A Once in a Lifetime Experience

Kate with Demesia and Augustin

BBC presenter Kate Humble with Demesia and Augustin

Calling this a once in a lifetime experience is probably understating it.

In January of this year, Threads of Peru was offered the unique opportunity to collaborate on a film being produced for the BBC, a film that would showcase the Andean lifestyle to reveal the full glory of its vast beauty and uncompromising harshness.

For five days, the crew from Indus Films, including BBC presenter Kate Humble, myself and a small team of Apus Peru staff braved the cold, rain and occasional snow to catch a real glimpse of what life was like for the alpaca herders in Chaullaqocha, one of Threads of Peru’s partner weaving communities. We were hosted by weavers Demesia Sinchi Echame and her mother-in-law Alejandrina Puma Churata while they and their families opened up their lives to us.

Kate with Demesia and two of her children, Luz Brenda and Maria Milagros

Kate with Demesia and two of her children, Luz Brenda and Maria Milagros

Weaving in Chaullaqocha

Weaving in Chaullaqocha

The film in question is a three-part series entitled “Wild Shepherdess” and examines the state of traditional herding practises throughout the world. Part 1 features one of the most traditional herding communities in the world in a remote corner of Afghanistan; Part 2 is centred on Peru, a country in transition yet steeped in history, where alpaca herding has been practised for centuries. The series culminates in Australia in Part 3 where modern sheep herding is practised with state-of-the-art technology and cutting edge science.

Chaullaqocha opens Part 2, arguably the more complex of the three Parts. The tension of competing worlds is palpable as Alejandrina, Demesia, her husband Augustín and his brother Tomás discuss in turns the hardships they face trying to raise their families on subsistence farming in Chaullaqocha and their hopes for a better future for their children. But there hangs in the air a wistfulness for traditions and a way of life in danger of being lost.

Demesia's daughter, Luz Brenda, carrying her brother Huayna Isaiah

Demesia’s daughter, Luz Brenda, carrying her brother Huayna Isaiah

The struggle of these families to balance traditional culture with the need to adapt to a changing economic picture is a metaphor for the entire country. Peru has one of the fastest growing economies in South America and is seen as a country ripe for investment, and poverty rates have been dropping in recent years. But for a country built on the legacy of a great empire – the mystery of which still defines the country in most people’s minds and sustains an $2.2 million tourism industry – how do you reconcile such pervasive cultural roots with newly emerging economic systems, infrastructure and global influences?

This dynamic balance is at the heart of what Threads of Peru is trying to achieve, and it is poignantly captured in Wild Shepherdess.

Kate before a herd of alpacas in Chaullaqocha

Kate before a herd of alpacas in Chaullaqocha

Wild Shepherdess with Kate Humble, Episode 2, Peru aired on BBC on June 28th 2013; check for repeat airings on your local networks or YouTube.

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Have you stopped by the Threads of Peru store yet?

You can shop our products on eBay, the ecomarket, or right on our Facebook page!

The wonderful thing about changing seasons is being able to change your look!  With days becoming cooler in the North, jackets and scarves start making an appearance in our daily wardrobe.

What we love about the items purchased from the talented weavers this season is their timeless nature – they are items that you will wear year after year, because they are beautiful and long-wearing with a classic elegance. Our products are not the kind that wind up in your garage sale, as they are special items that, if cared for properly, will last a lifetime. We purchase directly from the artisan so that we know we are buying products that were slowly hand-crafted using 100% natural alpaca and wool, and so we know who we’re buying from and can be sure we’re practicing fair trade principals.

This season features some new styles of Women’s Ruana, a stunning wrap-around poncho, plus some great variations on our favourites: hand-woven scarves with intricate designs or elegant stripes, luxurious shawls, and some more beautiful home décor and wedding gifts.

Browse through Isaiah Brookshire’s beautiful photos for an impressive glimpse of the best of ancient and contemporary Peru.

Our items are fairly traded and hand-made by indigenous Quechua women in remote villages high in the Andes.  Buying our products helps to support artisans who practice their traditional textile production methods. Many of these items feature natural dyes, while others showcase the natural colours of the alpaca – wonderfully rich hues of brown, grey, black and cream. All items are handmade using the ancient back-strap loom.

The gift-giving season is almost here and our products make unique and meaningful Christmas gifts. If you’re not sure what to get your fiber-loving friends and family, a handmade, fair trade treasure from Threads of Peru will surely be cherished.

You can shop our products on eBay, the ecomarket, or right on our Facebook page!

It’s Christmas in Cusco…

Hi all,

We’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front this last week or so, because we are all preparing for the holiday period!

The lights are all up in the Plaza and even though the sun is blazing outside, everyone is still in a Christmassy mood…

Christmas in the Plaza

This Wednesday, we are going to one of the weaving communities, Chaullacocha, for our annual Chocolatada. We will be preparing hot chocolate with bread for all the children and hopefully spreading a bit of Christmas cheer! Photos and a report of this to come in the New Year…

How Alpaca makes me feel….

It’s wonderful to step into a room feeling that you look your best.  Perhaps you have had your hair done, or maybe you are wearing a new jacket – but you feel attractive and confident, you feel that the world is at your feet.

Wearing alpaca gives me that feeling.  I like stepping out into the world wearing alpaca, because of the way it makes me feel.

My Scarf and me in Melbourne

Ariana Svenson in Melbourne, wearing a Threads of Peru scarf.

I was in Melbourne recently for a series of business meetings.  Melbourne is a city perpetually in Autumn, with crisp days and scatterings of orange and red coloured leaves  – and so I dressed in a business like grey jacket teamed with a grey alpaca scarf…  As I shook people’s hands, I felt in control and confident.   The indigenous Peruvian design on the scarf was striking, different and unique –and so I felt that I was apart from the crowd before I had even started the meeting. That’s how alpaca makes me feel.

Winter weddings are so difficult to dress for, because most formal dresses are sleeveless and light, and I always feel it’s a shame to cover a gorgeous dress with a jacket – it somehow doesn’t feel right. But recently I tried out my beautiful purple and pink alpaca women’s poncho wrapped over a black gown and I felt like a million dollars. Alpaca is super warm, and it hugs your body in a way that feels like an embrace.  It drapes beautifully and I simultaneously felt elegant, stylish and yet snug. That’s how alpaca makes me feel.

A poncho from our new Autumn/Winter line

Now that summer is upon us in Australia, we have our monthly Farmer’s markets in our local town.  I picked out one of my larger tote bags, feeling good about myself because I was going out with an environmentally friendly, handmade organic product. Several times people admired the bag, touching the fabrics and the design – and it made me feel proud for making such a savvy choice. That’s how alpaca makes me feel. 

An ethical choice for your next shopping trip

Over the years, I have owned a number of different alpaca items – and whenever I have worn those items I have felt… special, elegant, regal, ethical, attractive, warm, caressed and amazing.

That’s how alpaca makes me feel. 

Ariana Svenson Co Founder

Weavings for weddings…

I remember impossibly gnarled fingers as the old woman tapped the birds on the weaving and muttered that they symbolized marriage. This was years ago, before I was seriously interested in weaving and the high Andean communities.

And yet her brief explanation in the entirely urban Plaza Tupac Amaru caught my imagination, and I bought the wedding weaving.

Now, I know more about the role that weaving plays in Andean society; that they are an important part of the wedding rituals and ceremonies.  It´s not just that the weavings adorn the bridal party, but they come to the union as a form of dowry, or a test of the young woman’s weaving ability.

Recently, three of our younger weavers committed to get married in September, and several months before their weddings they asked to be excused from the activities of the weaving association because they were weaving ponchos for the husbands to be, and llillcas, or mantas for themselves.   Their upcoming weddings prompted me to recall the “wedding weaving” I bought so long ago, which still has pride of place in the Apus Peru office.

With the help of volunteer Fani Karaivanova, I set out to find out more about the meaning of the wedding weaving. Once again, we learnt more about the wonderfully fluid Andean cosmovision, that moves and changes and is far from static.  Weaving is art, and its meaning is in the eye of the beholder.  The traditional meanings of different pallay (the Quechua word for the design found on a weaving) vary from community to community.

Fani learnt that in the community of Karhui (to the south of Cusco) the Q’intikuna Churunakuy (Hummingbirds with beaks joined) symbol in the traditional weavings means that the creator of this weaving keeps feelings of affection and love towards the recipient of the weaving. The Churunakun chiwchikuna (frontally opposed birds) symbolizes affection. Closer to the Threads of Peru communities, in Huilloq the pallay Uminakuj espiritucha shows birds sharing food, symbolizing the way a couple will share food and resources now they are joined as one.

One of our beautiful table runners with the symbolic bird pallay.

There is also a balance in this weaving, like the traditional Chinese ying and yang between male and female, or light and dark and I recall an excerpt from Andrea Heckman’s illuminating book, Woven Stories: “Weddings symbolically bring together an asymmetrical but balanced union of male and female duality. This union, called yanatin in Quechua symbolically joins the ayllus of the male and the female in reciprocal commitments formed by the joining of man and woman.”

When I look at my own wedding weaving, and interpret the meaning from the point of view of a westerner, for me thedove is a universal symbol of peace, innocence and faith and a pair of doves is the meaning of love. And it is also said that doves mate for life.  So when I see two birds joined, I think of marriage.

To conclude, if you are looking for an extremely unique, fair trade, ethical and meaning filled gift as a wedding present, you may consider one of Threads of Peru’s wedding table runners, sure to grace any new home with love and commitment.

 

Our second wedding pallay, as they are so intricate they require a lot of time to create so at this moment we only have two available.

–          Ariana Svenson, Threads of Peru, Co-Founder

Photoshoot

We have recently been out and about in Cusco photographing our new products; you can see our results on our ebay store – http://stores.ebay.com/Threads-of-Peru-Store, or click on the images to go straight to the product!

Milagros Caballero modelling one of our beautiful hand woven bags outside Cusco Cathedral

We would like to thank our new photography team Marco Espejo and Ivan Reinaga, as well as our models Julia Gamio, Jonathan Angles and Milagros Caballero.

Similarly big thanks to Dragons Palate (http://www.dragonspalate.com) and the Real McCoy (http://www.realmccoycusco.com) in Cusco for letting us shoot inside their restaurants.

The shoots were organised and supervised by Amanda Zenick, Fani Karaivanova and Frankie Ginnett (yes, that’s me!) so thanks to them as well.

It’s our first time working with our photographers Marco and Ivan so we decided to interview them to get to know them a little better, read on to find out what we learned…

Full names: Marco Antonio Rodriguez Espejo (Director) , Ivan Gavancho Reinaga (Shoot Assistant)

Where did you learn photography?

Both: I took classes when I first started out, but now most of what I learn comes from reading books, online information and practice.

Where is your favorite place to shoot in Cusco?

Marco: Cristo Blanco up in the hills close to sunset, because there are great views of the city and beautiful orange light. Tipón is also a good location for photographing people, and there is an abandoned textile factory with very high ceilings and antique equipment in Lucre that I like to use.

A great shot of one of our table runners.

How did you become interested in photography?

Marco: About eight years ago I started to become interested in cameras, what they did and how they worked. I started learning more and more, and here I am now working as a professional!

How would you describe your style of photography?

Marco: I try to look for something different, a unique perspective. Everyone has seen pictures of the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, but I try to reveal something new about it. When photographing people, I try to capture a real emotion or feeling.

Ivan: My photographs are very natural, in particular I like to shoot landscapes in the early evening or night as I love the light at these times!

What are your favorite types of photography?

Both: People! It is great to capture spontaneity and emotion.

As native Cusqueñans, what is your favorite thing about the city?

Marco: The nightlife. Cusco has a nightlife that is different to other cities; there is so much friendship and happiness, and also everything is very centrally located.

What is your dream location for a photography session?

Marco: Rome or Florence.

Milagros wearing an intricately woven 100% alpaca scarf

Ivan: For me, London.

What has been your favorite Threads of Peru item to photograph?

Both: The ponchos! The final one with beautiful colors was great!

Insiders first look at a Threads of Peru Pedido

I had been in Peru two weeks when I had the opportunity to visit the communities that I will be working with over the next few months, the highland communities of Chaullacocha and Rumira Sondormayo. The first hurdle was pronouncing the names correctly!

I am going to make the trip, which will last three days with one night spent in each community, with Fani our Textiles Project Manager, her husband Saul and Daniel Sonqo our Masterweaver. Daniel speaks fluent Quechua so he is also our interpreter for the trip.

We set off around 6am for the three hour car journey to Chaullacocha, my fitness level is not exactly up to hiking standards (especially with three experienced hikers to keep up with) so I am hugely relieved when we stop off in Rumira Sondormayo and are told that a bridge has been built connecting Chaullacocha to the road so we can drive all the way there, avoiding a three hour uphill hike.

The boys help us take in the food supplies.

We are in Rumira to drop off the food supplements for the school which are bought on behalf of another NGO, the women run up to greet us all smiling and eager to shake hands. They are dressed in beautiful bright colours, all wearing a black skirt with a pattern around the bottom, several layers of jumpers, a intricately woven wrap around their shoulders and a red hat with a white band circling their faces to hold it in place. Their legs are bare and they wear sandals, I can’t imagine how they can stand the cold as I am wearing two layers of thermals and still shivering!

We drive on to Chaullacocha, the road is made of pressed earth and there is no barrier against the steep drop, as it begins to rain our car drives slower and slower. When we reach Chaullacocha my first impression is that the people here make a stark contrast to their environment. The hills are a dull green with sparse vegetation, apart from that there are several small grey houses and a few earth patches, however when the boys run out from the school to greet us they are all spots of vivid colour, dressed in bright orange ponchos and straw hats with red tassels, the girls are miniature versions of their mothers with their bright skirts and jumpers.

After spending around an hour at the school , and eating lunch (my first taste of llama!) we make our way to the first pedido, it has begun to hail so we all gather in the greenhouse, the women and children climbing up the hills nimbly whilst I lumber along afterwards, still unacclimatised to the altitude and terrain.

The women sit in the greenhouse with their babies slung over their backs.

The greenhouse is crowded with all the craftswomen, all their children, and all of us. The children are some of the happiest I have met in a long time, happy playing with each other or simply sitting next to their mothers. When I think of some of the children in England, shouting and screaming at their mothers in the toy shop until they get the new expensive toy…

Daniel and Fani explain what we would like to order and the women all choose what they would like to make, afterwards we head outside and the women work in pairs using wooden poles to measure the right length of thread for the items they will be making. Although it’s my first time seeing this process I can tell that the women are confident in what they are doing and are comfortably chatting amongst themselves as they work.

By six p.m. it has gotten very dark, one of the darkest darks I have ever experienced as there

Whilst the women are listening to Daniel, the Masterweaver, their children play in the greenhouse

are no street lamps and no kind of electricity around. We head to one of the women’s houses where we are going to spend the night. Inside her house the women and her daughter both wear head lamps to see by, we borrow these to prepare our dinner over the fire. This house does not yet have a chimney so although its freezing outside we have to leave the door open to allow the smoke to leave. Once again I feel very humbled when I think of my own home with central heating, lights and hot water and how easy my life in England is when compared to this. Yet it needs to be said that although it would be a Western reaction to feel pity for the people living in these communities, everyone I have met has been so content and genuinely happy with their lives and work, a lot happier then many people with a lot more money and privileges.

The next day, after a very deep and very cold sleep we have the second weaving session outside the school and by midday we say goodbye to the village. We will be back in three weeks for the entrega to pick up the orders.

 

We begin our hike back to Rumira and as suspected I am the weak link in the hiking chain, however with help from Daniel and Fani I manage to trudge to Rumira. The scenery is absolutely stunning and I fall further behind as I am constantly taking photos, however it begins to hail again so we all put our heads down and cover up.

Rumira Sondormayo, I am relieved to learn, has electricity. Once again one of the women has offered to prepare us dinner, there is always a very communal feeling around meal times, everyone cooks for each other and shares what food they have. I spot some guinea pigs under the bed and realise that they are destined to be eaten in the future as the Peruvian delicacy ‘cuy’. Apart from this the main staple of every meal has been potatoes as they are one of the few things that grow well at this altitude. I quickly learned that if I brought out any food from my backpack it was expected that it would be shared amongst everyone!

The next day we hold the final pedido with all the women from the village, again I see that communal ethic as the women work together to sweep up the clearing we are going to use and then carry out the dirt in pairs using pink wrappers.

The weaving cooperative of Rumira gathers in the clearing.

The thread measurement is able to get well underway this time as the weather is dry and sunny, the women are all happily talking in Quechua as they work, sometimes a husband will come and sit next to his wife. I have read a lot about macho attitudes prevailing in Peru, especially in the communities but if anything the husbands here seem to be in awe of their wives and watch quietly as they work.

 

 

The children in Rumira Sondormayo clamber all over the village

After an hour or so I take a walk around the village and meet some more of the children, they have free run of the village whilst their parents are working and are making the most of it, running up and down the hillside, shouting to each other and all playing games together, the elder children taking care of the younger. They are obviously having such a good time I wish I was a kid again so I could join in.

When it is time to leave I feel relief that I will be able to shower again but also a kind of envy. These people all belong to their community and all belong to each other, they all know each other by name and all look after each other. That kind of altruistic community environment is practically extinct in my culture and I can now understand why it’s so important to help maintain it.

by Frankie