Chinchero is a typical village of the Sacred Valley, at 3760 meters of altitude.

Inca civilisation thinks it is the rainbow place of birth, as it is possible to see quiet often, really incredible rainbows crossing the potatoes fields during the rainy season.

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Chinchero is internationally famous for its talented weavers who perpetue the Inca tradition thanks to the backstrap loom weaving technique. Thousands of tourists who go to see the Machu Picchu, make a stop at the village to see the fascinating Sunday market and their weavers wearing the typical red and black clothing.
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They use natural dyes from alpaca, llama or sheep wool thanks to plants, seeds, insects or minerals around them.

The women learn to weave from generation to generation and the weaving is an integral part of their daily life, also being a considerable source of income for their families.

“I have learned that each and every piece of cloth embodies the spirit, skill, and personal history of an individual weaver. Weaving is a living art, an expression of culture, geography, and history. It ties together with an endless thread the emotional life of my people” – Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, Chinchero weaver, CTTC founder and director.

I recommend you to visit the Textile Muscum of Cusco created by Nidla to learn more about the ancestral weaving technique and traditional clothing. You can aslo participate to weaving classes: http://www.textilescusco.org

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I had the chance to live one week with Fortunata and her family. She taught me every step of the tailoring of a tradtional cloth: from the cleaning of the wool to the spinning, natural dyes and backstrap loom weaving technique. You will also find some videos to understand better how does that work.
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1st & 2nd step: How to Clean & Spin the wool

The weavers breed their own sheep in the mountains of their villages and once a year they are shaved, providing the raw material.

Fortuna will scrub for a long time a plant, a natural detergent, which will give a foaming liquid to clean the dirty wool.

They also use this plant as a shampoo ! Then, she will filtre the bits to obtain a thin foam that she will use to clean the wool. Longer the wool will soak into the foam, whiter it will be.  For each piece of wool, she will have to use another clean foam and repeat all the steps !

So you can imagine how long it takes to clean the wool needed for an entire cloth !

Then, the wool is ready to be spinned with a spindle called pushka. Often, the weavers do it walking or doing other activities… By the way, one day, Fortunata told me “we have no time to loose!”.

The weaver can finally dye the wool ! And once the dyeing done, she had to spin the wool again on a bigger spindle to make a double thread. That way, it will be unbrokable and of a better quality.

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3rd Step: How to make Natural Dyes

Fortunata heated water with wood fire into a saucepan, put into it some pinches of a powder, and then, the white thread into the boiling water. After a few minutes, the white thread turned into an orangey colour. She put it again into the boiling water and few seconds after a bright red thread appeared.

So how can they make such an amazing colour palette?

Let me explain you everything about the secrets behind each natural colours.

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How to get a natural red colour?

Well, thanks to cochineals! They are little insects the weavers reaped from a cactus. They can get 24 different tones of red: from purple to orangey colours or rose and dark purple… Cochineals produce a burgundy pigment in their tissues. After being dried to the sun about two weeks, weavers grind them to get a dark burgundy powder that they will put into the boiling water to obtain the red color. More time she let the thread soak, deeper the colour will be.

By the way, the women also use the blood of the cochineals to make a red lipstick !

 

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Please also be aware that to produce 1 pound of powder, they need 70,000 insects…!

Also red colour is one of the most used colour. Nowadays, it costs a lot to do it…, 8 times more expensive than a commercial red dye.

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To get a brigter red, orange tones or bright purple, the weavers can add lemon, a stone called Lumbre or Maras salt coming from a village just next to Chinchero. To fix the colour, they used a mineral found in the jungle called collpa.

She will get the green colour with the chilca leaves. And if she wants to lighten it, she will use the powder below, a soil coming from the mines of Colpa.

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You get yellow color thanks to colle leaves.
Purple thanks to the maïs morado.
Brick red colours thanks to the barbas de la roca.
And brown colour thanks to the Nogal leaves.

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How to get a blue colour?

Blue colour is really hard to get because the dyeing process can be really long by using the indigo stone ground as the time to fix the color can last one month. So they also use the flower of Ancash as it is easier to dye but it is a rare flower that can be found only in a particular time of the year.

Do you know that to fix the blue color they use urine…?

So except for the redn blue and green colour, that need specific minerals to fix the color, Fortunata lighten the other colours only according to the time the thread will soak into the boiling water and the quantity put into the saucepan.

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5th and 6th step : The Backstrap Loom Weaving, an ancestral technique.

To weave, Fortuna use a board where the thread are judiciously tied according the pattern she wants to create. She fastens it to a tree for exemple and put the other tip around her waist.

You will aso find several sticks made from eucalyptus wood. They are placed so that they separate the threads et get the weaving reversible.

They also use a llama bones to separate the threads easier to help getting down the sticks and so get the weaving.

Every pattern is handmade and means something, showing the identity of the weaver’s village, telling her personal story or the story her Inca ancestors..

 

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I would like to thank Fortunata and her family for this amazing experience and if you also want to share their daily life and live an authentic adventure with them, let me know and I will be pleased to put you in contact with them!

If you want to know more you also can read the article I wrote about my week with them : http://cottonandtravel.com/fr/dormir-chez-lhabitant-chinchero-perou/

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