|For the Aymara and Quechua Indians in the
South American Andes, textile art has been the major creative outlet. These
descendants of Incan and other Pre-Columbian weavers have concentrated in recent times on
intricate warp-patterned structures, producing exquisite fabrics that were both functional
and ceremonial. Beginning with traditional motifs, each weaver freely created his or her
own variations. Most focused their creative energies on warp-patterned mantles, ponchos, overskirts, belts
and bags. Because designing was done with the warps, these articles are all striped.
|Mantles (llicllas) and ponchos
were usually woven in two panels which were then sewn together. Each panel was made
with four selvages--a very unusual practice among weavers elsewhere. The warp for the
simple backstrap, ground or frame loom was made with heading cords and was never cut. The
fabric was woven from each end inward (by reversing the loom) and a few inches from one
end the final rows of weft were painstakingly inserted with a needle (after the heddles
and shed stick were removed). These "terminal" areas are found on each panel of
every lliclla, aksu or poncho. Sometimes designs have been meticulously duplicated in
these areas; other times simple bands appear.
|The yarns for warp-patterned
weaving must be exceptionally well-spun, plied, and then overspun so they are strong and
elastic. Grace Goodall, who did extensive research among Peruvian Cuzco weavers, found
that the spinning and plying of yarns for a single small poncho required an average of 223
|Most weaving processes are less
time-consuming than yarn preparation, but this is not so with the warp-patterned weaves.
Andean weavers use no harness controls for their patterning, but instead "pick"
their complementary-warp designs one warp yarn at a time. Contrasting colors are
warped in pairs in the pattern stripes, and during the weaving one yarn of each pair is
selected to create the designs--one by one. Ms. Goodall found in her research that a
typical Cuzco weaver required 30 minutes to pick the pattern for just two wefts! She
calculated that an average of 280 hours of weaving time was needed for one small
warp-patterned poncho. The additional hours needed for wool preparation, spinning and
dying meant that most weavers produced only one piece in a year's time.
|Ms. Goodall sadly reported (in
1969) that changing attitudes signaled the near end of this long, distinguished tradition.
Weavers told her that their husbands now preferred to wear solid-colored or plain striped
ponchos when working on the road gangs, and that many were ashamed to be associated with
such "reactionary styles"--fashions that marked them as hillbillies. One woman
wept as she admitted that the piece on her loom would surely be her last.
|The pieces in our collection
are llicllas and aksus. A lliclla (or awayo) is a
woman's garment worn wrapped around the shoulders and secured with a pin. They have
sometimes been used for carrying a baby or foodstuffs, and old ethnographic pieces are
often stretched, from being tied diagonally. An aksu or half-aksu is a
decorative overskirt, worn apron-style, but in the back. The pieces in our gallery
collection are all 20th century weavings; they are from 35 to 75 years old. Some
incorporate synthetic dyes, while a full range of cochineal reds and pinks predominate in
others. See examples here.
|Whether the patterning is
intricately geometric, or full of fanciful creatures, these unique and beautiful
warp-patterned weaves are truly astonishing examples of ethnographic fiber art.
|* Junius Bird,
"Handspun Yarn Production Rates in the Cuzco Region of Peru," Textile Museum
Journal, Vol II, Number 3, 1968, pp. 9-16 and Grace Goodell, "A Study of Andean
Spinning in the Cuzco Region," same issue, pp. 2-8.