Skiing in our Chullos

Recently, my son Ian and I were skiing at one of our favorite spots in the Rockies. Ian wore his chullo that I’d brought him from Peru a couple of months ago. I’ve been skiing in mine for years, and now my kid gets to be one of the coolest dressers on the slopes, too. Chullos are perfect ski hats: knitted so tightly that they keep the wind and the snow out, brightly colored so that your friends easily spot you on the slopes, and of course they’re super comfortable and very warm.

skiing chullo
Ian in his chullo

Jaime Condori Huaman, an affable young man from the community of Pitumarca, knit my son’s chullo. I met him in Peru in December when Linda and I were there gathering details for a new Thrums book. I want to send him this picture of Ian. I want to let him know how beloved this hat has become. It’s not as though Jaime knit this chullo as a special gift for Ian. Jaime doesn’t even know that I bought it. And he probably remembers me, if at all, as the goofy American lady who asked too many questions about how to braid rope from spun llama fibers. For Jaime and the other artisans who sell their gorgeous textiles through the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, their handiworks provide a much needed income. It is work, pure and simple.

Jaime in his spectacular chullo.

A Whole Lot of Wondering

But do you wonder if artisans wonder what becomes of their work? When you raise the sheep and alpaca, spin the yarn and dye it, and then sometimes spend months knitting or weaving a piece, is it so easy to let it go? Do the CTTC artisans fall in love with a particular hat or shawl they’ve created and wonder who bought it, hoping it was someone who deserved it? Do they sometimes invest so much of themselves and their traditions into their work that they wonder if the buyer will respect it or care for it? These are questions I wish I’d thought to ask when I was with the weavers in December. Some would accuse me of romanticizing the practical. Mea culpa.

Discontinuous Warp
A weaver in Pitumarca works on a complex weaving technique. From Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands by Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez.

When I knit gifts for people, I think of the recipient while I’m making them; I think all of us do. I hope they enjoy it, will wear it or use it, and indeed it pleases me when I see a lace washcloth I’ve made for someone drying on their bathroom counter or see the next door neighbor boy running across the yard in the hat I knit for him. We want the work of our hands to be put to work, don’t we? We want our efforts to have mattered.

Maker and Receiver

I suppose that’s why I want Jaime to see Ian in his hat, so that he will know his time and talents have earned a happy ending. On one hand, they’re vastly different, Jaime and Ian. Jaime is double my son’s age, hard at work surviving in a remote community high in the Andes, producing beautiful, quality handcrafts for the CTTC as time allows.

Hillsides above Pitumarca, Peru. Photo by Joe Coca from the Thrums book Faces of Tradition.

Ian has an easy life as a high school kid in a small city on Colorado’s Front Range. They might be hard-pressed to understand or relate to the other’s life. But looking at each one in his chullo, I believe there is some kind of connection, if only the thread that ties maker to receiver. And perhaps only in my mind. I do think it will be a long time before I look at my kid in his chullo and don’t think of that subtle smile on Jaime’s face, the gentle passes of yarn through his fingers.


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