The intricate art of backstrap weaving

I had another workshop at Apulaya today. This was to learn the art (or at least attempt to learn the basics) of backstrap Andean weaving. The backstrap is a woven strap that is tied around your waist to which the loom is attached, with the other end being tied to a pole across the window (in our case) although I presume the Andean weavers tie it to a chair or something!

Mamacha helping me to set up the loom
Mamacha helping me to set up the loom

Margaret and I were both doing the weaving whilst Terfay was sometimes occupied by Emerita with painting or sewing. We were taught by Valerio’s mother whom we called Mamacha, the meaning of which is Little Mother, in Quechua. All I can say is that she is an unbelievably patient lady! She set up my loom and demonstrated about three hundred times how to move the hecho (which is like the shuttle in Western weaving but, in this case, it is made out of wool). I was almost at a point of giving up when, suddenly, the penny dropped and I worked out how to do it. If I hadn’t mastered the technique, there was no hope for further progress. Once I knew what to do, I spent the remainder of the morning doing some very basic weaving and feeling quite pleased with myself.

It was Emerita’s birthday today and Bobbie had brought a very large cake for her. Peruvians like their iced cakes! This one had a lot of synthetic sweet cream icing but the cake itself was very tasty. We had this at morning tea time and there was still half a cake left for us to finish in the afternoon, even after we had all had very big first pieces!

The birthday cake
The birthday cake

It didn’t seem very long after this that we stopped for lunch. Once again, the food was excellent and we all sat down to eat together. On both days, we had a delicious mixed salad to start with and not of the lettuce variety. It was wonderful to have fresh vegetables, which have been a little lacking in my diet recently.

After lunch, Bobbie and Emerita started to help me set up a loom for a different weaving pattern. Mamacha appeared from her house and took over! She is most definitely the expert. We did this using three sticks banged into the ground, around which we wound the wool in a specific way to create the pattern. Once completed, we moved upstairs to the lovely light room that we had been using for the last couple of days, to start the weaving. Margaret and I both struggled and Mamacha had to attend to both of us in turn as we attempted to do the pattern. The Andean weaving is quite incredible as there is nothing written down, no patterns to follow and the women (and men, in fact), create the patterns in their heads. It probably helps that they have been weaving since they were children though! All the patterns are symbolic of some part of their culture, whether it is the mountains, the land or animals.

Me with Mamacha
Me with Mamacha

I felt exhausted by the end of the day. I haven’t had to concentrate so hard for a long time and, using a backstrap, means that you are placing a strain on your back, leaning over all the time. Mamacha also showed us how to twist the wool as this makes it stronger for weaving. This is done using something like a spinning top and is undertaken after the fleece has been spun. It is common to see people walking in the streets or sitting on stalls in markets either twisting the wool or knitting. They never have idle hands!

Mabel had told us of a yoga class that took place at 5pm so I left early to try and get to that. Margaret and Terfay followed and we were a little late for the class (as I ended up waiting for them and then walking very slowly with them to the venue) but it was very enjoyable and good to stretch out after bending over the loom all day.

In the evening, Tim and Jill cooked a meal for everyone, so we all crowded round David and Mabel’s big table to eat burritos, whilst some people watched a Colombia v Brazil soccer game. It was the same competition that Peru had been playing in the other night and there seems to be a game most nights on the television at the moment. I didn’t stay until the end but went to bed about 9.

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