Home PageDyeingOn the Cloth Road in Peru: Working with the Artisans

Sep 24

On the Cloth Road in Peru: Working with the Artisans

I left the U.S. with big goals and lots of energy towards reaching them. I came to Cusco, Peru, to gain one-on-one experience working directly with artisans and NGO’s. What I didn’t anticipate was how much opportunity and learning was to come.

Here I am with my new friend.

Here I am with my new friend.


Design Collaboration

One of my goals is to design new color palettes for products that are on trend, and then collaborate with the artisans on final textile designs.  I envisioned laying out basic designs, meeting with each village, and working with the artisans directly.  Together we would collaborate to design new woven textiles. I came to Cusco with design palettes ready for the different weaving communities, thinking that I accounted for each village’s unique weaving patterns.

Accha Alta weaves extraordinary textiles in natural alpaca colors.

Accha Alta weaves extraordinary textiles in natural alpaca colors.

Once here, I compared my designs against their weaving and quickly realized that each village’s strengths in dyeing and use of color is much different, and that I would need to adapt.  After showing more design changes to Nilda, she reiterated that the artisans are not used to working with a designer, and that,  while she supported my goals, with Tinkuy–the international weaving gathering this November–she simply couldn’t attend all the artisan meetings. And my three-month time period didn’t allow room for all of my original plans.


Design Collaboration

Chahuaytire shows off their dyeing skills with gradient colors.

Chahuaytire shows off their dyeing skills with gradient colors.

I started meeting with the weaving groups the second week I was here, and was not altogether prepared for the challenges.  My communication with the weavers has to be very visual because my Spanish is limited, the weavers don’t speak Spanish–they speak Quechua–and my interpreter speaks Spanish but no Quechua. Spanish is our closest common language. My first meeting was with a male weaver representing the Chahuaytire village. We sat together and mostly smiled as I pointed at my prepared print designs and then at their weavings. I tried to explain that my designs were simply an inspiration, that I was using trend forecast colors,  and how their colors and designs could work with my designs. I was  leaving room for collaboration but I know it was lost in translation. When we finished meeting, my heart would not stop pounding. I realized every detail that had been lacking, such as length measurements of the weavings, as well as the full magnitude of my requests of the weavers.


More Challenges (and Opportunities) Present Themselves

Pitumarca's scaffold techniques are unlike any village skills.

Pitumarca’s scaffold techniques are unlike any village skills.

These are luxury textiles. Each day, in my mind I go through the process it takes to create them–raising the sheep and alpaca, sheering wool, spinning then dyeing, plying, planning, warping and weaving each cloth, nothing wasted. Days of work and resources all based on my direction. Sure I had done the trend research, outlined my project goals, and designed palettes. But to take responsibility of the actual ordering? I felt overwhelmed. But in order for these projects to move forward I have to take responsibility.  Time to re-calibrate.

Lucky for me Marilyn and Linda from ClothRoads reply to my  questions  for review of color palettes for target markets, weaving designs, and size specifications. With the development of the weaving and knitting technical packs almost complete, I’m feeling a little more sense of relief.  A few of the weaving orders from the  Chahuaytire and Sallac communities have come back already, and they are lovely.

Sallac geometrics are both unique and on trend.

Sallac geometrics are both unique and on trend.

I’ve welcomed all the feedback and input, knowing, as best I can, that I’m making realistic decisions. I continue to press on knowing that the path of artisan design and development–to keep artisan sustainability foremost is the mission.  I have been here almost a month and, so far, I’ve stretched far outside of my comfort zone. What learning. What opportunity.


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