advent of educating girls (post Agrarian Reform Act, 1953). The youngest weaver selling weavings through PAZA is 19-year-old Adviana who has a seventh grade education. She learned from her grandmother and Doña Máxima, but she does not hand spin. The Spinzilla contest offers the opportunity to raise awareness globally about not only the joy, but the respect and honor awarded hand spinners.
At a recent meeting, Doña Máxima reviewed the rules with the weavers including that they were to begin spinning with empty phuskas on Monday, October 6. The women were surprised to hear that there would be 1400 spinners participating in Spinzilla and that some of them would be men (men don´t hand spin in this part of Andean Bolivia). The opportunity to participate in Spinzilla is opening up a bigger world to them and they´re excited to begin. So watch out spinners of the world–the Warmis Phuskadoras are ready to compete. ClothRoads will keep you updated. If you want to support the Bolivian PAZA group of spinners and weavers, many of whom are competing in Spinzilla, we have some naturally dyed, hand-woven zipped pouches in the store. Hand spun, of course.
Thanks to PAZA founder Dorinda Dutcher for information and images for this blog and her dedication to working with the Quechua weavers. Dorinda writes a monthly blog about PAZA and is now including the Spinzilla contest. Read more at pazaboliviablog.com