Sunday, February 20, 2011

Alpaca - are calling

The Alpaca stars are lining up and calling me. First, I heard a fascinating modern-day story  about the olden days in Peru and it centres on the Alpaca. Twenty years ago, Jane Wheeler, an archaezoologist (read about her and the history of the organization she started--Conopa) was asked to investigate some mummified alpacas who had been buried with reverence and honour. Why? What was special about these alpacas? I believe that at the time of her study, alapacas were raised for primarily for meat and wool was a bit of a by-product, useful of course but not so much for the value of the wool compared to what their meat provided. Their fibre, was somewhat coarse, and according to one article, was only suitable for rugs. But the mummified alpaca had the finest, softest hair, much finer than the modern day alpaca.  
It appears that in history, alpacas were treasured and bred for their fine fibre, elevating alpaca as the backbone of the economy.  The Spaniards, when they arrived, destroyed alpacas and hence the economy.  When the alpacas lost their worth, they lost their breeding programs and the fibres lost their fineness.  Along comes Jane, her discovery, and her resolve to bring back the economy, the fine fibre, and all of a sudden after hundreds of years, an alpaca revival begins. A fascinating story. Read more of it here:
Next, I read about an indigenous weaving conference to be held in Peru. A Gathering of the Weavers (it also included other textile arts) of the Americas/Tinkuy de Tejedores de las Americas held in Cusco Peru in November 2010. This event was spearheaded by Nilda Callanoupo Alvarez, a leader in supporting traditional textiles in the Andes. More information on the hosting organization can be found here What an opportunity to see people from all over the America's, mostly indigenous weavers, gathered in one place sharing their knowledge. In hindsight, I realized I should have just quit work and gone. Alas, I was foolish and stayed. But here is an interesting account of one woman's trip, blogger, author, inspirer-er, student and teacher of indigenous weaving techniques, Laverne Waddington on her blog Backstrap Weaving.
Another coincidence. At the Duncan Distaff Day, I met a woman who volunteered for a month helping organize the hanging of the textiles which would be on display at the conference. She had met Nilda years ago at a weaving convention and Nilda had asked her to come and help. She shared her photo album with me and the colours in every photo was spectacular!
And even more coincidences. A very good friend returned from a holiday in Peru, and by coincidence was in Cusco, the town the conference was in. She is not a fibre nut but kindly bought me an Andean drop spindle in the market and some Alpaca to spin. And another whose graduate student was in the very same area, working with a weavers co-op also brought me a gift of Andean weaving done with superfine Alpaca yarns.

[Photos by Laverne Waddington from her blog at
Recently, SpinOff magazine created an interactive magazine called SpinKnit. The magazine contains articles, interviews, and a ton of multimedia: slideshows, photos, and videos. Their first issue has a great section on Spinning and Knitting in the Andes and another section on Alpacas and Vicunas. The 'e-mag' can be purchased for just under $15 but be aware of the humongous file size, weighing in around 500 meg! This is fine if you have a high speed connection but don't even try if you are on dial-up. The video below shows one of the videos from that issue: Andean women spinning.

And to round all this up, it has culminated in an Alpaca Spinning workshop I just took, but this blog is getting far too long, so I will save the workshop for another blog.

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