As you know, we are big fans of colour here at Maison Margot. So when we first laid eyes on our beautiful, colourful Peruvian rugs we just knew we had to have them.
We love the different hues of pinks, reds, greens, blacks and yellows entwined throughout the rugs, but what we love the most is the story behind them. We thought we’d delve a little deeper into the meaning and significance of these amazing handwoven textiles, and show you just how special they really are.
High up in the Peruvian Andes, there are many small farming communities that have been there for centuries. Their people live and work on their plots of land, raising sheep, llamas and alpaca, and using their wool to weave into a beautiful and varied range of textiles. These textiles reflect their Inca heritage, and symbolise their sacred mountain birthplace. Every village has its own weaving patterns and traditions, which have been passed down the generations for the best part of 2000 years.
The richness in, and varied range of colour used across Peruvian textiles demonstrate the ancient Peruvians’ knowledge of different dyeing techniques. Using mostly plants and minerals, they are able to produce different colouring agents with which to dye the yarn a wide range of colours. The spun yarn is boiled alongside these particular colouring agents to give the desired effect. They also use other fixatives such as mineral salts, to help the yarn hold their colour and even intensify it.
We have listed some of the funky ingredients for each colour below, so you know exactly what has gone in to the making of each of our new Peruvian Rugs.
The most common element used by the Andean people to create red is the cochineal. This is a scale insect very commonly found in the Sacred Valley. After the insect is dried out in the sun, it is ground into a fine powder. This powder is then added to water and boiled which forms the basis of the dyeing process. Fixatives are also used with the cochineal to adjust the pH and ensure that it is colour fast. Cochineal can be used to create a wide range of red hues, from bright red to shades of pink and purple. It looks like there are lots of cochineal on our rugs!
If citric acid (sal de limón) is then added to the yarn that has already been dyed by the cochineal, then a shade of orange can be created. Or, the bark of the Yanali tree (a slow growing tree found at high altitudes) can be collected and boiled alongside the yarn - this creates a slightly more mustard hue.
There are many ways the artisan weavers can create the colour green. Ch’illca is the most common way though - a green plant that has white flowers. They take large bunches of the leaves from this plant and mix them with a jungle mineral called collpa. They then boil these elements before adding them to the yarn.
To create blue, the weavers used a bean-like pod called tara. Boiled with the yarn, and with the addition of collpa (see Green), the blue shade clings to the fibres. The shade can vary depending on how long it has been boiled for.
To make yellow, there are a number of plants and flowers that do the job, however the q’olle flowers are the most common. Harvested from a small Andean tree, the flowers are then boiled with the yarn - and the shade of yellow is dependent on this boiling time.
There are definitely plants and minerals that would be able to dye the yarn black, however sheep and alpaca natural produce black fleece, so this is what is often used.
Most of the neutral shades are also found naturally as undyed fibre so they don’t usually colour the yarn to obtain these neutral hues.
As the native Quechua language is predominantly an oral language, traditional weaving was the means by which people communicated their thoughts and feelings, and documented historical events. They tell stories, and depict different aspects of the natural world. These designs are known as ‘pallay’ - which is Quechua for ‘to pick’.
As each community has its own style, it is possible to tell exactly which area a weaver has come from, based on the colours and symbols used, even as far as the the way in which the yarn was spun.
We have listed some of the different symbols and patterns you are likely to encounter in traditional Andean weaving, and the ones we’ve found across our our rugs. Most of the symbols are taken from nature - animals, mountains, rivers and plants, as a show of respect for Pachamama - 'Mother Earth'.
Animals are very common symbols in weaving. Although dogs and llamas are the most common animals in these mountain communities, they are not the only animals to appear. Some of them have been created in the imagination of the weaver. Llamas are often represented on larger textiles, because llama can be used in many ways to support Andean livelihoods. They are raised for their fibre to create textiles, and also for their meat. They are also adept as carrying cargo across the vast Andean mountain ranges. See the llama depicted in this one of our Peruvian Rugs:
There is an abundance of flowers in the mountains of Peru. As such, is it any wonder that they feature so heavily in Andean textiles. We wonder which particular flower they are depicting in this one of our Peruvian Rugs:
Waves on Peruvian textiles symbolise water. Water is such a significant part of Quechuan culture as it is believed to be the creator of life, so these depictions of waves are there to symbolise the importance of life. As seen on this one of our rugs:
Steps and Trails
Zig-zags and triangles often symbolise different steps and trails, most often, the Inca Trail from Cusco City to Machu Picchu. Like the steps and zig-zags seen on this one of our rugs:
The Chakana is a very significant religious symbol for many Quechua communities and is often referred to as the Inca Cross. Each corner and side of the Chakana has its own meaning, such as value, seasons and gods. The Chakana is also a star constellation seen from the Andean mountains. This one of our rugs has a Chakana:
And finally, diamonds
All diamonds symbolise lakes. If there is something inside the diamond, it generally means that the lake is healthy and ready for the harvest. This symbol again represents the importance of water for life. Like the diamonds on this one of our rugs:
After the sheep, llama and alpacas have been shorn, their wool is washed using a naturally-occurring detergent plant. In the Sacred Valley, there is a root called ‘Sacha Paraqay’ which is grated into water and then mixed to create a foamy lather. They then clean the dirty wool with some vigorous hand washing, and hang the wool up to dry.
Once all the wool has been washed and dried, the process of spinning it into yarn begins. Using small spindles, the spinning motion draws the fibres together, to create a long yarn with which to begin weaving. All the yarn must be spun twice, in order for it to be strong enough to withstand the process of backstrap loom weaving. The spun yarn is then boiled and dyed to create the varied range of colours to be used.
In the Andes, weaving is still the main province of Quechua women. They use the oldest form of loom in the world, the backstrap loom. Made from wood, bone and strings, it is fastened round the back of the weaver, who usually kneels on the ground to weave. Using her whole body, the weaver is able to control and maintain the same amount of tension in the yarn as she works.
This ancient and 100% natural art form is slowly diminishing, but by supplying these wares to the UK market, we hope to contribute to keeping this very important way of life alive and well for the Quechua people. A daily way of life that is a million miles from the modern world.