In the beautiful, northern highlands of the Andes Mountains, rests a bustling, historic city, Cajamarca, the largest in the region, and home to an association of indigenous women weavers. Our Peruvian fabric liaison, Carrie Campbell, visited these women to learn more about their work, process, and way of life. We're humbled and honored to work with these weaving warriors in our creative journey. Read Carrie's story below on this group of women and learn about their historic process of creating, dying, and weaving textiles into your favorite Peruvian guitar or camera strap.
In a provincial town in Peru’s northern highlands, most residents are transplants from small villages in the nearby hills who have come seeking educational and economic opportunity. Among the weavers in the association, all but one of the women has come from a small village, and only one has an email address and steady job. No matter their background, all of the women appreciate the opportunity to make money through this weaving tradition.
Tucked away at one end of town, about nine blocks from the handsome plaza, with its mix of pastel-painted buildings, wooden balconies, and hodge-podge of commerce—including, a bank, a pharmacy, and a couple of restaurants that don’t seem to keep regular hours—lies the rustic workspace of the weaving association. A heavy, aged-wooden door leads into a private, little outdoor space beside the turquoise stucco building. A delicate spiral staircase leads upstairs to the weavers’ “taller,” where two rooms house a chest full of yarn, some work tables, and some old donated sewing machines which are not in use.
The studio space, given to the weaving association thirty years ago by the municipality, provides a legitimate working and gathering area for the small association that was originally formed decades ago. It was born from a rich knowledge of natural dyes and hand-woven textiles, with some help from the local church to nurture and keep the craft alive by inviting women to participate and practice weaving.
On this day, eight women gather to welcome my visit and talk about the new order for handwoven straps. These women are active association members, they are also part of a consortium with another weaving association, an hour away, who work together to complete orders for Original Fuzz. As we meet to discuss the order and how the work is going, their hands are busy untangling freshly-dyed yarn and carefully winding it back up into balls of yarn ready for threading their looms.
Each woman brings her own weaving knowledge, experience, and way of weaving passed down through her family, and through the essence of her personality. Collectively, the weavers bring the spirit of cooperation, collaboration, patience, and ability to work hard, even under new conditions brought about by our culture asking them to perform to design standards, measure precisely, and meet deadlines. The women have no previous experience working this way. Each new order teaches them how to organize in new ways to get the job done. Each new order also brings something else special: shared time among the women with opportunities to laugh, and form bonds with each other, through a shared, common goal and purpose.
In these fabrics, there are many special ingredients woven into the fibers. It’s not just the yarn, and the hands of the woman who spent hours spinning it, or the botanical dyes plus time spent collecting plants, starting a fire, and boiling large pots of water. It wasn’t just the hours of exposure it takes for the sun to bring out a new hue in the freshly-dyed yarn, or the patience and dedication of the women who spend time preparing the yarn to be washed and dyed, untangling it after the dye bath, and then translating the design to the thread in their looms. It’s not the care of the quality control team who work together to measure and cut each strap and prepare packages for shipping—there is more than all of this woven into their fabrics.
Each textile harbors the spirit of collaboration, sharing an opportunity, and helping each other find the way to produce a special request. It shows the desire to work, and the will to weave, even when they are recovering from illness or a recent C-section, or when they stay up late at night after they have cooked for their families, and when their babies are finally asleep, to advance in their textiles. Each textile weaves in the magic of nature, with colors that vary as the weather changes and depend on the sun to shine through.
As the women in Cajamarca continue to weave and work together, their hands are the conduits for all special ingredients that go into each textile, just as a musician’s hands bring the magic to a song, far beyond simply playing the notes. The women of the Cajamarca association are very grateful for the opportunity to work with Original Fuzz and hope that the people who wear their fabrics always continue crafting and creating.