Cloth Is a Language

Cloth is a LanguageSince Linda and I returned from Peru a couple of weeks ago, where we were hard at work on a future Thrums book, Peru has occupied much of my brain space. Visions of sugar plums and all that fun holiday stuff were nudged aside by images of Andean peaks and Inca ruins and textile–ancient and new–that are still making my head spin. The memories that surface most frequently, though, are all the weavers we were so lucky to work with–incredibly talented artisans from 10-year-old girls to 70-year-old women, representing several of the highland communities that comprise the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco.

As we gathered each day to photograph and to discover the clever tricks hidden in the looms and spindles and deft hands of these weavers, I could tell which communities we would be working with that day by the details of their traditional dress.

Cloth is a language
The crew from Chahuaytire arrived in their splendid black hats with orange cloth sewn and draped around the edge like a little curtain and their gorgeous black skirts edged with embroidery and woven strips in vibrant diamond patterns.
Mahuaypampa weavers wore brown felt hats and red skirts with triangles of blue trim and shawls in natural shades and simple, colorful stripes.

cloth is a language
I could recognize the weavers from Huacatinco by their beads draped in multiple strands from their hats and across their jackets.
Santo Tomas weavers, who traveled eight hours to meet with us, stood out with the reverse-appliqued designs in velvet on wool, embellishing their skirts, jackets, and hats. And the Chinchero weavers, now I can spot from far away by their white blouses with elaborate blue embroidery and their telltale shawl designs in blues and reds.

cloth is a language
I’m just providing a sketch here; I spent hours enjoying and admiring the subtle and not-so-subtle details of traditional dress of the Peruvian highlands. I could identify where a person was from by the design of her shawl, the color and shape of her hat, or the colors of her skirt, and there was something very pleasing and, in a way, comforting about that. Of course, clothing has long been a way of communicating our identity to others. Cloth is a language, telling the story of who we are, and even as it evolves, its significance remains.

Happy wishes for a bright (and stylish!) new year,


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