On weaving

While in Peru, I got a chance to see what hand spinning and weaving is really all about. Spinning and weaving are ancient arts which have been practiced for multiple millennia by multiple civilizations who were faced with the limitations of making their clothing out of animal skins. Though leathers and hides were our first natural “clothing” (ignoring the metaphorical fig leaf, that is), those materials are cumbersome and difficult to manage and bettered suited to more rugged applications such as footwear, belts, and hats. Weaving, whether it be cotton, wool, or silk, allows greater flexibility for shaping garments to the strange forms of human beings, a collection of odd curves and straight lines. From a practical standpoint, you don’t have to kill an animal to get its skin, which is an enormous break for hunters who might have to face dangerous animals and risk serious injury or even death. Cotton and silk hold no such risks, and cutting the wool off a sheep is not nearly as dangerous as fighting a full-grown bear for his skin. The spinners and weavers I saw in Peru were using techniques for spinning yarn that were adopted by their ancestors multiple millennia ago, using their hands, a wooden spool, and gravity to get the right spin and tension on their new yarns. It looks simple, but I am sure only the most skilled spinners (Arachne et al.) are enlisted to make the yarns that will go into the new textiles that the weavers will create. The weavers set up their looms of varying sizes according to the actual work at hand–nothing like stating the totally obvious. The bigger the loom, the bigger the piece they are making. The secret to good weaving probably depends on three things: good yarns, a good project plan, focus, especially if the weaving involves a design. Though designs are not mandatory for making a good blanket or coat, designs are a big part of human existence, enhancing the aesthetic experience and making life just a little more fun. Humans wouldn’t be human if they did not want to beautify their work, individualizing the weaving experience and personalizing their work. The designs are not particularly difficult to do, but the work requires care and concentration. It is a skill that must be learned. Weaving by hand, on a manual loom, is not a project that might be approached either lightly or superficially, requiring patience, a steady eye, a calm nerve, and a certain dedication that is not found in every person. Good weavers are probably made, not born. In Peru I found that great care was taken in the preparation of yarns, and that these weavers were also great dyers in the sense that they were experimenting with colors and traditional dyes that could be made out of natural materials which they had on hand, not industrial dyes made out of harsh chemicals. I could tell that “weaver” was both a profession and an identity, and that these women, because all were women, took great pride in their profession which gave them both a purpose in life and an identity as a worker, giving them a bit of an income. Some might say that this is just so much circus or theater for gringo traveler who looking for an exotic or quaint indigenous show or exhibit at which he might take some pictures to take back to the family, and, at the same time, buy a few souvenirs for the wife and family, which is, I think, a little cynical and whiny. All tourism provides those opportunities at some point. These native Peruvian women can spin and weave and make some beautiful things. They have talent as artists, as creators, as contributors. To say anything less would be to sadly undermine a vast pool of very talented people. Spinning and weaving, two ancient talents still practiced today in rural Peru.