In a two part series, Sarah Confer visits one of our partner organisations, the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society (SBC) located in the North of Peru. In, this, the second blog she provides an overview of the work done by SBC in supporting women’s artisan cooperatives, which produce felted animals and some handbags. She particularly enjoys learning about handmade felt toys!
I made sure to stick around in Batan Grande until Monday when the women from hand-felted animals cooperative group would be coming to the centre. The group meets twice a week – Mondays and Fridays – to receive orders, receive materials and check their work.
Preparing all the fibre for the feltis is also an incredible undertaking – before the felting can even begin, the raw fibre must be washed, combed, and then combined; occasionally they do their own dyeing, too. In order to get just the right shade of fibre for each of the animals in their repertoire, Betty must blend different shades of pure wool by hand using a hand-cranked carding machine. It’s incredible to watch! On Monday afternoon, everyone came with their own bag of supplies – fibre, and needles stuck into foam – eager to get to work. They consulted with each other, and with Betty, the felting cooperative manager, to make sure that their work met quality standards. Sitting around the table with the women as they worked, I was amazed at their dexterity, swiftly building up each felted animal. But it was clear that this was also a social time for the group, and they joyfully chatted with each other about the local news as they worked. The rest of the time they work from home to complete their orders. Each animal can take 3-4 hours to make, depending on its complexity, and the women will make anywhere from 2 to 20 animals per week.
The SBC also connects with nearby highland communities to promote their traditional weavings, sewn up into marketable bags and placemats. On Sunday, Betty and I travelled three hours by combi up the windy, rock-strewn dirt roads to a beautiful community called Inkahuasi (“Inka house”). As soon as we arrived, we were enthusiastically greeted by Felicita, the president of the weaving association the SBC works with. Bubbly and welcoming, Felicita showed us around her new home and also treated me to a display of her naturally dyed yarn and weavings. We talked about dye plants, eager as I was to learn the similarities and differences about how textiles are produced between here and Cusco.
In this part of Peru, for instance, textiles are typically woven in a series of thin stripes, without pallay. One thing I was really surprised to learn was how different the Quechua spoken there was! I tried to greet Felicita in the Quechua that I know, but was only met with a blank stare. It turns out even the most basic words are completely different here compared to the Cusco area. Luckily, the SBC sponsored a teacher in Batan Grande to conduct a year-long Spanish course for Felicita and others from her community, and she is now fluent in that language.
At Threads, we think that the effort the SBC is making to protect the iconic Peruvian Spectacled Bear and support the local economy is admirable, and we are happy to support the work that they do. Check out our selection of SBC hand-felted animals, and help us help them!