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Jessica Joy

Knitwear and Jewellery Design

While I dust the cobwebs from the corners of this blog I need to share with you my whereabouts for most of October. It’ll be fun, there are pictures! I’ve been on the most incredible (much needed) holiday to… PERU. I honestly can’t say enough good things about this beautiful country. It’s vibrant, friendly, historical and breathtaking; there are so many eco-systems and extremes of nature in its relatively small area.

Aside from visiting all the cities and tourist attractions one of the biggest highlights, for me, was doing a ‘homestay’. A lot like it sounds, you go to a local village and spend a day and night experiencing real life with the locals… and it just so happens that the community we stayed with sustains itself using textiles and agriculture — this meant yarn… and knitting… and alpaca’s!

My lovely family consisted of Mama Theodora, Matthew and their eldest daughter, Nancy. After welcoming us with lilly flowers and a huge two course lunch we were dressed up in their everyday attire and put to work ploughing a field. Their lives revolve around, and rely upon, the crops that they grow so it was a huge pleasure to help them and repay their kindness in this way.

The following morning, after lots more food, dancing and music, we were given a demonstration of their knitting and weaving process; from the Alpaca and Llama’s wandering around the main square, through the spinning and dying, to the finished product. The wool is spun still unwashed from the animal as this makes it easier to work with.

The dying aspect was the most impressive; I couldn’t believe the vivid colour yarns hanging to dry were all produced from local plants and natural minerals. The darker green shades are achieved by boiling the spun yarn in a cooking pot with Eucalyptus leaves.

The intensity of colour is determined by how long the yarn is left to steep and the colour is then set and yarn washed by adding crushed rose quartz and lime juice to the mixture.

This amazing mustard colour comes from a small tree indigenous to the surrounding valley called Qolle. The flowers are used in combination with salt and lime juice to produce the vivid yellow. I’m not sure why but apparently sheep’s wool produces the brightest yellow. Maybe it has something to do with the oil content of the wool?

The pinks and reds are produced in a slightly different way. Peru is well known for the dye produced from a small parasite that thrives on the leaves of cacti. The Cochineal parasite is a small white insect which is harvested from the plant and dried. When ground up it produces a bright red, which is used most widely in lipstick colouring as a natural alternative.

The different shades are produced by combining salt and lime juice again, allowing anything from a bright orange to a deep purple depending on the yarn and size of batch.

The women are taught to knit, crochet and weave from a young age by their mothers, usually around 9 or 10. They participate in markets to sell their wares to tourists and provide the village with clothes and blankets. Any one takes up to a month to weave, using Alpaca bone to tighten the threads on the loom.

Aren’t they incredible? Each family has to spin and dye their own stash; I couldn’t control my excitement and bought a 100g ball of Alpaca died with the cochineal parasite from my host, Nancy. I’m already thinking up something special to do with it that will hopefully involve a donation back to the community. Watch this space if you’d like to be involved!

I’ll leave you with my other most triumphant moment on the trip. Concurring Dead Woman’s Pass, the highest point on the Inca Trail at 4600m after an 800m vertical climb! God damn, that was hard work!

3 comments
  1. […] may remember that towards the end of last year I mentioned wanting to do something special with the handmade yarn that I acquired on my travels across Peru. […]

  2. Shannon 2 February 2013, 4:57 am

    Thank you Jessica for the beautiful images and description of your experience. I will be traveling to Cusco/Sacred Valley next month and really looking forward to visiting the markets. Since the last time I was in Peru Amazon a few years ago, I was so inspired, I have created an online Fair Trade Store (site will be up soon) and I will be looking for alpaca products from local women. Would you suggest any one area in particular? i would like to find a group of women to knit a simple poncho design for my collection and provide consisted work and pay for them, any suggestions would help. Thank you so much, Shannon Logan-BC, Canada

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