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A big brass band played and people wove in and out of the parade entourage, dancing and smiling; tourists clicked photo after photo. I walked next to Dana (an employee of Threads of Peru and a dear friend). She had invited three weavers from the remote indigenous weaving community of Chaullacocha where Threads of Peru works. They had brought their three children, and carried them in their handwoven blankets (mantas) tied across their backs.

The air was electric with excitement: the parade marked the beginning of the Tinkuy, the second weaving event organized by the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC). In Quechua, Tinkuy literally means "a gathering". This Tinkuy was a gathering of weavers and textile enthusiasts from around the world. There were guest speakers from the United States, India, Argentina, England, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada, and Ecuador!

Weavers getting ready for a group photo during the daily Tinkuy coffee break

The first day of the Tinkuy, Dr. Ramiro Mates lectured about the highland fiber tradition in the Andes. He explained that since before the Spanish conquest the fibre animals in the Andes included the llama, alpaca, and vicuña. Llama fibre is rough and mostly used to make storage sacks and ropes. It is not used to make clothing or anything that will touch the skin because it is scratchy to the touch. Alpaca fibre, an insulating and water-resistant fibre, is very soft and light yet warm, making it a very highly prized fibre. In the Andes, every part of the alpaca is used: the fibre is used for clothing, the meat is eaten, the bones used to make tools, and even the excrement is used as fuel for fires. Amazingly, there is a range of over 20 natural shades of alpaca fibre! Baby alpaca is the fibre collected from the first shearing of a young alpaca. It is very soft, but the vicuña still trumps even baby alpaca. The vicuña is a wild animal that lives at extremely high altitudes. Their fibre is valued above llama, alpaca, and baby alpaca; of the mentioned fibres it is the most expensive.

Trying my hand at weaving! This is a contemporary loom, in contrast Q'ente's textiles are made on the traditional back-strap-loom.

Did you know that before the Spanish arrived in Peru there existed a rare blue alpaca (blue/grey). This blue alpaca no longer exists because the Spanish saw the white Alpaca as most valuable and exclusively bred the white alpacas, which over time resulted in decreased colour diversity.

On the second day of the Tinkuy a renowned archeologist, Hugh Thompson, recounted his personal account of attending the Qoyllurit’i festival, an annual religious festival that takes place in the high Andes. He eloquently described it as “Catholic beliefs grafted on top of Indigenous beliefs.” Visually, it is a wonderful description because the Catholic Church literally built churches on top of Inca constructions when the Spanish conquered Peru. Thompson has written several books about Peru, including such subjects as cochineal red, and the white rock, both highly recommended reads.

Did you know that when the Spanish invaded South America, gold-hungry and chasing the myth of El Dorado, they ended up making more money from cochineal than from gold! Cochineal is a small insect that produces a vibrant red colour that is used in natural dyes, cosmetic products, as well as other products.

On the third day of the Tinkuy, Judy Frater spoke about her intriguing Artisan Design project in India. Frater founded the Artisan Design School in India called, Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya. This school accepts traditional weavers into a one-year textile design program. The school encourages creative design, hoping to teach the weavers how to design their own textile products. Frater stated that many times when an outside designer requests a weaver to make something the weaver becomes a simple labourer, but when a weaver designs and makes their own textile product, they are an artist. The goal at Kala Raksha is to train weavers to design their own textile products. Frater finished her lecture by saying, “if weavers make creative and unique things, everyone will have a market.”

Did you know that in India women would hand-embroider their wedding saris, but when a woman did not want to get married she would take to embroidering her sari with such great detail that it would take her years and years to finish. It became a convenient way to post-pone the wedding! After a while the men got irritated because their wives would be old by the time they got married. The elders responded by banning hand-embroidery. To this day, hand-embroidery is not practiced in India but rather embroidery is done a on a loom (a much speedier process).

I hope you enjoyed my brief report on the 2013 Tinkuy! I sure enjoyed my three days at the event, learning about the textile tradition in Peru and around the world, networking, and playing with the cute children that also attended the Tinkuy!

Play mates! One of the weavers daughters and myself.

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