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Weaving has been one of the most important activities in the Andean world for thousands of years. Textiles have served many functions for the Andean People, and to understand the cultural process of the region is to appreciate that textiles were a fundamental part of the economy, as well as having social and political significance and daily utilitarian value. Weavings were the most highly prized of possessions and the most sought after trading commodity in the Andes during pre-Colombian times. It is therefore not surprising that, despite the decimation of the Indians' social and economic order during the Spanish Conquest, the cultural tradition of weaving has survived up to the present day.

In the Andean world textiles played an important role in political, social and religious ceremony. Gifts of specially woven cloth were used to strengthen social and political bonds, and at burial times the dead were buried with the most precious woven cloth. The exquisite weavings found in the graves of Paracas bear witness to the tremendous importance attached to textiles during burial ceremonies.

The Incas inherited three thousand years of weaving skill and tradition.

Virtually all the weaving techniques known to modern man were known to the ancient Peruvians. The weavers knew how to produce a great variety of fabrics from simple plain weaves to quite intricately varied ones, fabrics with supplementary decorative warp and weft yarns, double cloth, gauzes, open-work fabrics, tapestry, and plain cloth weaves decorated with printed and painted surfaces, or tie-dyed. .

Studies of Andean textiles have concentrated on these pre-Inca developments and much research has been done on the comparatively well-preserved textiles of the coastal cultures of Paracas (700 RC. - 1100 A.D.), Nazca (100 RC. - 900 A.D.), Wari (600 -1100 A.D.) and Chancay (100 RC. - 1200 A.D.)

PARACAS CULTURE. (709 B.C.- 100 A.D.)

The Paracas culture was an important Andean society between approximately 750 BCE and 100 CE, with an extensive knowledge of irrigation and water management. It developed in the Paracas Peninsula, located in what today is the Paracas District of the Pisco Province in the Ica Region. Most of our information about the lives of the Paracas people comes from excavations at the large seaside Paracas necropolis, first investigated by the Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello in the 1920s. The necropolis of Wari Kayan consisted of multitudes of large subterranean burial chambers, with an average capacity of about forty mummies. It is suggested that each large chamber might have been owned by a specific family or clan, using it for many generations. Each mummy was bound with cord to hold it in place, and then wrapped in many layers of intricate, ornate, and finely woven textiles. These textiles are now known as some of the finest ever produced by Pre-Columbian Andean societies, and are the primary works of art by which Paracas is known.

Ancient Peruavian Textiles
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.

NAZCA CULTURE. (100 BC. - 900 A.D.)

The Nasca are also known for their technically complex textiles. The textile were most likely made by women at habitation sites from spun cotton and wool (Silverman and Proulx, 2002). The textiles would have been made using a backstrap loom, this is very similar to the way these textiles are made in the region today (Silverman and Proulx, 2002). The motifs that appeared on the pottery appeared earlier in the textiles. The desert has preserved the textiles of both the Nazca and Paracas cultures and comprise most of what we know about early textiles in the region. Shawls, dresses, tunics, belts, and bags have been found through excavations at Cahuachi and elsewhere. Many textiles associated with the Nasca culture are garments that are included with grave goods found at burial sites. Almost every body found is wrapped (sometimes partially) in a textile as a part of burial ritual. These textiles are even found with partial burials. Often piles of bones will be found wrapped in a textile garment (DeLeonardis, 2000)The deposit of dresses and shawls contained high status garments (w/feathers, painting, embroidery) and plain garments suggesting different social roles or responsibilities. Furthermore, some light has been shed on the women of the Nasca culture as a result of an extensive analysis of textiles from Cahuachi done by Mary Frame. Frame noted that Nasca women, who are rarely recognized in the archaeological record, had access to high-status materials and the right to wear potent imagery on their garments (Frame, 2003). A large portion of dresses were found portraying birds with speckled bodies, double-headed serpentine figures, and anthropomorphic figures.

Ancient Peruavian Textiles
Nasca mantle from Paracas Necropolis, 0-100 AD. This is a "double fish" (probably sharks) design. Brooklyn Museum collections.


WARI CULURE. (600 -1100 A.D.)

This spectacular tunic is made of 120 separate small pieces of cloth. The pieces were probably woven in strips over a set of scaffold yarns. Each strip was tie-dyed in one of six different color combinations and two patterns: either three rows of small circles or of two larger circles. The scaffold yarns were then removed to separate the individual pieces of cloth, which were reorganized and reassembled into a tunic by sewing the pieces back together. The patterns on each individual piece form larger diamond patterns in the completed tunic, regularly broken by the red-and-yellow pieces patterned with two larger circles. Such pattern-breaking is a hallmark of Huari textile design.

Tie-dyed, pieced tunics like this have been found along the coast of Peru and into the mountainous highlands in the area conquered by the Huari Empire over 1,000 years ago. Ceramics of the period depict high status men wearing this style of tunic.

  • camelid (probably alpaca) hair
  • plain weave with discontinuous warp and weft yarns, tied resist-dyeing
Ancient Peruavian Textiles
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Wari Tunic, Peru, 750-950 AD


CHIMU CULTURE. (1000 - 1476 AD.)

Spinning is the elementary practice of attaching a small set of threads to achieve a long and continuous thread with the use of an instrument called a spindle. The zone is an instrument made of a small wand that usually gets thinner at both ends; that was used alongside a tortera or piruro. The spindle is inserted into the bottom to make a counterweight. It starts spinning, taking the rueca (where the fiber was set to be spun). Fibers that are laid down in the zone are quickly turned between the thumb and index fingers and twisted to interlock the fibers, creating a long thread. After the desired lengths of threads are attained, the threads are intersected and woven in various combinations to make fabrics. The Chimu embellished their fabrics with brocades, embroidery, fabrics doubles, and painted fabrics. Sometimes textiles were adorned with feathers and gold or silver plates. Colors were obtained from plants containing tannin, mole, or walnut; minerals such as clay, ferruginosa, or mordant aluminum; as well as animals such as cochineal. The garments are made of the wool of four animals: the Guanaco, Llama, Alpaca, Vicuña as well as cotton that grows naturally in seven different colors. The clothing consisted of the Chimu loincloth, sleeveless shirts with or without fringes, small ponchos, as well as tunics.

The majority of Chimú textiles were made from alpaca wool and because of the uniform spin direction, degree of the twist, and colors of the threads, all of the fibers were likely pre-spun and imported from a single location.

Ancient Peruavian Textiles
Chimu mantle, Late Intermediate Period, 1000 - 1476 AD. Design is alternating pelicans and tuna fish.



The Spanish observed and documented the Incas' traditional costumes which were of great significance as were cloth articles in everyday use. Coca leaves were carried in a specially woven manta called an Unkkuña or a small bag, an Accollin. Mantas or Chusi were woven with simple shaped patterns for carrying potatoes or other agricultural products and the stripes were varied according to the product and whether it was for consumption in the house, sale in the market or storing seed.

Costumes were important indicators of social status in the local community. The Inca and his close relatives wore special costumes, which the Spanish quickly prohibited in order to eradicate the political symbol of the Inca. The Indiana of both sexes wore tunic-like garments, and everyone wore Borne kind of distinguishing headgear. Later the Spanish passed laws to make Indian males adopt a style of clothing typical of the Spanish commoner, and in place of the 'Uncu' knee-Length 'pantalones' were introduced and short jackets called 'Caquetá’s'. The women also began to wear more European-style clothes, and the traditional 'Aksu' was replaced by a blouse 'blush' and 'pollera' skirt. Headdress was restyled, and today many Indiana still wear the 'montera' introduced by the Spanish. The shape and colors of the hats vary greatly according to locality. In Calca, in the sacred valley of the Incas, the Indiana still wear large, round, red hats, and the Indian of Ccachin and Choquecancha, which are neighboring communities, wear small round hats of mixed colors.

Each community traditionally has its own costumes, and despite the social upheavals caused by the Spanish invasion, these traditions have continued up to this day. The conquest inevitably affected the native weaving tradition, though to a lesser degree in the remote highlands than on the coast. The Indiana continued to use articles of native dress, and warp-faced weaving, the traditional technique used for common garments, survived in the highlands and inaccessible areas around Cusco. Inherited traditional colors and design have carried clown through past centuries so that today the uniformity of dress within a community provides its members with an identity and pride which in turn helps to maintain the cultural traditions in the face of strong external influence and rapid change.


Sadly, very few weavings from this period have survived, and of those most have deteriorated badly as a result of the climatic conditions of the mountainous regions. Research into the textiles of this period is limited, and the serious lack of textiles makes dating and identification extremely difficult. Occasionally one is lucky to find an old person, who has inherited a piece of c1oth from several generations back, 'but while this can be important it is not always reliable.

The Incas employed the weaving techniques developed by their predecessors, but worked in a much more decorative style, exploiting the expressive potential of color. By the time the conquistadors arrived, weaving had reached such heights of technical and artistic achievement that they were astounded at its splendor. Spanish colonization widely affected textile production in the Andean region as it did throughout the New World. Despite the erosion of traditional community structures, however, and the coercion of the indigenous population to work the mines and meet tribute obligations, weaving continued, and the treadle loom and new fibers brought from Europe were incorporated into textile production as were elements of European religious design.


The basic materials of the pre-Colombian weavers were brown and white cottons, and the glossy hair or 'wool' of the llama and domesticated alpaca. The very fine silky hair of the wild vicuna, another cameloid was highly prized and also used, though to a much lesser extent. Occasionally human hair or reed was employed, and the Incas began to weave with gold and silver thread. The Spaniards introduced sheep's wool, silk, flax and metallic thread, which were readily adopted.

Nowadays synthetics such as acrylic, orlon and rayon have become widely available. Their comparative cheapness and labor-saving benefits mean that the traditional fibers, for all their textural superiority, are being disregarded more and more. Unfortunately this process, which only began in recent decades, threatens to severely undermine, if not destroy, literally millenniums of cultural tradition as knowledge and skill in the preparation and use of natural fibers is lost as family and social organization adapts to meet today's economic requirements.


The ancient Peruvians twisted yarn by hand, without the aid of a spindle or spinning wheel. The introduction of the drop spindle helped speed up this lengthy process but it was still a slow activity. The pre-Colombian weavers nevertheless became highly skilled spinners and produced Borne of the finest spun cloth in the world (over 100 threads per square cm have been counted in one sample of antique cloth). They learned to vary the spinning process according to the function of the desired cloth, producing single thread yarn, or twisting or spinning together several fine threads to vary colors and quality.

The drop spindle is still widely used in rural areas today. The raw wool, after washing, goes through a number of stages. intially a small spindle draws out a single strand, and then a larger spindle is employed to combine two single strands to form a 2-ply yarn. A third spinning makes the yarn twist back on itself. In this way different colored yarns can be used to produce varying shades of colors. ..

The spinning wheel, like the treadle loom, was introduced by the Spanish, but its use was not adopted in all parts, the campesinos preferring the mobility permitted by their traditional equipment. Weaving then, as now, was not always a primary occupation of the Indian community, priority being given to agriculture. Spinning and weaving would be set aside during the months of preparation of the land, seeding and harvesting. When harvesting was over, the Indian woman would carry her spindle and collapsible back-strap loom to the grazing land to watch over her sheep and alpaca, and produce cloth for personal use. Those communities that relied more upon production of textiles than agriculture more readily adopted the wheel and treadle loom, often combining use of old and new tools.

Interestingly enough the Peruvians, when using the drop spindle do not always spin clockwise. Anti-clockwise spinning is sometimes used for yarn to finish the edges of their cloth as it is believed to bring good luck and remove evil spirits. This type of spinning is called lloqque.


From pre-Colombian times to the present day, the back-strap loom and the hori¬zontal loom have been the most widely used in Peru. The horizontal loom consists of two parallel pieces of wood pegged out by four stakes driven into the ground, chauro, with the warp threads stretched out between the two bars, Kakinas.

Back-strap looms are used for more delicate pieces of work (finely woven belts, headbands). This can be carried around by the weaver, one end being attached by a cord to a tree or post, while the other end is held by a strap passing around the lower back of the weaver who then controls the warp tension by moving forwards or backwards. The entire warp is thus exposed, and flexible, which limits the length of the cloth. The width is determined by the hand to hand passage of the bobbin carrying the weft and is normally Borne 60 to 80 cm. When a wider fabric is required two pieces are sewn together lengthways.

With the introduction of the European treadle loom in the 16th century the problem of length was overcome, and the greater maneuverability afforded to the body meant that width could also be increased. This loom is widely used in Peru, and particularly around Lake Titicaca where a plain wool cloth called bayeta is produced for shirts and skirts and traditional short legged trousers. In recent years the treadle loom has been used to produce a variety of other articles for trade. Ayacucho has become famous for its rugs and wall hangings, while villages around Huancayo in Central Peru weave very beautiful alpaca textiles.

Vertical looms such as those used in Asian countries also appear to have been used during pre-Colombian times, as large textiles of several meters' width have been found dating from this period There is evidence of this kind of loom today in villages around Cajamarca in northern-central Peru, and recently simple vertical looms have appeared in the town of Ayacucho, in the central Andean area.