An Awamaki product is born long before it reaches its forever home. During a natural process, weavers from our partner cooperatives will craft it by using ancient artisan traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation in their communities. By providing an insight into this process and showing the authenticity of creating fair trade products, we hope to enable readers to become more aware about where and how clothes, accessories, and textiles are made. So, join us on a journey with the artisans of Patacancha as we learn about the life of an Awamaki product!
A product’s life begins with the care and dedication the community of Patacancha devotes to their alpacas. A member of the camelidae family, alpacas’ gorgeously soft fiber is the source of our textiles. Women, or companeras as they are called in their communities, will walk for many hours along the peaks of the Andes to check on their herds. Their estancias (farms) include small huts with thatched roofs dotted around the mountains. These outposts provide shelter to companeras as they protect their alpacas from night-time predators such as Andean foxes and condors. At almost 14,000 ft (4,200 m) and in freezing cold and challenging conditions, these shelters can be live-savers.
Alpaca farmers, such as Juan Yupanqui and his family, still perform ancient alpaca ceremonies before shearing the animals for their fiber. By blessing the animals and harnessing the energy of the mountains, they hope for a prosperous year ahead. These ceremonies demonstrate the strong connection between the community, their alpacas, and their natural environment. In such a remote area, the lives of the people of Patacancha are intertwined and reliant upon their animals and land. This shines through in their admirable sense of respect for their surroundings and natural resources.
During the warmer months of December, January, and February it’s time to shear the alpacas and look in awe at the amazingly silky bundles of fiber they leave behind as they trot off lighter and cooler. A herd boasts a variety of colours and ages, but the companeras use the softest fiber, the first time an alpaca is sheared, to make baby products to clothe the most sensitive skin.
Shearing an alpaca
After alpacas have been sheared, the next step in a product’s life is to spin the fiber to create smooth and uniform yarn. Using the same technique passed down for generations, the women of Patacancha spin the raw fiber using a wooden drop spindle called a phuska.
Visitors on our sustainable tours taking part in their first weaving lesson often find their phuskas tumbling towards the ground with fiber falling everywhere. But for the companeras, spinning is second nature. In the community of Patacancha there is a saying that if a companera has a free hand, she should be spinning — no matter if she is walking to her farm, caring for her children, or cooking a meal.
Once the fiber is spun into yarn it is ready to be dyed. This is one of the most transformative stages of the journey where the yarn changes from white into vivid colours.
In a hot cauldron, the companeras mix the yarn with natural plant and insect dyes found in their community. Different shades of red, orange, pink, and purple are created using a dried beetle called cochinilla, greens are made using a plant called chilca, and a bright turquoise blue comes from a fungus called kinsukuchu.
Dyeing with cochinilla beetle
Sage, maroon, mustard, navy, rose, grey, beige, violet… the yarn is now ready to be woven. The talent and artistry that goes into weaving is something the companeras start to develop from a young age. By the time they weave their first manta (a blanket used to carry everything from potatoes to babies on their backs) the women have mastered the art of weaving. They express themselves, their stories, and their soul through their chosen pallay (designs) which often include animals, flowers, or the landscape.
Watching weavers such as Sabina at work, you would almost believe her fingers are magic. Every second she instinctively assigns each individual thread to its fate to create intricate designs (all while looking after her children too!)
Weaving a textile
Sabina at work with her daughter
Once the companeras have finished a weaving, the raw textile is sewn into one of our many Awamaki fashion and home accessories. When you take home one of our products, you are taking home a story as well. From its humble beginning as fiber on the back of a grazing alpaca to a colorful woven Peruvian textile, every Awamaki product has been on a journey that epitomizes the passion of the artisans. By preserving the traditional process of crafting textiles, the women of Patacancha are empowered to maintain their identity and culture.
Companera Dores Quispe sums it up best when she talks about her hopes for the future. “I want to see my children studying but also weaving. I want to see my community progress but keep its traditions.”
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.