A Visit to a Weaving Cooperative in Peru

WATCH: How Peruvian rugs are made – you’ll never believe some of the “secret” ingredients that are used in the dying process!

Women at a weaving coop in Peru's Sacred Valley

High in the Andes many people live and work much as they have for centuries, farming small plots of land using little more than hand tools, raising sheep, llamas and alpaca, and weaving their wool into beautiful blankets and garments.

In the tiny village of Chincheros, in the Sacred Valley of Peru we got a first hand look at every step in this weaving process.

Chincheros, Peru

A baby has lunch in his mother's back in Peru

The town’s weaving co-op is an effort to preserve these ancient ways by passing them on to new generations.

The artists and members of the cooperative work together in a way that generates a source of income by demonstating their techniques and selling the finished products.

Coca tea was offered to us at a weaving coop in Peru

Upon entering the small adobe building, we were offered coca tea to help us deal with the side effects of the high altitude of The Sacred Valley. We sipped as we staked out a spot on one of the benches that lined the walls.

Click here to learn how we dealt with altitude issues while in Peru

The weaving cooperative in Chincheros, Peru

Within minutes, several women brought out items used in transforming loose wool into the beautiful blankets and garments that we saw all around us.

Speaking through our guide, Eddy, as translator, Adelma introduced herself, then spoke for the group and began the demonstration.

Wool is washed using a soap made from a plant known as Sacha Paraqay

First the wool is washed using a soap made from a plant known as Sacha Paraqay.

When grated into water, the root makes detergent-like suds and the animal fibers come out naturally clean and white.

See all of our adventures in Peru!

Wool is washed using a soap made from a plant known as Sacha Paraqay

Wool is spun into yarn on small spindles that spin like a toy top

After drying, the wool is spun into yarn on small spindles that spin like a toy top.

The spinning motion winds the fibers around each other forming a continuous strand that can then be woven into cloth.

Spinning yarn at the weaving cooperative in Chincheros, Peru

But first some colors are added to liven things up. Only locally available, natural ingredients are used in the making the dyes.

Dying yarn at the weaving cooperative in Chincheros, Peru
A wide variety of plants and minerals are demonstrated as sources for the vibrant colors.

Bugs are crushed to create a red color in Peruvian rugs
Aldelma shows us how a bug that lives on the local cactus provides a red dye when crushed.

The many colors of Peruvian wool

We learned that urine from children 6 to 15 years-old is kept for a month to ferment and then used to set the colors into the wool. According to Adelma, it must be kids’ pee.

When we asked why, the answer was simple, urine from anyone older is “not good.” We can only assume that over time they have tested this theory and discovered it to be true.

Dying wool at the weaving cooperative in Chincheros, Peru

Dying wool in Peru

Colors may be changed drastically – simply by adding ingredients like lemon or salt into the mix.

A four post weaving loom in Peru

Once the yarn is colorful, it’s time for the weaving to begin. Two types of looms were demonstrated.

The first loom is very simple and stands upright. Two people thread the yarn through the loom by tossing it back and forth, producing a fabric that is reversible.

The backstrap loom is a bit more complex, but still uses the same basic methods. It is designed for one person and is named for the strap worn around the weaver’s back that keeps the strands tight.

This is better for the more complex designs and figures that are woven into the final fabrics.

The weaving cooperative in Chincheros, Peru

It was amazing to watch these forms take shape one line at a time, as each strand of yarn was added. There are no patterns involved, each work is firmly rooted in the mind of the artist.

Women at a weaving coop in Peru's Sacred Valley

Most of the symbols are taken from nature, animals, mountains, rivers, plants or the like, in a showing of reverence for Pachamama, Mother Earth.

Sometimes they are arranged in a way that tells a story, commemorates an important event, or just depict life in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

A day-to-day life that remains remarkably untouched by the so-called modern world.

Roof shrines in The Sacred Valley, PeruIn town Eddy tells us how the people of The Sacred Valley hold on to their traditions and directs our attention to the roofs of the houses. Small shrines including a cross indicating the family is Christian, ceramic bulls for strength and fertility, a cask of corn beer to tie them to their ancestors, and a vial of holy water to sanctify the house.

Choclo con queso in PeruWe sneak in some street food and grab a choclo con queso – yum! The cheese is unbelievably buttery.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Delve Deeper:
See more secrets of The Sacred Valley in Peru!
Click here to learn how we dealt with altitude issues while in Peru
Click to see all of our adventures in Peru!

Click here to see our full adventure with Road Scholar – a not-for-profit organization – through Ecuador, Peru, The Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu and much, much more!

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71 thoughts on “A Visit to a Weaving Cooperative in Peru”

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  3. Hi!
    Where did you find your guide? I will visit Chincheros tomorrow (?!) Look forward to hear from you & keep up the good work.

  4. Hi!
    I just came across your amazing blog today and plan to visit chincheros tomorrow. How did you find your guide? In the city of chincheros or in cusco? I hope you read this, I gladly take your advice. Either way I really enjoyed all the info and beautiful photo’s. Thanks!

  5. Also, what was the name and location of this weaving coop you went to? There are a couple I see in Chincheros so I am trying to figure out which one to go to 🙂

      1. It seems like a great learning experience!I am wondering what the name of the coop was you went to?

        Thanks 🙂

  6. Hi there!

    Thank you for you blog post. I am travelling to Peru in may and am very interested in the textiles, the history and how they are made. This seems like a great place to learn all about 🙂 I am wondering if you know this coop offered any classes?

    Thank you!

  7. we were just at this coop in feb.-we knew nothing about it but our private guide took us there thankfully. AMAZING!!! we bought a couple of baby Alpaca scarves and wanted more but had luggage restrictions as flying to Galapagos next. WISH there was some way to order from these ladies. There were so MANY nice items, beautiful patterns and colors.

  8. I visited this weaving cooperative in Chinchero in May 2013. So fun to look at your photos and video to relive the experience. The demonstration was the same, only the women were different. My dining room table is adorned by a runner I purchased there. I’ve been trying to find a way to purchase more of their weavings, but the only (limited) source I’ve been able to find is Shaman’s Market. If you know of a web site, or other source, I’d appreciate your sharing it. As a fellow weaver, I’d love to help support their artistry.

  9. Do you ever wonder if these ladies take off their colorful shawls after work and put on power suits? The insect dye is cool. I’ve gotta figure that was discovered back in prehistory by a swat to the neck.

  10. What a fascinating experience. I love the bright colors and what they produce. Beautiful photos – I especially love the one of the woman wit the baby on her back 🙂

  11. In my last life I was a dyer of fabrics and we used a lot of the same methods you describe. I am so happy to see the process being passed down and sustainable. When we were in India, one of the biggest complaints of the older weavers was that the next generation was not interested in carrying on the tradition. What great coverage you have given the artisans of this area. I love the older woman wrapped in all of her layers.

  12. Thanks for describing the weaving process so thoroughly and your photos illustrated the techniques beautifully. We were lucky enough to visit several artisanal women’s weaving co-ops in Guatemala’s highlands and the artistry and skills are amazing. And it definitely makes one wonder how they discovered that adding urine to the mix sets the colors…? As to the use of a certain age group’s urine I can only speculate that it’s more acidic or alkaline… ???

  13. The children’s pee factoid is unforgettable! There is nothing I like better than bright textiles. The patterns and colors are gorgeous. Thanks for this glimpse that honors the old ways.

  14. “We learned that urine from children 6 to 15 years-old is kept for a month to ferment and then used to set the colors into the wool. According to Adelma, it must be kids’ pee.”

    Wow! Not sure what to say about that but it’s kind of fascinating that they figured out such things. We are interested in Peru, I know someone (online) who has a B&B in Cusco, but I’m not sure we’ll get there, hubby can sometimes have a difficult time with the high altitude. Would love to experience the culture though.

  15. It’s really interesting how the indigenous people of Peru share many of the same techniques and naturally-sourced products such as cochineal ( cactus bug) as the local people here in Oaxaca Mexico do. You got some great photos!

    1. Thanks Michele, it does seem that there was some sharing of information, or perhaps it was just chance that they stumbled onto many of the same ideas. I doubt that though, I think that it was a small world even back then.

  16. Really interesting post, guys! My sister spent her Summer in Peru and she was amazed of all the cultural things they have there and you can’t see in Europe! I wish this post was live before so I could have showed this video to her back in the day 🙂

  17. Acadian farmers in the Canadian maritimes used pee to dissolve imported indigo, which created a rich blue dye. The pee of adolescent boys was highly prized.

    Cochineal is the red dye from insects. In the early days of the Spanish conquest, the red from cochineal was also greatly sought-after in Europe.

    You guys really got off the beaten track in Peru! Interesting.

  18. I love all of the colors of the fabrics. It’s a bit gross hearing how they get them that way, but the end result is beautiful.

  19. Very informative stuff, Nesters! I have always wanted to visit South America but I must see Europe and the South Pacific first. I always look forward to recieving your dispatches!

    1. Thanks. This was our first trip down there and we absolutely loved it. Haven’t made it to the South Pacific yet… there’s always somewhere new to go.

  20. great reportage!incredible how they do this…
    I think we have more to learn from them!!!
    Hi Veronica and David!

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