The other week Awamaki’s spinning cooperative in Huilloc hosted the fourth day of an ongoing capacity building workshop. This series of workshops is being generously  funded by VGIF (Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund), and international fund that  provides small grants for grassroots projects that empower women and girls in developing countries. As a part of the program, the women of Huilloc are participating in several projects aimed at enhancing their skills in the traditional method of spinning as well as introducing some modern techniques to their craft.

This capacity building program began with the first of five knowledge exchange field trips. Earlier in September, the Huilloc artisans traveled to the Munay Alpaquita weaving and spinning cooperative in Pitumarca. Here, the two cooperatives met in a full day of discussions and presentations. AFor one, the Munay Alpaquita women herded their alpacas into the cooperative’s weaving center to give a demonstration of a baby alpaca’s first shearing. The key skill illustrated in this exhibit was how to keep the vellon (imagine an alpaca shaped rug) fully intact to ensure a higher quality fiber. Next, the Munay Alpaquita women separated the sections of the vellon and discussed the products best suited for each section. For example, the lomo, or shoulder region, yields a high quality fiber, best suited for high-end knitwear.

After a traditional watia lunch, the day concluded with an opportunity for the Huilloc artisans to inquire about any element of the process in an informative Q&A session. Soon, the Huilloc spinners will travel to Chawaytiri in Pisaq, where the women will focus on pushka techniques, natural dying, and fiber cleaning. Another knowledge exchange trip will take the spinners to GIES Canchis in Sicuani, where they will be introduced to modern fiber processing and spinning techniques using manual and electrical machines.

This week, two trainers from Coordinador Rural Puno traveled to Huilloc for the first four days of the 11 day skill-building practicum. This session began with a fiber selection demonstration, followed by practice of spinning 12 different títulos, or widths of yarn. The trainers brought two electric spinning machines, with which each spinner had a chance to practice. The women also learned about fiber cleaning and color classification.

The traditional method of hand spinning is a dexterous process of winding raw alpaca wool around a pushka, or a drop spindle. With the raw fiber in one hand, the women guage the thickness of the new yarn by pulling out. Next, the pushka is set into a whirling motion, rolling the spindle out of their hands. The wool twists into a thin string as it drops, wrapping the yarn around the upper part of the spindle. This process is repeated as another bunch of fiber is drawn out and the spindle is set awhirl again.

With the assistance of the electric spinners, the women will not only be able to increase their output and therefore their potential income, but they will have greater flexibility in terms of producing varying weights of yarn. Before the workshop, the Huilloc spinners primarily produced only 4 títulos of yarn for Awamaki. These degrees signify the yards per gram of raw wool: titulo 1 produces just one meter per gram, or a chunky yarn, while titulo 22 produces 22 meters for the same one gram of raw wool, generating a finely twisted thread.  By the end of the program, each spinner will practice making up to título 30, or 30 meters of yarn for just one gram of alpaca fiber.

By the end of the afternoon, the women completed “titulo” cards, displaying 12 grades of yarn thickness. These will be essential in the promotion of their work. The cards will also enhance the flow of production between Awamaki cooperatives: Awamaki Lab designers can order particular weights of yarn to then be used in the weaving or knitting cooperatives. Above all, this skill building represents an expansion of production opportunity and fine tuning of the women’s artisanal ability. Also at this workshop, the women discussed and voted to add their own contributions to the fund so that they cooperative could purchase 10 machines total, one for each spinner. This cost-share initiative was a true testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Huilloc spinners!

In this video, catch a glimpse of our recent workshop, where the women continue their practice of generating varying degrees of yarn weights. From the raw lana to a finished “titulo” card, you will not only see a busy production line, but also the great pride with which the Huilloc spinners bring to their burgeoning skills and craft!