woven

Being in Peru with the tradition of woven wool everywhere is like being a little kid finding candy shops on every corner.  Everything ‘cloth’ seems to carry the bright colors and designs characteristic of the region.  My trained eye for finding fabric needs to be re-trained from so many years of looking for and at cotton fabric however.  It takes days for me to realize that everything I am seeing, mostly mass-produced on factory looms of synthetic yarns, is made in the spirit of the traditionally hand-woven beauties that can also be found in the mix of wares for sale everywhere.  And I discover that ‘cotton’ is indeed, a rare commodity…

I decide at the beginning of my visit that I am going to make a baby quilt to give to the one year old son of Molly’s music teacher Panchito, whose christening we have been invited to just before I leave.  I have brought with me some black squares of fabric and embroidery floss, and an embroidered piece in the kanta style of stitching that I made years ago, thinking to have some hand work to do if I feel so inspired.  Instead, Molly convinces me to incorporate the ‘snake’ into the quilt as it is such a potent spiritual symbol for life and re-birth in this country…

…and so my first few days of getting acclimated are centered in this activity of finding fabric to quilt with.  What I end up with initially are a few scarves of striped patterns in a tight weave that feel almost like a light flannel, and a throw that has been fashioned with decorative figures and colors, also structured in stripes, that speak to me loudly.  Molly bargains in Quechua for me at a stall in the large market at San Pedro for some spools of thread, needles, and a pair of scissors.  I spend my early morning hours experimenting with cutting and sewing these fabrics together while Molly still sleeps, realizing that it has to be done quickly and gently so as not to unravel the entire edge as I go along!  Each day I look for something new in the markets, something more to add to this quilt, and in the process, become acquainted with the vast array of ‘antique’ pieces that are literally interwoven into the piles of blankets and tablecloths and ponchos and sweaters and scarves for sale.  I have come to learn that these pieces are most often from the family’s ‘collection’, used and worn and visibly repaired or stained, but still so authentically beautiful in their wear. There is just so much, so many choices, and so it is significant, the few pieces that call out to me, that I bargain for, walk away from, come back to later or the next day, and eventually purchase.  From the woman in the small hidden shop along one of the side streets to Molly’s apartment, I find a simple piece, predominantly dark brown, seemingly plain and undistinguished, until  noticing the single embellished ‘stripe’ of whimsically woven color down the middle and along the edges …

which I respond to with a faster beating heart in acknowledgment of the passion and whimsy that shines through in an otherwise simple and obvious structure….

And then…seeing the flash of orange beckoning to me from a pile of hand-woven blankets that we pass on our way to the ruins at Ollantaytambo, I tell Molly I have to stop and see!  And oh, it is breathtaking, the simplicity of the stripes in clear bold colors that resonate in every part of me, taking me back to the bright orange fur bedspreads that I fell in love with as a young girl and graced the twin beds of my room…..

the bold edges of alternating light and dark blue barely able to contain the burst of these colors.   I am captivated by the subtle variations of design that take place within a single color of the weaving, this time the tactile quality of this piece becoming the medium for expressing spontaneously creative moments in the structure of this fabric, and after much bargaining, it comes back with me to Cusco…

So it is no surprise that the following day at the large public market on the outskirts of Cusco we are exploring with Molly’s Quechua teacher Benita and her husband, that the first thing I see is a vendor with bolts of brightly colored solid fabric.  Joy!!  It is a soft cotton flannel and I purchase enough to provide accents and become batting and backing for the quilt.  Now, with just a week left to complete the work, the design and piecing become one flow of activity in my quiet morning hours, until the day before I have to stop and figure out how to finish it quickly so that I may give it to Panchito and Jessica for their baby Wayri at the christening. The batting becomes a single layer of white flannel purchased at the market, and the back is fashioned out the rest of the colored flannel and folded over and blind stitched in place to form the binding after tying all three layers together with black embroidery floss.

Making a quilt in Peru.  It contains all the memories of my experience of being present to the tradition of where I am while expressing my passion for all I see and feel…

Baby Wayri prepares for an afternoon of being honored…

The christening was a glorious day of celebration in both Christian and Peruvian style.  And while the Christian ceremony only took an hour, the Peruvian celebration was an all day affair, weaving together people and food and music and dance and gift giving and honoring of Mother Earth, Pachamama, all into one beautiful experience….