Spinning Week

Spinning Week Tales

Doña Sebastiana, Mid-Week, Huancarani

The 7th Annual Semana de las Phuskadoras (Week of the Women Who Spin with Drop Spindles) began the first Monday in October The median age of the team Warmis Phuskadoras (Women Who Spin with Drop Spindles) is 57, and they all live in the rural community of Huancarani. Their spinning and weaving rivalries date back to pre-adolescence and have not mellowed with the years. Few have smart phones and the mountainous region makes for poor cell phone service so they can’t check in on each other virtually.

Gathering Mid-Week, East Side of Huancarani

In 2014, the first year of Spinning Week the spinners asked that a meeting be organized mid-week so that they could check each other’s progress. That mid-week check evolved from meeting at the church to a morning gathering on the west side of Huancarani, and an afternoon gathering on the east side. Spinners living on the west side with no shepherding responsibilities pile into the truck contracted by PAZA to head to the east side for a communal lunch and social afternoon before walking and spinning their way back home.

After the week of spinning, the measuring began in Huancarani. Doña Maxima, coordinated the logistics and contracted her husband to do the driving. Her daughter Vilma and Vilma’s 3 daughters rode along as well. Vilma was paid to work all day measuring and her 2 oldest girls who in past years were in school helped with the measuring and took turns tending their new baby sister. Maribel who is the youngest spinner and weaver in Huancarani was also paid to help out. Besides the 16 members of the Warmis Phuskadoras, there were 5 Huancarani spinners on the competing team, the Phuskadoras Alegres (Happy Women Who Spin with a Drop Spindle). The total of 21 spinners spun 49,148 meters (39”), but because the yarn was doubled, the measuring teams only had to measure half that amount. The measuring is done 1 meter at a time along 2 sides of the measuring table, or between marks on a wall or any available piece of furniture. It´s an all-day activity, but fun so those who can arrive early and stay until the end.

Doña Rufina, Right, 1st Place, Sanipaya

The following day the truck was again loaded up in Independencia with the measuring paraphernalia including the table and chairs plus beef to be cooked for lunch. There is no refrigeration in the rural communities, so the beef delivery was a treat for the 6 spinners in Sanipaya. Doña Beatris splits her time between her farm and her home in Independencia where her son lives to attend school. In 2014, when the Cloth Roads sponsored Spinzilla team Warmis Phuskadoras was formed, not enough spinners registered to fill the 25-member team.

Doña Casimira, Right, 2nd Place, Huancarani

Doña Beatris who´s a member of the Club de Artesanas said she had friends in Sanipaya who wanted to join the team. She has organized that group through the years; and hosts the measuring team at her home. The 2 newest members of the Club de Artesanas live in Independencia but have spent much of the COVID quarantine on their family farms in Sanipaya. They were there for measuring day, so by day´s end all of the Spinning Week yarn had been measured.

The results for each spinner were tallied on a notebook page, with a tally mark made for every 5 yards measured. Doña Maxima photographed each page with her cell phone and sent the photos to Dorinda in the U.S. to calculate the results. A photo of the results was returned.

Tally Sheet, 1 Mark for 5 Yards, 1 Square Equals 25 Yards

The team Phuskadoras Alegres won by spinning 42,748 meters (close to a yard). In 2018, the measuring was changed from yards as required by Spinzilla to the metric system used in Bolivia. Doña Rufina, from Sanipaya who is Doña Beatris´s mother came in first place for the 2nd year in a row by spinning 4,900 meters. The team Warmis Phuskadoras spun a total of 37,562 meters. Doña Casimira took 1st place on that team by spinning 4,541 meters. She has won 3 out of 7 competitions and her best year was 2017 when she spun the-all-time high of 5,072 yards. She admitted to taking a day off from spinning this year.

Measuring Day, Huancarani

Spinning Week will wrap up in December when all the Huancarani spinners receive their prizes after the annual Centro de Artesania, Huancarani meeting and feast. Between now and then the Club de Artesanas members are busy making the prizes which are polleras (skirts) for all members of the 1st place team and knitted sleeveless tops for the 2nd place team members.

Thank you Lyn Lucas for your ongoing support of the Bolivian weavers. The PAZA activities continue monthly and that comes at a cost. Please consider using the “Donate” button on the blog to support the activities that encourage the weavers to continue to spin and weave maintaining their textile heritage. Thank you, Dorinda Dutcher, November 14, 2020

Club de Artesanas & Spinning Week

The First Club Workshop was a Spinnig Class, 2010

The birth of the Club de Artesanas in 2010 was the silver lining following the politically motivated public humiliation of Doña Maxima, a local, and Dorinda, an American, which ended collaboration with the municipal government of Independencia. The partnership was a continuation of Dorinda’s time as a Peace Corps volunteer and was a program offering a series of natural dye workshops in rural communities and assistance in the sales of traditional weavings.

Volunteer Kelsey Introduced the Chicas to Sewing Patterns and All Made Skirts, 2010

Three of the original four chicas in the Club were interviewed in the first documentary listed in this blog’s sidebar. They all learned to weave, and although they had a sewing class in high school they made many of their clothes on the Club’s sewing machines and through Club crochet projects. The volunteer program began at the same time, and the exposure to foreigners and working on projects not otherwise available to them was empowering. They were 11 to 12 years old when they joined the Club, and turned their interest to other

Reyna with a Completed Club Project, 2013

activities around the age of 16. All of them graduated high school, which is notable due to the lingering belief that there is little value in education girls. They all left Independencia and two of them earn an income through sewing. Reyna was the only original teen who wore the traditional pollera and blouse. She earned a wage on Saturdays during her senior year as the trainer for the younger girls in the Club. After graduation she switched to jeans before moving to the city, and later migrated to Argentina.

For 8 years, the Club had a lot of foreign influence, and the time seemed right in 2018 to turn it over to Doña Maxima and the members. The Club members continue to meet once a week. Dorinda (PAZA) continues to fundraise to cover the expenses of rent, Doña Maxima´s wage, and the Club´s activities and projects.

Weaving Circle, 2020

Three new 30-something members have joined since 2018, and although they’d had exposure to traditional weaving all their lives in their home communities of Sanipaya, they learned to weave from Doña Maxima. Thanks to the generous support of followers of this blog who responded to the last blog and placed orders for weavings, an order and funds were sent to Independencia in July. Two of the new Club members have attained the quality standard required for the orders.

Doña Marleny Grinding Cochineal, 2019

The 3 day natural dyeing extravaganza during Dorinda´s April 2019 visit was an intensive learning experience for the new members. Because skeins were dyed for the Huancarani weavers all have enough dyed skeins for 2020. Cochineal was purchased in 2019, and ground in a grain mill in anticipation of another round of dye days during the rainy season of 2020. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, that did not happen and the Club met virtually between March and late June.

Zuni Crochets, and Doña Bea Lays Out Her Cubrecama (Bed Cover) Pieces, 2020

In July, the Club began meeting again in the PAZA workshop with 4 to 5 women and 4 chicas in attendance. The time has been split between sewing and crochet projects and traditional weaving. Zunilda (Zuni), who is Doña Maxima´s 11 year old granddaughter and Zoraida´s daughter has shown the most interest in the Club activities. As a toddler and little girl she slept away many an afternoon on a makeshift bed under PAZA´s vendor tables at craft fairs in Cochabamba. Her family lives in the city, but they have spent most of the past 6 months in Independencia. Zuni has woven numerous narrow weavings to learn the motifs, and announced that she´s ready to weave to sell, and would like to earn 130 Bs. by weaving a strap. The weavings purchased by PAZA have to be woven on a standing frame loom because using body tension to weave tends to lead to uneven edges. To encourage Zuni to tackle the standing frame loom, and so that she can serve as an example for the other chicas, a price will be set and funds sent to purchase her initial attempts.

Doña Claudia Warping a Weaving for a PAZA Order

Two of the new Club members participated in La Semana de las Phuskadoras (The Week of Women Who Spin) last year. They were on the team Phuskadoras Alegres with the 6 long-time participants of Sanipaya. It appears that the event will eventually become a competition between the spinners of Huancarani and those of Sanipaya, which can be viewed in the far distance to the north of Huancarani. The team Phuskadoras Alegres won last year. It was the first time the original Spinzilla team Warmis Phuskadoras had local competition.

Zuni Weaving with Assistance from Doña Claudia

This year’s Spinning Week is scheduled for October 5th to the 11th.  Of the 2 teams of 16 spinners, there are only 3 slots remaining to be filled. It is the second time the event will be managed by Doña Maxima, Doña Justina, Doña Beatris and members of the Club with no foreign influence. The budget is set for $800, and the organizers are tasked with figuring out what to do about prizes this year. The recognition of the spinners’ skills through the tangible awarding of prizes is important. The participants of the first place team will win a prize worth 100 Bs. ($14.50), and the value of the 2nd place prizes is set at 30 Bs. ($4).

The Club´s Annual Fiesta de Don Jorge, 2019

Support for the Club de Artesanas and Spinning Week may be made by using the “Donate” button on the blogsite, https://pazaboliviablog.com/. Thank you Lyn Lucas for your unwavering support of PAZA that has allowed the Club to carry on through the years. Thank you and hugs to George Dutcher (Don Jorge) who’s been supportive in so many ways. Thank you and hugs to Joyce Dutcher for contributing to the “Family Fund” that is used exclusively for placing and purchasing the weaving orders.  Dorinda Dutcher, August 22, 2020

Spinning Week Photo Day

Spinning Week in the Andes

This year’s Spinning Week was held November 4th through the 10th in Andean Independencia Bolivia. Doña Justina resides in Huancarani and was captain of the 16 member Warmis Phuskadoras (Women Who Spin with Drop Spindles). Her duties were to communicate with her team to remind them of the day to begin and end as well as where to meet for Wednesday´s photo day and the November 11th measuring day. The second team was captained by Doña Maxima and was composed of the 6 members of the Club de Artesanas, 6 women from the rural community of Sanipaya, and 4 Huancarani weavers. The Club members live in Independencia, but 3 have roots in Huancarani and the other 3 in Sanipaya. It took until  measuring day in

1st Stop with Doñas Julia, Alicia, Maxima, and Vilma

Sanipaya for the team to settle on the name “Phuskadoras Alegres” a mix of Quechua and Spanish which roughly translates as “Happy Spinners of Drop Spindles”. It is a special week of socializing and sharing a craft that has been passed through generations of women through the millenniums. It is a merry week of giggles, chuckles, and deep belly laughs and no big feast to prepare which is a shared task during all traditional celebrations.

CdA´s Vilma, Claudia, and Doña Maxima

Photo day is a highlight of Spinning Week in Huancarani. PAZA contracted Doña Maxima´s husband, Don Julio, owner of a red Toyota 4×4 for transport to Huancarani. Claudia, a Club member who´d never been to Huancarani made the trip along with Doña Maxima, Vilma, and Dorinda. It´s dry season so the road/trail to the east side of the community was passable. Doña Alicia and Doña Justina´s older sister, Doña Julia were spinning and waiting. Doña Narciza showed up a bit later, walking along an up and down trail and spinning. The view to the east was of the farmsteads of Sanipaya, so near yet so far with the intervening mountain valleys.

Walking the Ravine Path

After an hour of spinning and chatting, the women scattered to their homes for a variety of reasons before meeting back up to ride to the other side of the community to spin and socialize. Doña Narciza headed at a brisk walk back to her home with Claudia and Vilma trailing further and further behind. The truck headed down the road towards Doña Narciza´s house coming to an abrupt halt at a steep ravine where the road had sloughed off leaving a narrow foot path. Independencia had run out of eggs and Claudia returned wearing Doña Narciza´s aguayo (woven Andean “backpack”) and carrying a colander full of eggs that were purchased by the Independencia dwellers. Vilma was carrying a live rooster, who was spotted a few days later happily resettled in Doña Maxima´s yard lording over her hens. Doña Narciza stayed behind to attend to a few tasks before joining everyone and continuing on to Independencia in the truck.

1st Group Walking and Spinning to Meet up with the 2nd Group

The truck backtracked and picked up Doña Alicia and Doña Julia then bumped across the rough road to where the majority of farmsteads are located. Don Julio headed off  to use a friend’s tractor to plow his mother´s corn field. It was a cool overcast day, with rain showers passing through the surrounding mountains. The altitude is such that at times clouds rose majestically from the river valley below to join the clouds above.

Vilma Measuring Her Aunt Narciza for a Petticoat

The first place team will win petticoats and the second place team will win sweaters. Vilma measured all the women at the waist and for length for the petticoats which will be sewn by the Club de Artesanas members. Initials will be embroidered into the waistbands. All the women were sized for a sweater and chose a color from a variety of markers. Doña Maxima will head to Cochabamba after the results are in to purchase the sweaters.

Doña Antonia Spinning With 1 Eye on Her Flock

Doña Maxima and Dorinda headed down the mountain to take photos of Doñas Toribia, Dionicia, and Antonia who were pasturing their flocks. Doña Eulalia was out of sight, but her white goats were visible as specks on the mountainside further west. The sun had come out for the trudge back up the mountain, but happily all had decided it was lunchtime and appetite does make the best sauce. Lunch was communal as always with pots, plastic containers, and cloth filled with boiled potatoes, noodles, rice, and fried eggs. The corn kernels had been boiled with ash to remove the casing, and were still warm. The flavor was not sweet but a hearty corn flavor reminiscent of a fresh tortilla (which are not made in Bolivia).

Such a fun day, and all too soon the spinners began heading home walking singularly or in small groups. Doña Narciza climbed into the bed of the pickup and settled in beside her rooster and spun all the way to Independencia.

Thank you to Marjorie, Margaret, Lyn, Claire, Liz, Kristen, Mary, Rose, and Maja for your gifts that made Spinning Week possible. It brought such joy to these dedicated Bolivian spinners. Dorinda Dutcher, November 22, 2019