Weaving in the Peruvian Andes

In essence, traditional Andean weaving is composed in a grid pattern of thread. The ‘y’ axis of the grid, or longitudinal threads, are called “the warp”, and the ‘x’ axis, or latitudinal threads, are called “the weft”. The vast majority of Andean weaving is “warp- faced”, which means that only the warp threads compose the visible portion of the pattern, while the role of the weft is mainly to control which threads of the warp are held up or down in each pass along the ‘x’ axis. With each pass of the weft, it is beaten into place with a small pointed bone tool called ‘the beater’ or ‘ruki’. The beating process does a great deal to determine the density of the overall finished product.

On the other hand, it is the warp that determines the visible colour structure and artistic character of the piece. Thus, the interwoven warp and weft work in tandem to form the eventual finished weaving.

Put simply, a loom is a structure designed to hold the warp in tension and hold a selection of warp threads up or down to facilitate the passing of the weft between them. In the creation of tradition Andean textiles, only the simplest of looms are used; consisting of little more than sticks, straps, and strings. Materials which could easily be found or constructed have sufficed to make looms in the Andes for a millennia.

Watch the video to see the process of Andean weaving!

…it is the warp that determines the visible colour structure and artistic character of the piece.



Left: A diagram of a simple backstrap loom, based on the wonderful illustration in Guatamalan Textiles Today, by Marylyn Anderson, page 52. Note that there are very few threads here, and the heddles are greatly oversized for illustration purposes.


The Back-strap loom is an elegant tool in its simplicity, effectiveness, and portability. The loom is made up of nine core parts, with a certain amount of variation in the make-up of the loom, depending on region and the needs of the specific project.


First, a rope (A), is attached to both ends of the warp bar (B), which is simply a heavy piece of wood. The rope is secured to a post or other stationary object. The warp, or vertical threads are wound along the length of the loom between two such bars (B and H); one at each end.


The shed string (C) helps to keep the threads of the loom from tangling when this portable loom is set up or taken down, and hangs loosely on the upper part of the warp, and does not play a role in the weaving. The fact that the warp threads are wrapped around and around the upper and lower warp bars, creates ‘top threads’, and ‘bottom threads’. Space is created between the top and bottom threads, and this space is called a shed. The shed is created using the shed stick (D) and the heddle stick (E). The heddle stick is wound with string loops (heddles) that reach down, through the top threads and loop around each of the bottom threads of the warp.


backstrapWhen the weaver lifts up on the heddle stick, the bottom threads are pulled up above the top threads, creating a shed. The weaver then passes the shuttle or bobbin (G), which carries threads horizontally, creating what’s called the weft. Once the shuttle has passed through, the batten (F) is used the push the horizontal weft thread into place and the the beater (J) (often made of a bone), is used to beat the thread tightly into place. Then the shed stick is grabbed on each end and pulled back toward the weaver, pushing the bottom threads which are attached to the heddles, back down below the top threads, thus creating a new shed, allowing a space for the shuttle to pass through once again.




backstrap_closeupThe weft thread is battened down and beaten, and the process is repeated over and over as the weaving progresses. The warp bar closest to the weaver (H) is used to roll the completed portion of the weaving onto, keeping it out of the way.


The backstrap (I) is fastened to that warp bar and passes around of the back of the weaver, who usually kneels on the ground to weave. Using her body weight, she can control the tension of the warp between herself and the stationary object which the rope at the other end is fastened to.




The four-post loom, is a form of a horizontal loom in which four stakes or posts are hammered into the ground into a rectangular arrangement.

The warp beams are secured to the posts across the short ends of the rectangle using woven straps. The warp is thus suspended in tension, parallel to the earth and the weaver sits at one end on the ground and works from there. The four post loom can be modified into a six post arrangement, which allows the weaver to set up two interlocking warps; each with a separate colour design.


fourpostloom_closeup2postloomA combination of the four-post and the backstrap, uses two posts to secure one end of the warp while a backstrap secures the other around the weaver who sits on the ground and applies tension from there.



warpThe warp is constituted by the long, vertical threads on the loom. The vast majority of weaving in the remote communities of the High Andes is what is called “warp-faced”, which means that the visible pattern is made up of the warp threads, and that the horizontal threads, or weft, function to hold the pattern in place and create density. Therefore the warp sets the core colour palette, and the overall artistic character of the piece.


Creating the warp involves two people. If the warp is being constructed horizontally, then four posts will be set in the ground; corner posts of a rectangle. These will be placed at distances which reflect the intended size of the weaving project. On the short ends of the rectangle, a warp bar will be secured horizontally, forming the ends of the warp.


weaverwarping If the warp is to be created vertically, then two posts will be placed in the ground at a distance which reflects the final length of the piece, and the height of each post will determine the width of the warp.


In either case, the initial set-up is followed by a person sitting on either end of the arrangement, and rolling or tossing a ball of yarn back and forth, each passes the yarn around the post or bar at their end and returns it to the other. In this manner, the warp thread goes around and around the frame, creating a great series of loops. These loops are repeated until the desired width of each band of colour is reached Then the yarn is switched to the next desired colour, and so on, until the warp is completed. The warp is then transfered to the loom, and the weaving can begin.


warpdesignBecause warping requires two people, and can take hours, it is a social process which often involves a lot of conversation. Much of this conversation revolves around design decisions of colour and pattern of colour.


These decisions set the overall artistic palette for the weaving, as it is the first and dominant structure of the project. Warping is generally a positive and animated activity – full of promise.

Weaving Techniques

Most textiles of the region are warp-faced, using a single, continuous warp. The two main techniques employed are called complimentary warp and supplementary warp techniques.

Complimentary warp technique creates a pattern which appears as a positive on one side, and a negative on the other. For example, (below) if there were a black river on a white background on one side, the there would be a white bird on a black background on the other side. This is the most common weaving technique in the High Andes.



Supplementary warp technique involves creating a pattern which sits on a background colour and appears on only one side of the fabric. This technique is more difficult and much less common.Discontinuous warp technique is sometimes employed. This allows a weaver to create patterns within the warp which change along the length of the fabric. One way to create such a warp is with a six-post horizontal loom, similar to the four-post, with another warp bar suspended between posts in the middle of the rectangle. This allows the weaver to interlock two separate warp designs; each sharing the middle warp bar.Weft-faced techniques, such as the tapestry or tapiz, allow the weaver to create intricate patterns using the horizontal, or weft thread, over the warp thread. this technique requires many small shuttles, carrying different colour threads to be employed in the weaving process. This is a complex technique, often practiced by men, and is relatively uncommon in comparison to warp-faced techniques.


The way a weaving is finished can play an enormous role in the overall quality of the completed work. Finishing provides that final touch, which communicates a sense of care and attention to detail. There are many finishing techniques for all the different types of objects, but here are just a few:


When a large piece requires the joining of two smaller sections,

a. Chukay is the technique of stitching the two together using embroidery stitches.

b. This runner has gorgeous yarn fringe.

c.  Another chuspa features a woven edge, which has been finished in a thread fringe before being sewn onto the bag

d. This chuspa is finished in a wild, thread fringe.

e. A runner with a diamond pattern edging, which is woven separately, then sewn on.

f. This bracelet is finished with beaded edges.