Volunteer Claire Heath spends a day in the mountains and reflects upon the entrega (collection) process in high Andean communities; and some of the challenges the Threads of Peru team encounter.
At 6 o’clock one cool Saturday morning, while most people in Cusco were snuggled under their blankets, the Threads of Peru team bundled into a van to begin the 3 hour drive up to the Patacancha Valley to pick up two orders of textiles.
Fernando (blue jacket) and Dana measure an Alejandro poncho in Chaullacocha.
We stopped first in Rumira Sondormayo, where the women were waiting for us. They needed to negotiate: they’d double-booked, and were about to depart to take part in a local football (soccer) tournament, an important event in their social calendar. Threads of Peru’s Director of Operations, Dana, and the head of the Rumira weaving collective, Beatriz Laucata Sinchi, agreed we’d stop in on our way back down the valley. Before we left, Dana ran her practised eye over the few pieces that the women had brought with them. Some of the tassels were too big or uneven, and needed to be redone before Threads would accept the pieces. Beatriz agreed they’d be ready in the afternoon.
We set off again, and after half an hour or so climbed out of the valley and over a ridge, past multiple high altitude lakes, which lay still and clear above the tree line in an upland landscape dotted with grazing alpacas. We were soon in the village of Chaullacocha (in Quechua, “fish lake), its buildings scattered widely against an exposed, spare slope.
We piled out of the vehicle, and the women began arriving in twos and threes, children tagging along shyly behind their mothers’ skirts. Everyone got down to business immediately. Dana picked up a needle and thread, and demonstrated how she wanted the corners of the ponchos turned in and stitched down, so that the sewing was invisible on the outside.
‘I never dreamed I’d be using sewing skills my mum taught me in my work,’ Dana said.
More women arrived, and they settled into small groups, working together, heads bent over ponchos as they turned corners and attached fringe trims. Some of the young girls sat with the women, learning the craft by observation and helping form tassels. The toddlers ran around, playing hide-and-seek behind their ponchos or the groups of women.
Dana circulated, catching up on village events and sharing her news, inspecting the quality of the ponchos and bedspreads the women were finishing. By her side was our translator for the day, Fernando, a young Quechua man from the community of Huilloc, who lives in Cusco where he attends university. This was his first assignment with Threads, and he proved to be both a good translator.
Francisca and Barbara work alongside the new generation, teaching Barbara’s daughter how to finish a poncho correctly.
The villagers know what quality is expected, but they are still learning how to work together on a large project such as a bedspread, which requires four weavers. They work on individual looms and have to join the work together into one piece later, and it takes skill and practice to get the patterns and weaving tension exact, so that the finished product looks seamless. The weaving was beautiful, but some of the tassels needed re-doing, and the women set to work.
We helped measure the finished pieces, to make sure they were the dimensions ordered. Apart from needing to meet the buyer’s requirements, it is important for the weavers, too. The yarn is expensive because it’s high quality, so that the finished textiles will be fine, and is coloured with natural dyes, which are more expensive to produce than factory-made synthetic dyes. Attention to detail, such as dimensions and quality of weaving is also crucial to being successful in an increasingly competitive market for artisan crafts. So Threads of Peru needs to be strict with them about making the pieces exactly as ordered.
Dana discusses with Spanish speaking Demecia her poncho.
Back in Rumira Sondormayo, with the soccer game over, Dana inspected and measured each piece. We pored over the smoothness of the weaving; it was fine and beautiful. This was mostly an order of scarves, and now that the tassels had been corrected, they were spot on. Except for one: it was a bit too wide, and the weaving was not the quality that Threads knows it can and should be. Although always difficult, Dana sent the piece back for another go, explaining why and what should be improved.
In Rumira Sondormayo Virginia and Beatriz work alongside the next generation finishing the weavings.
It was after 3 pm, a long time since breakfast, and Fernando’s sister, Luisa – who married into the community of Rumira from her native Huilloc and now boasts some of the finest textiles of the group – sent us on our way with 3 kg of freshly boiled potatoes, some hard-boiled eggs and a small packet of salt. As we headed down the valley, we tucked into the potatoes, hot and delicious.
We stopped at another village on the way home, and by the time we got back to Cusco, it was dark, and the end of a 12 hour day.