By Stacy, a Volunteer with the Women’s Cooperatives 

Stacy recounts her recent trip to Chawaytiri with the Awamaki Spinning Cooperative and Alexander Wankel, Awamaki’s Community Education Coordinator. This trip, as well as other capacity-building workshops organized by Awamaki for our cooperatives, has been funded by VGIF (Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund), and international fund that provides small grants for grassroots projects that empower women and girls in developing countriesAwamaki’s spinners took a field trip to Chawaytiri to exchange knowledge about natural dye and weaving techniques. Read about Stacy’s experience below!

I had the most amazing experience this weekend.  I rode along with Awamaki’s spinning cooperative from Huilloc on a knowledge exchange trip.  We visited a village high in the Andes called Chawaytiri to learn about their processes for natural dyeing and to see their loom.  

It was quite a distance away and most of the women had a small child with them. But the children were mostly quiet and well-behaved.  I was in the back of the van with all the women who were speaking Quechua while Alexander, Awamaki’s Community Education Coordinator, rode in front beside the driver. So I just sat and listened and absorbed the scenery.  In Pisaq, we passed an enormous set of Incan terraces that are still intact.  I marveled at how the Incans were able to build something so massive.  I continue to be amazed at their intelligence and ingenuity.

Just outside of Pisaq, we started climbing so I thought we were almost there.  Boy, was I wrong.  We still had quite a ways to go, up a narrow, curvy mountain road.  We went through one small village that had cobbled the road and other places full of deep ruts.  When we had to pass other vehicles, we were often in the outside lane and I was glad to be in the middle where I could not see down the mountain.  Our driver was fantastic.  Apparently he drives the mountain roads all the time and he is very adroit at maneuvering his van.  After a couple of hours traveling (closer to three for the women from Huilloc), we arrived at Chawaytiri.  We were all glad to get out of the van and stretch our legs.

The presentation started with a round of formal introductions.  The hosts introduced themselves first.  It was all very proper and obviously followed some kind of hierarchy.  Each person gave a mini-speech but as it was all in Quechua, I did not understand much.  The president spoke Spanish and translated much of it but I had a hard time following his unfamiliar accent.   Once they had all introduced themselves, it was our turn.  The two of us from Awamaki spoke in Spanish and the president translated for his group.

I was fascinated to observe the difference in the traditional costumes between the two groups.  The base colors of the women from Huilloc are orange and red and they wear a hat that looks like a bowl perched on their head.  In Chawaytiri, the base colors seemed to be black and white and their hats were like upside-down bowls with fringe that almost covered their eyes.

We then moved on to the first demonstration.  The women of Chawaytiri showed us how they used their back-strap looms to weave.  Awamaki’s spinners were amazed to see the men weaving…apparently that does not happen in Huilloc.  The also were fascinated by the looms themselves which were similar to their own but with some improved accouterments.  Their weavings were quite fine with beautiful detail.

We then moved on to the first demonstration. The women of Chawaytiri showed us how they used their back-strap looms to weave.  Awamaki’s spinners were amazed to see the men weaving…apparently that does not happen in Huilloc.  The also were fascinated by the looms themselves which were similar to their own but with some improved accouterments.  Their weavings were quite fine with beautiful detail.

They then showed us some of their wares.  The colors were so vibrant!   There were bright blues and purples, colors that Awamaki’s spinning cooperative does not use.  They acknowledged that many of the brighter colors were synthetic dyes but they used them because the tourists want those bright colors.  Unfortunately, they felt the need to sacrifice some of their tradition to the necessity of making a living.  We were also shown a cloth with traditional designs of Chawaytiri – the eye of the alpaca, lakes and flowers.  It was all in black and white and was apparently a piece historically given to a married couple.

We then moved on to the natural dye presentation.  We were given a demonstration about the use of two native plants to dye fibers.  They had created an outdoor stove using cement blocks and a wood fire.  First, one woman showed us how they clean the alpaca wool.  She soaked it in water then laid it on a flat rock and beat it with a narrow paddle.  She repeated this process quite a few times.  Then they boiled some fresh green leaves and added the wool to make it green.  Later they added a dark liquid (it looked almost black) to fix the dye and make it washable.  In the other pot, they put dried flowers which made a vivid yellow-gold color.

After this, the women of the community treated us to an explanation of their spinning methods.  I was fascinated by the way they wind the wool around their wrists and run it through their fingers to feed the drop spindle.  They made it look absolutely effortless but I have been told this is not the case.  The drop spindle is very difficult to learn but of course these women have probably been doing it since childhood.  One interesting thing I learned is that they spin one thread to the left and one to the right and then combine them.  This makes the woven fabric lay flat….fascinating!

The big event of the day for our women was when we went next door to the president’s house to see their loom.  The community has three looms for weaving fabrics of different sizes.  We were given a demonstration on the largest of the looms.  It is a very complex process to weave a design.  One of the Huilloc women was brave enough to try it though.  She spent quite a while learning it.  Apparently she has some previous weaving knowledge so I’m sure that helped.

The president brought out a beautifully woven poncho and had Alexander put it on along with a traditional gorra (hat).  What an amazing ensemble.  It was all quite brightly colored and cheerful.  At one point during the day, I saw one of those hats in the process of being knit.  It had about fifteen mini-skeins of wool attached to it.  The president explained that they use wool of different weights to delineate the designs.

They last event of the day was a special lunch they prepared for us in their soon to be open restaurant. They explained that six local communities came together to build the restaurant with the intent of serving traditional foods to tourists passing through. The proceeds will benefit all six communities. It is a beautiful facility and quite an undertaking.”