High Standards at High Altitude

By Anna Reeve, Marketing and Communications Intern


Nestled high in the mountains amongst the clouds, eighteen women work together in our most remote cooperative. During the rainy season, waterlogged roads and steep hills make for a dangerous ride to the community of Kelkanka. With the dry season in sight, we managed the bumpy 2.5-hour drive to host a quality control workshop on weaving, spinning, and natural dying with this secluded community.

When we arrive, the women appear in small groups carrying children bundled on their backs, big bags of yarn, and welcoming smiles. They chat to one another in Quechua before settling on the ground to start the training session. Mercedes Durant, head of our women’s cooperative program, has a packed agenda to work through in the next few hours, before the fast-changing weather will likely force us back down the mountain.

Today’s workshop is about the importance of color and design consistency. Making sure each item matches the last (and the next) is no small thing when the women are dyeing their own yarn and weaving each product by hand. We love the fact that every Awamaki product is unique, but we’re also committed to achieving high standards. Workshops like this help the women learn more about correct tension and precise pattern-matching.

Compañera Isodora, a member of the Kelkanka cooperative, studies the photos of Awamaki’s yoga straps and quickly memorizes their construction and pattern. Suzanne, a production and design intern, commented afterwards that “It’s amazing how many motifs the women here have committed to memory. There are so many possibilities and combinations.” The compañeras draw on an extensive knowledge of intricate designs of local animals and symbolic shapes when they weave their own clothing, especially their brightly colored mantas (shawls) that are iconic to this region. Those designs are handed down through generations, as daughters watch their mothers and skillfully learn by doing. To pick up the new Awamaki designs from studying a photograph takes this skill to a new level, as the women transform their existing knowledge of traditional shapes into new pattern combinations that draw on trends and fashions beyond Peru.

The women divide into groups – each responsible for a different colorway – and after a quick comparison of yarns to make sure they have the right shades, they get to work implementing the advice from Mercedes. Two metal stakes are tapped into the ground using a large rock, and a tape measure is used to determine the right length of the weaving for the yoga strap. A piece of wood is placed between the two stakes at both ends, and the women start passing yarn back and forth to each other, carefully counting out the number of threads of each color and checking the tension of every thread.

As she works, Isodora keeps one eye on her small daughter, playing at her side, whilst her compañeras monitor nearby animals that must be shooed away. Despite the distractions around them, the women stay focused, illustrating their great pride for their work and determination to produce a quality product. Mothers and daughters like cooperative members Eustakia and Valentina work and learn together – it’s remarkable to think that they will also be able to pass this new knowledge to future generations. In doing so, they will each earn income for their families, strengthen their sense of community, and gain independence.

We hope to soon begin construction on an artisan center for the weavers of Kelkanka. This center will give the women a dry, clean, lit space to spin, dye, and weave yarn away from the distractions of everyday village life. It will make a huge difference to their working environment, in turn allowing them to create pieces faster and to even higher standards. It will take them one step closer to making their own business relationships.

It’s thanks to support like yours that we can host these workshops and work with the women on Kelkanka to enhance their skills. If you’d like to continue your support and help us construct the weaving center please donate today.

All photos taken by Emily Hlavac Green, sponsored by Photographers Without Borders.


About Awamaki

Awamaki is a nonprofit fair trade social enterprise dedicated to connecting Andean artisan weavers with global markets. We collaborate with women artisans to support their efforts towards educational and financial independence by co-creating beautifully handcrafted knit and woven accessories using hertiage techniques.