Modern Peruvian weavers are heirs to a long-running pre-Hispanic tradition that was developed across the length and breadth of Peru. Outstanding work includes the Paracas funeral shrouds and Inca and Ayacucho Wari weavings. The oldest textiles ever found were uncovered at the pre-Colombian temple of Huaca Prieta in the Chicama Valley, and are believed to date back 4 000 years.
Preferred materials -which are still used today- include brown and white cotton; vicuña, alpaca and llama wool. Other materials occasionally include human hair and bat fibers, and more commonly, gold and silver thread. In addition, natural dyes are still used today, combined with aniline and other industrial dyes, while the vertical loom and pedal loom are still the most commonly used tool for weaving blankets and yards of cloth.
Key weaving departments include Ayacucho, Puno, Cusco, Junín, Apurímac and Lima. Cusco decorative work often features the tika, representing the potato flower, and the sojta, a geometric design symbolizing the sowing season. Cusco weavers produce a wide variety of chullos (woolen caps with earflaps), woolen cocaleaf pouches, blankets featuring geometric patterns, cummerbunds and chumpis weaved by the meter, like the ones sold at the Sicuani market, or in the Sunday market at Písac. Ayacucho is another major textile center, as it is a region where over the past few decades artisans have gained a following for their tapestries of weft and warp with abstract motifs.
This form of artisanry is of contemporary origin, brought over from Chile in the 1,970s. Known locally as arpilleras, this cloth often features previously elaborated figures representing themes such as testimonies and local traditions. The portrayal of characters, animals and plants sewn into the main fabric lend the material a three-dimensional effect. Women quickly incorporated Hessian weave into artisanry, especially the highland migrants in the outskirts of Lima in districts such as Pamplona Alta, where in this technique they found a way to express themselves artistically. This artisanry, now common in Peru, has produced sterling work in areas such as Cusco, where weavers have added traditional decorative elements such as dolls and Inca textiles.
The embroidery work of Chiqnaya, Puno, is famous for its lambswool or cotton blankets, large and small, which represent scenes linked to the sowing and harvesting seasons and fiestas. Other well-known embroidery is produced in the town of Chivay, in the Colca Valley near Arequipa. Their work is decorated with ribbons and backstitches. The arts and crafts fair in Huancayo, Junín sells petticoats called "centro" which are entirely embroidered and used underneath a unicolor skirt.
Cotton Thread Inlays.
The art of hilado, cotton threading, takes advantage of the natural color of brown cotton and the suggestive, sober tones of natural dyes, although now the native cotton variety is facing major competition from industrial cotton, especially in artisan areas of Monsefú (Lambayeque) and Cajamarca. The tradition dates back to pre-Hispanic Andean civilizations and artisan production mainly lives on in some communities along the coast and in the upper highland reaches. In the Amazon, craftsmen produce elaborate dresses and shawls or fine and flat threading, on which the Shipibo natives make drawings of geometric lines inspired by hallucinogenic visions brought on by the use of medicinal plants.
Tapestries crafted in the Ayacucho quarter of Santa Ana continue to use pre-Hispanic geometric designs, which have incorporated modern effects from an optical perspective. Another area that produces superb tapestries is San Pedro de Casta, in the highlands above Lima, where townspeople continue to use natural dyes from cochineal and plants.
The discovery of chullos, bonnets, sashes, dolls and other pieces from pre-Hispanic cultures along the coast (Paracas, Nazca, Chancay and Mochica) showed that Tejidos de Punto (needlepoint) is an ancient technique. This technique basically involves knitting pieces -mainly clothing- by crossing one loop through another. However, the technique allowed artisans to decorate the textile with haut- and bas-relief. Today, this knitting technique has become a flourishing industry in Puno, Cusco, Arequipa and Lima. Puno is the country's largest producer of chullos and sweaters made from vicuña, alpaca and lambswool. In this area, the men are the ones who knit socks, stockings and chullos from alpaca wool.