Spinning Week

Club de Artesanas Dye Day

Natural Dyed Skeins Left to Right on Clothesline: Tumeric, Molle, Khesi Misa (Soot), 2013

During a WhatsApp video chat on Thanksgiving, the Club members were taking yellow skeins out of a dye pot of molle leaves. The molle trees grow in lower drier ecosystems than Independencia, and there are numerous trees about an hour walk down the mountain. For the 2nd dye bath, chilka leaves were added to the dye pot. The glossy fragrant dark green chilka leaves are readily harvested because the shrubs line the roads and pathways around Independencia and higher. The Club members had anxiously awaited the results of the dye pots because they´d used “millu de la playa (beach)”, as a mordant, for the first time.

Doña Maxima´s Sons Harvest Molle, 2009
Jhonathan Strips Leaves Before the Harvest is Carried up the Mountain, 2009

Left Skein, Dye Bath #1 with Molle Leaves, Dye Bath #2 Skeins Center & Right with Chilka Leaves Added, all Rinsed with Ash Water to Darken, November 24, 2022

Last March, during a discussion about local dyestuffs, Doña Beatriz mentioned that “millu de la playa” is used in dye pots in her home community of Sanipaya. In October, Doña Maxima queried her sister Doña Narciza how she had dyed the dark green ball of yarn she was plying during Spinning Week measuring day in Huancarani. Doña Narciza is the leader in natural dye experimentation and responded she had dyed the yarn with chilka leaves and a piece of “millu de la playa”, she´d been gifted by Doña Guillermina.

Ball of Yarn Dyed with Chilka and “Millu de la Playa” is Hanging from Doña Narciza´s Belt, Spinning Week 2022

After 2 references to “millu de la playa”, Doña Maxima was intrigued with the possibilities and somehow talked her irascible brother-in-law into collecting it from the riverbed far below Huancarani. It is a mineral salt that appears in the cracks of big rocks near the river but disappears in the rainy season. Don Erasmo knew where to find the “millu de la playa”, so didn´t waste time having to search for it. However, the long walk down to the river and the aerobic uphill return had to have been taxing. He did charge 50 Bs. ($7) for his efforts.

View of River Below Huancarani Farms
View of River Below Huancarani, Centro de Artesania, Huancarani Annual Meeting, 2016

During natural dye training workshops with an expert in 2010, PAZA weavers learned to use a mineral mordant called “millu” to darken dye baths. The duplication of the word “millu” is probably why it´s taken so many years to learn about “millu de la playa”. Since 2010, PAZA has purchased rocks of “millu” in the hechiceria (charm, ritual supply) section of the huge stall market in Cochabamba. It is hammered into powder before adding it to a dye bath. The “millu de la playa” did not darken the skeins dyed with molle and chilka. Future dye experiments will include comparing the results of millu, “millu de la playa”, and alum in separate dye pots with the same local dye plant.

Millu on the Left and “Millu de la Playa” on the Right
Millu Vendor in Cochabamba

The weavings of Independencia are woven from handspun wool. Many of the weavers no longer shepherd so don´t spin daily but spin their year´s supply during the Spinning Week competition in October. That yarn is then plyed, dyed, and woven either for PAZA orders, Quechua rituals, or home use. The rich palette of colors available to them is due to the biodiversity of dye plants unique to the area and Bolivian cochineal. As artists, they are continually experimenting and have built up their dyed skein stashes over the years. These unique weavings may be purchased for the holidays up until December 15th. Send inquiries to: dkdutcher@hotmail.com

Doña Justina at Her Loom, Huancarani, 2013

Ready to gift are:

  • Chuspas – $95
  • Zippered Pouches – 5 x 8”, $19/$20 w/wrist strap
  • Yoga Mat Straps – $22/$23

There is still time for anyone wishing to purchase woven cloth to make holiday gifts. The larger weavings may also be used as wall hangings and table runners.

  • Large Weaving – 63 x 9.5” $79
  • Medium Weaving – 51 x 7”, $50
  • Faja – 70 x 5”, $43
  • Strap – 78 x 1.5”, $22
From Left: Doña Deisy with Zippered Pouch, Doña Beatris with Chuspa, Doña Maxima with Zippered Pouch, Doña Eulalia with Chuspa and a Large Weaving

Thank you Lyn, Emily, and Nancy for your support of the weavers and chicas especially during this time of Giving Thursday requests! Dorinda Dutcher, November 30, 2022

Looking to 2023

2021 Spinning Week Prize Awarding, 1st Place Polleras on Right, 2nd Place Sweaters are 7 on Left

Last month, the weavers of the Centro de Artesania, Huancarani (CAH), the members of the Club de Artesanas (CdA), and Dorinda reviewed 2022 and discussed 2023. All skill-building workshops were possible thanks to those who supported PAZA this year. Any skill learned or strengthened is an irrevocable gift.

Arminda and Deisy Knitting 2022 Spinning Week 2nd Place Prizes, Long-Sleeved Sweaters

PAZA expenses average around $4,500 a year. The biggest expense is the beloved Spinning Week due to the prizes awarded to the 30 spinners in recognition of their spinning ability. This was the first year that the spinners knew that they would win a prize based on individual not team effort. Since, 2020, the 1st place prize has been a pollera (skirt). The increase in yarn spun this year indicated how coveted a pollera is as a prize. The 2nd place prizes have been a tank top, vest, and this year a sweater knit on a knitting machine. All prizes are made by members of the Club de Artesanas so that they earn income from skills they have learned or honed through Club activities.

Club Members with Shawl and Sweater Projects; Doñas Deisy, Vilma, Maxima, Eulalia, Arminda

Vilma has a monopoly on sewing the polleras, while Deisy and Arminda have made the knitting machine knit prizes the past 2 years. Next year Vilma will teach a 3-day class to Deisy and Arminda on use of the industrial sewing machine and practice in sewing the stretchy lycra pollera material. The final project will be a chica sized pollera. Arminda has 3 daughters, but only Maria Lis choses to don the traditional pollera, blusa, cardigan, and high heeled sandals the days she doesn’t wear the school’s sweat suit uniform. Vilma and Deisy’s daughters only wear polleras for traditional dance programs.

Abdiel in Vest Arminda Made from Leftover Yarn,

Doña Maxima Sewing on Spinning Week Prize

Doña Beatris and Doña Eulalia travel between their rural farms and town and spend less days at the Club workshop. Vilma will give both classes on the portable sewing machine. Doña Eulalia has learned to crochet and knit sweaters with knitting needles this year. Next year she´ll advance in complexity with patterns on the knitting machine. The Club projects allow members to make clothing for themselves and other family members.

The Club chicas enjoy crocheting, and they´re fast. PAZA supplies them yarn and they find patterns on their phones which they acquired for their studies during Covid. During Dorinda´s visits they attend baking classes to provide the Club snack. Jhoselin and Lineth, the 2 oldest chicas graduated to weaving on the rustic loom this year. A sample will be kept for them to refer to as they progress, the rest they´ll cut with help from their moms to make coin bags which will be for sale next year. Sarahi is anxious to graduate to the loom, which should happen during the school vacation early next year.

Jhoselin with her Crocheted Vest Project
Sarahi, Jhoselin, & Emily with 1st Weavings Sold

PAZA activities with the weavers of Huancarani connect them to a bigger world and provide them opportunities to leave the isolation of their farmsteads to gather. An ongoing problem has been workshop/meeting space. The entire adobe brick back wall of the abandoned classroom where their sewing and knitting equipment was stored and where PAZA held workshops in 2021 collapsed and disintegrated back into the earth earlier this year. They’ve been told by the Organización de Varones (Men) that the abandoned schoolroom where the unharmed equipment was moved is temporary. The room has no electricity, and no light enters through the broken windows covered with cardboard. As the Organización de Mujeres (Women) they’ve owned land where they built a clubhouse and operated a grain mill for decades. They haven´t set foot on it in years due to threats from the previous owner who lives next door and wants the land back. Infrastructure is outside of PAZA´s scope. PAZA does offer opportunities for the women to gather so they are able to discuss options. There is a solution, they just need encouragement to know they´re capable of finding it and taking action.

Former Workshop (Women in Front of Window in Top Photo)
Back View of Former Workshop

All 2023 PAZA activities including Spinning Week are dependent on donations. ´Tis the season for giving, please consider clicking on the donation button above to help women and chicas to help themselves. Thank you. Dorinda Dutcher, November 2, 2022, dkdutcher@hotmail.com

In the School Yard Discussing a Future for a Workshop/Clubhouse in Huancarani, October 2022

Spinning Week Record at 89,887 Meters

Measuring Yarn Spun in Sanipaya

Joyous Spinning Week is the celebration of the lifelong spinning skills of the Bolivian weavers working with PAZA. The day after the competition ended, the Huancarani measuring team loaded into Don Julio´s latest SUV. This one featured 2 rows of bench seats for passengers which filled up with Club members Arminda and Vilma with her 2 babes, Maribel who’s been involved with measuring in Huancarani for years, Dorinda, and a stack of plastic chairs. Doña Maxima always rides shotgun. PAZA pays the Bolivian team members for the day, it is tedious tiring work.

Maribel Measuring, Huancarani
Two Measuring Stations, Yarn Everywhere

Arriving at Huancarani´s center, all headed to the church porch to figure out a measuring set-up. Thick planks stacked on the porch were carried over to align with the porch´s edge. It was serendipity that the 1-meter mark made with a Sharpie was at a comfortable level for measuring out meter after meter while seated in a plastic chair. The person tallying the measurement count sat on a low bench and the 2 positions switched off between spinners. When Doña Cecilia showed up carrying a desk exactly 1 meter in width from the school, Don Julio abandoned his plank set-up for the desk with built in bench.

Doña Narciza, 4,350 Meters, Huancarani
Doña Eulogia, 4,396 Meters, Huancarani

Some of the 16 spinners came to socialize all day, those having livestock to shepherd were given priority. Many spin every day, although in comparing individual spinner´s results to past years, some were motivated during Spinning Week to increase their output in hopes of winning a pollera (skirt). Doña Narciza arrived with her drop spindle whirling plying yarn she´d dyed dark green with chilka leaves.

There was a lot of joking and laughter as all pitched in to help keep the yarn being measured from tangling as it was wound back into balls by its spinner. Vilma measured the spinners for polleras (1st place prize) and eyeballed all to write down a S, M, or L sweater (2nd place prize) size. There was a break for the communal lunch, and the measuring team was back on the road by 3:00pm.

Doña Justina, 4,420 Meters, Huancarani
Don Julio Measures, Daughter Vilma Tallies, Grandkids Play

The following day the Sanipaya measuring team included driver Don Julio, Doña Maxima, Deisy, and Dorinda. Vilma and her 2 babes joined the group so they could visit their abuela. The road climbs out of the Palca Valley up onto a ridge atop the world. On the way to Huancarani the clouds had puffed along at eye level. A day later cloud vapor shot out of the steep river valleys on both sides like volcanic plumes sculpting into whimsical shapes at their tops. There was little traffic but a lot of dust on the road during the 1.5-hour drive. On the way down the mountainside to Doña Beatriz´s house Vilma and babes were dropped off at her in-laws. A 2nd stop was made so that Deisy could hand off groceries to her grandmother who was patiently waiting at a trail.

Measuring Yarn, Sanipaya
Measuring for Spinning Week Prizes, Huancarani

Doña Beatriz has been a Club de Artesanas member since 2011. She attends when she´s in Independencia where she has a house, and her 15-year-old son lives during the school year. She has organized the Sanipaya spinners since the 1st Spinning Week competition in 2014. This year 9 of the 30 Spinning Week spinners live in Sanipaya. They have always been more subdued but as sincerely grateful for Spinning Week as the boisterous Huancarani spinners.

A table was carried from the kitchen to the covered porch and a meter marked off on 2 sides. Deisy marked off a bench and the 3 teams began measuring. Vilma arrived and pitched in with tallying results and then measured all the spinners for polleras and sweaters.  A nest was made between the measuring areas at abuela Doña Maxima´s feet and the babes entertained themselves and everyone else.

Will She Learn to Spin and Weave
How Long will They Continue to Spin and Weave

The Sanipaya spinners have always prepared lunch for the measuring team. Chicken, potatoes, and fava beans had been roasted in the wood burning oven and were served with a salad of lettuce, onion, and tomato. Salad is considered a festive dish. Salads have never been included at the communal lunches in Huancarani where each person contributes a dish typical of what they prepare every morning for family members headed to school, field, or pasture.

Lunch, Huancarani
Lunch, Sanipaya

Thursday morning the Club members measured their results, and all results were posted after lunch. There were some surprises. Club members Deisy and Arminda who did so well during their 1st Spinning Week competition last year were in 2nd place this year. Deisy said it was the quality of the fleece they´d bought at the last minute. In 2021, they´d bought long fibered fleece from a vendor during the 16 de Julio Fiesta. There were no fleece vendors this year at the Fiesta. After the pollera material shopping trip in Cochabamba, Doña Maxima was determined to win a pollera this year, she did. Doña Felicidad was this year’s top spinner a first for her having spun 4,728 meters. The 30 spinners spun 89,887 meters an increase from last year´s 83,960 meters.

Thank you Lyn and Jenny for your continued support of the Bolivian weavers and chicas. Dorinda Dutcher, October 19, 2022

Sanipaya Measuring Team, Vilma, Deisy, Dorinda, Doña Maxima and Grandbabes

Final Countdown to Spinning Week

Rainy Prize Awarding Day, Huancarani, 2020, Polleras on Left, Knit Tops on Right

Spinning Week in Independencia, Bolivia will begin Monday, October 3rd. Yesterday, was the annual Spinning Week Shopping Spree to purchase supplies to make 15 polleras (skirts) for the 1st place winners and cones of yarn to knit the 15 sweaters for the 2nd place winners. Doña Maxima, her daughter Zoraida, and 4 other family members were patiently waiting at the rendezvous point in Cochabamba´s huge vendor market, La Cancha. Dorinda arrived a few minutes late due to the turtle crawl through the hoard of mobile vendors and shoppers stretching out for blocks. Doña Maxima had insisted on meeting during one of La Cancha´s 3 weekly shopping days. Last year´s shopping spree on a quieter market day resulted in closed shops and a limited choice of yarn colors. The group plunged into the crowd, but it thinned out near the yarn booths. Doña Maxima and Zoraida had a ball discussing the merits of the rainbow of colors than bargaining until the deal was sealed at a price below the budget.

Zoraida, Doña Maxima, Zuni Eyeing Pollera Material Selection
Zuni Folding the 3 Meters of Cloth with Uncle Ademar

La Cancha is a maze, but Zoraida confidently led the way through back aisles to the area selling material for polleras. Shop after shop displayed bolts of vivid, somber, and jewel toned colors. Polleras are 3 meters (roughly yards) of pleated material, originally rough woven wool, the store-bought material is currently a synthetic with lycra. Doña Maxima and Zoraida were drawn to a shop that had 2-faced material with a brighter hue on the underside. They bargained the price down 40% less than what was budgeted! Working with the saleswoman they helped to measure and cut 10 lengths of cloth then couldn´t agree on another color. Zoraida´s 13-year-old daughter, Zuni, who has participated in PAZA events longer than she can remember, and Doña Maxima´s son, Ademar folded the cloth. Ademar took off with the bag of cloth to sit with Zoraida´s husband, Luis, who was patiently sitting and guarding the bag of yarn cones. He was also keeping an eye on their 5-year-old daughter, Ariana, who was having a ball running around.

The women and Zuni went from shop to shop until finding an incredible array of colors, including burgundy, but a shopkeeper who wouldn´t budge from her original price, which was PAZA´s budgeted price ($7.20/meter). Doña Maxima had her heart set on burgundy, which obviously wasn´t a color trending this year. Burgundy and 4 other colors were selected, and the lengths of cloth were quickly measured, cut, and folded. Doña Maxima is going to have to increase her spinning effort this year to win one of the first-place polleras.

Doña Maxima Measuring Doña Alicia for a Pollera, Huancarani

The next search was for inexpensive ($1.45/meter) cotton/synthetic material to color coordinate as the pollera´s sash. Zuni ran for the 1st bag of material while Zoraida and Doña Maxima conferred and made their 15 selections. Thread was the last item on the list. Zoraida guided the group back towards the entrance, and the material was once again matched in color. Luis is the 1st generation of his family to drive and own a vehicle. He led the way to the parking lot lugging the huge bag of yarn. Zuni was carrying the pollera cloth on her back in an aguayo. Max had a tight grip on Ariana´s hand. Ademar carried a mesh bag of all the other bits and pieces purchased to make the prizes. Zoraida followed happy but tired.

Arminda & Daughter, Jhoselin, Learning Weaving Motifs Together, Club de Artesanas

Jhoselin Checking Out Her Mother’s Knitting Project

The Club de Artesanas members will earn income by making the polleras and sweaters. An increase in those wages was budgeted per their request to $10 per sweater and $11.50 per pollera. Last year there was a larger gap between the 2 wages, and they learned that the knitting machine work was nearly as labor intensive as the machine and hand sewing of the polleras. A few Club members will earn income by helping to measure the Spinning Week results on the 2 days following the competition.

Thank you to Lyn, Susan, Margaret, Rob, Gail, and Cloth Roads (sponsor of original Spinzilla Warmis Phuskadoras team, 2014-2018) for supporting this year´s Spinning Week!  Spinning Week is PAZA´s biggest activity of the year, and this year only $782 of the $1,100 needed for expenses has been raised. Any donations received over the amount needed for Spinning Week will go toward the year-round Club de Artesanas which offers project-based contemporary and traditional fiber skill building activities to women and girls. PAZA also supports the weavers of Huancarani in their quest to preserve their weaving heritage.

Arminda’s Youngest, Anita, Embroidering
Club Dye Day

Wi-fi will not be available from Independencia, but the Spinning Week blogs will be written in Inde and posted in early November when author and wi-fi are reunited. E-mail and WhatsApp video chats are possible via cell phone. Dorinda Dutcher, from Cochabamba, September 25, 2022, dkdutcher (at) hotmail.com.

A Glance Back and Looking Forward

Marleny Earning Income Knitting the 2nd Place Spinning Week Prizes, Sept 2020

February is the beginning of the Bolivian academic year and has become the opportune time for the Club de Artesanas (CdA) annual registration. The Club was sorry to see Claudia and Marleny leave after bringing their 30-something perspectives and humor to two years of Club activities. Although they´d grown up around weavers in their home community of Sanipaya, they didn’t learn to weave until joining the Club. They were quick learners and within a year were weaving to a quality standard for the foreign market. Doña Maxima commented on the quality of Claudia´s weavings, that combined the fineness of the handspun yarn spun by Claudia´s mother and Claudia´s increasing weaving skill. They spent much of the past year on their family farms in Sanipaya, but participated in PAZA activities including Spinning Week, personal fiber arts projects, PAZA´s 1 weaving order, and earning income by sewing and knitting the Spinning Week prizes. Both women owned knitting machines and shared their skills with the other Club members so all could earn an income knitting the sleeveless tops that were the 2nd place Spinning Week prizes.

Maribel’s 1st Aguayo Woven with Help from her Mother-In-Law, 2019

For 2021, Doña Maxima and the 3 remaining Club members have welcomed Maribel, who was the youngest weaver in Huancarani. Maribel and her husband moved to Independencia so that their son Daniel could begin 1st grade. Maribel´s family lives in Independencia and she´d been a Club member for a few months before moving to Huancarani while she and her husband, still in their teens, tried to figure out life as a couple and as new parents. She´s received a lot of “press” in this blog because of her success story in becoming a weaver over the past 5 years. Maribel is the Secretary for the Centro de Artesanía Huancarani (CAH) fulfilling a much-needed role in writing and maintaining the legal records.

Maribel, CAH Secretary, Annual Meeting, Huancarani, 2020

The 2nd vacant Club membership was filled by Arminda, a friend of Maribel’s and a young mother of four. The members of the Club always have ongoing fiber arts projects and through the years they have knitted, crocheted, and sewn clothing for their children. Arminda comes from a remote mountain community close to Cochabamba, so has no family support in Independencia. She had no knowledge of weaving motifs and learned so quickly from Doña Maxima that she´s already been paid for weaving a strap for the February PAZA weaving order. She was thrilled with the payment which enabled her to buy school supplies for her eldest daughter. Arminda´s husband will not support a child he didn’t father, which unfortunately is all too common in the rural Andes. A PAZA weaving order is always placed in February to ensure the weavers have cash in hand to purchase school supplies.

Not Having Classes, Chicas Participated in Club Activities, 2020

Because of the Covid quarantine the Club members held only 2 dye days last year, and didn´t dye any skeins for the Huancarani weavers. The new Club members lack natural dyed skeins, but they are dyeing as this blog is being written. Yesterday suyku was collected from the higher elevations for dye pots in gold, bronze, and green. The 2nd dye pot was with cochineal with alum as the mordant for a hue range from red to pink. At the request of the Huancarani weavers a cochineal dye workshop will be scheduled later this month in that community.

Pouches, Fajas, Straps, and Yoga Mat Straps Currently Available for Sale

The Bolivian weavings that are in the U.S. inventory are available for purchase during the month of March. Inquiries may be by contacting dkdutcher@hotmail.com. The finished products include 5” x 8” zippered pouches ($17) ($18 with wrist strap) and yoga mat straps ($22 for 1/8” depth mat) ($23 for ¼” depth mat). The lengths of cloth available for weavers who’d like to create their own products are the 70” x 5” fajas ($41) used in Laverne Waddington’s classes and 78” x 1.5” straps ($21).

Spinning Week Prizes, 1st Place Polleras (Skirts on left), 2nd Place Blusas (on right), Huancarani, 2020

The weavers of the Centro de Artesanía, Huancarani held their annual meeting in January to approve pricing for 2021. They also feasted and held the Spinning Week prize awarding ceremony. Hopefully, travel is possible this year so that the PAZA orders can be picked-up and more photos taken and tales collected.

PAZA´s bank account reached an alarming low last year. It was difficult to ask for support for Bolivian weavers when the entire world was finding too much need close to home.

Today’s Dye Day Results

Thanks to the support of an old friend, PAZA received a grant for 2021 that ensures the Club and rural activities will continue. Funds will need to be raised for Spinning Week. The grant enables PAZA to purchase new workshop equipment including a 2nd knitting machine and to

replace two failing portable sewing machines. Thank you, Lyn Lucas, for your ongoing support; you were PAZA’s “rock” last year. Thank you to PAZA’s new friends in Anchorage for your interest and support of the Bolivian weavers. Dorinda Dutcher, March 2, 2021

In Memory of Doña Casimira

Spinning Week, 2015, She Won Spinning 3,330 Yards

PAZA has said a bittersweet farewell to Huancarani weaver Doña Casimira, who passed away of unknown causes in January. She had an indomitable spirit having outlived 3 husbands and at the age of 69 was living alone and working her farm. Some years ago, her adult children tried to move her to the Chapare, the tropical eastern side of the state of Cochabamba, but her roots pulled her back to the Andes. Late last year they tried again and took her to her daughter´s house in the tropics for a visit from which she would not return.

Happy with Natural Dye Workshop Results, 2011 (on left)

Doña Maxima broke the unexpected news and eulogized Doña Casimira by her skills as a spinner and weaver. They are the last generations who will describe each other in those terms, it is how they´ve identified themselves and related to each other their entire lives. Doña Casimira was one of the 10 founders of the Centro de Artesanía, Huancarani and hung in there during the 2 years it took for PAZA to facilitate the process to be established as a legal entity under the State of Cochabamba.

Spinning Week, 2014 (in middle)

She won Spinning Week 3 years out of 7 and ranked in the top 5 of the spinners the other years. In 2020, she came in second, spinning 4,541 meters which is her 2nd highest results. She was displeased about the Huancarani team taking 2nd place the past 2 years, and quite vocal about preferring a pollera (skirt) to the 2nd place blusa (knitted sleeveless top). The prize awarding ceremony didn´t take place until after she left for the tropics. The blusas were fitted to the recipient, a color of their choosing, and more work than the polleras, so in the end she probably would have been pleased with her prize. However, her remarks were enough to begin dialog about how to better mix up the teams for equitable strengths and weaknesses for Spinning Week 2021.

Laverne Waddington´s Workshop, Huancarani, 2017 (in pink sweater)

Her spinning was fine and consistent which resulted in her weavings being fine. She warped color combinations which were striking and unique. It was obvious she had a love for weaving, but it competed with the daylight hours needed for farm chores, so she was not a prolific weaver. Anyone who has purchased one of her weavings should hold it dear. She was born into a hard life the year before the Agrarian Reform ended the feudal system established by the Spanish crown. Although the world has seen many changes since 1951, that can´t be said for those living the farmer subsistence lifestyle in the remote corners of it. One can’t help but wonder how her talents and creativity would have been realized if she’d been born into different circumstances. Doña Casimira, you will be missed. May your well-deserved rest be in peace. Dorinda Dutcher, February 27, 2021

Often used photos of Doña Casimira weaving in front of her home, 2010

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