Weavers in the Andean highlands enjoy the meditative comfort of their long practiced skill in quiet moments free of home and farm chores, children, and other distractions. Their rustic looms (leaning frame) are propped up outside against a wall for light and to accommodate the 12 foot length. If the space isn’t sheltered with an eave or a roof as in a 3-sided shed, then the weaver doesn’t weave during the rainy season. The looms are quickly and simply made by trimming and notching 2 saplings and cutting them to equal lengths of around 12 feet. There are few photos in the PAZA archives and most were staged because of the rare opportunities of finding a weaver at her loom. PAZA’s first visit to Doña Narciza´s home on the far east side of Huancarani wasn´t until Spinzilla Spinning Week 2014 provided a reason and it was possible because a crude road had been bulldozed to that area. She had 2 chuspa straps of llama fiber on her loom. You can see in her expression her joy in weaving, a passion established early in life.
When one gets a glimpse of a weaving in progress, it’s most often a phullu (blanket). They are the easiest and quickest to weave, as the yarn is thick and there are no motifs. The handspun wool is dyed with cheap aniline dye and runs when washed. For generations, a rural woman’s reputation was established while a girl based on her spinning and weaving skills. There are no secrets in the small rural communities, so any woman known to not weave at the least phullus for her family was branded a sluggard.
Weaving the finer weavings on the rustic loom requires upper body strength to beat down the weft with a “wichuna” which is a carved llama bone tool. Doña Maxima has struggled with health issues since prior to the birth of
her 4th child who turned 20 this month. In 2010, PAZA took photos of her at her loom weaving what was to be her last weaving for 3 years. Her recovery from minor surgery was slow and at times she was uncertain as to whether she´d ever weave again. Good fortune smiled on her and by 2013 she felt strong enough to weave and to travel. In November of that year she was invited by the Center of Traditional Textiles to do a weaving demonstration at the 2013 Tinkuy International Weaving Conference in Cusco, Peru.
In 2011, a Bolivian nonprofit organization encouraged PAZA to pursue “Hecho a Mano” (Made By Hand) certification for the traditional weavings. The government certification process required an inspection, and it took 3 months before an inspector could make the long bus trip requiring an overnight to Independencia. PAZA was working with 3 rural communities at that time and Chuñavi Chico being the closest was chosen for the inspection site. It was a wonderful photo opportunity because the weavers had been asked to be at their looms for the walk through. The inspector, being city-born, was duly impressed with the intensive hands on process from sheep to weaving. Unfortunately, an inspection for recertification to ensure no mechanization had been added to the process was required every 6 months. The agency had neither the funding nor the manpower for a second visit to certify an eons old traditional “Hecho a Mano” craft.
With each passing year, there are fewer rural weavers further reducing the chances of getting a photo of a weaving in progress. In 2006, Dorinda purchased 2 used and faded phullus for $22 each to use as rugs on the cold cement floors from her landlady Doña Filaberta. She no longer wove, and the poles of her loom laid in a storage shed until her husband repurposed them to serve as a railing on the way to the outdoor water closet.
Thank you to those of you who have inquired as to how the weavers are doing and what can be done to support them. During the weekly video chats with Doña Maxima she reels off a list of names of weavers who have asked if PAZA has sent a weaving order. Many adult children returned to the family farms prior to the national lockdown. Marleny, a member of the Club de Artisans, told Doña Maxima that her parents are accommodating her siblings and 22 grandchildren on the family farm in Sanipaya. Although the bartering system is still in common use, some staples and seed for next year’s crops will require a cash transaction. After 2 months in quarantine and the return of unemployed adult children and their families to the farms, there is little cash remaining in rural households.
PAZA would like to be able to send a weaving order by July, but must sell inventory already in the U.S. to be able to fund an order. Like so many supporters of artisans in communities in need around the world, PAZA was heavily relying on craft fair sales this year, specifically the Weave a Real Peace (WARP) Marketplace which was scheduled for May in Bozeman. Dorinda was the 2020 WARP Meeting Planning Chair and continues with the planning for next year.
The finished products are zippered pouches ($17, or $18 with wrist strap) and yoga mat straps ($22 for 1/8” sticky mat or $23 for ¼” thick exercise mat). The weavings for DIY projects are straps (78×1.5”, $21), fajas (used in Laverne Waddington’s classes and are 70” x 5”, $41), and larger weavings used for the zippered pouches (63” x 9.5”, $73). The total cost of the weavings is returned to Bolivia. Ninety percent of the cost was paid to the weavers, and they set pricing annually. Ten percent helps pay the rent for PAZA´s workshop/store and Doña Maxima´s wage on Sundays to open the store and attend to the rural weavers. Please send purchase inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you Lolita for your recent PAZA support and thank you Ginny – enjoy the weavings! Dorinda Dutcher, May 21, 2020