Spinning a Tale of Ancient Heritage and Living Craft

This week we are thrilled to welcome Keith Recker, founder and editor of HAND/EYE magazine and international trend and color forecaster, as our special guest author. Keith shares his thoughts about our new book Secrets of Spinning, Weaving, and Knitting in the Peruvian Highlands. Enjoy his wonderful perspective. Thank you, Keith!

Textiles–A Way of Life

Nilda Callanaupa’s beautifully informative new book has only one flaw: its title is much too modest! It not only offers, in patient words and detailed pictures, a primer on ancient Incan spinning and textile-making, it also spins a tale of ancient heritage and living craft—and a rich, meaning-laden way of life.

Secrets of Spinning can certainly make a spinner (and more) out of you, with its thorough explanation of over a dozen significant methods used by Callanaupa’s fellow textile masters in the Department of Cusco, high up in the Andean mountains around Machu Picchu. The Incan heritage of these textile masters is still very much expressed in their art, from shepherding to spinning, weaving, knitting, and plaiting. The book’s generous sharing of textile knowledge deeply enriches your own textile practice on many levels.

But it will do more than that. Like learning a new spoken language, learning a new craft vocabulary opens up a new culture, with its different rules and definitions. A glimpse into these structures helps enrich not just a textile practice, but our sense of what it is to be human. For example, a discussion of youth and age is one of the threads that runs through the book. The old teach the young, whose enthusiasm and energy carries knowledge and heritage and technique forward. The young and the old rely on each other, exchanging the vigor of youth during the demanding warping process for the problem-solving wisdom of age when a puzzling snarl pops up somewhere in the making process. When age keeps a maker from spending long hours at a loom, spinning fills the gap that opens up in one’s sense of productivity and creativity, and the yarn which ends up in a younger maker’s textile is not just a collaborative link: It’s a personal bond. There’s a Quechua word for this: ayni, whose literal meaning, “work-sharing,” is enriched with layers of relationship and interdependence.

Cultural Windows

Through another of the book’s cultural windows we get a glimpse of what defines a good person. The Quechua word waylaka is a quick way of describing someone as a lazy-good-for-nothing who “can’t even make good yarn.” Imagine living in a culture with such an emphasis on not just textile making, but of participating in the cultural continuum—of being able to contribute a needed skill to a communal effort. Of being able to accomplish a thing learned young and maintained well into senior status. Of simply playing one’s part. Contribution over destruction sounds pretty tempting to these ears!

The Everyday, The Sacred

Another of the book’s complex threads traces the union of the everyday and the sacred. We learn about offerings made to the spirits of the mountains and to Mother Earth at various steps in the textile process, starting with the shearing of sheep. We learn of sacred motifs, from the Incan cross to border symbols that ward off the evil eye (Nawi Awapa). These are a beautiful reminder that art and life have meaning when we take the time and energy to make it so—which is certainly a lesson relevant well beyond the making of textiles.


Though I’ve had a life in craft, I confess that I am not a crafter, unless writing and photographing artisan efforts for twenty-five years count. My hands lack the precision needed to make good things. Nonetheless, Secrets of Spinning made my fingers tingle. Will I be able to make Nawi Awapa cord to fend off evil thoughts? Will my pom-poms-with-legs bounce with life? Will I be able to turn away from the stimuli of “modern” life (tempting and irritating in equal measure) long enough to make something, and thus escape being labeled a waylaka? If so, Nilda Callañaupa will be the first one I thank.

—Keith Recker

Secrets of SpinningSecrets of Spinning is available at ClothRoadsB&N Amazon, and at your favorite bookstore.



2 thoughts on “Spinning a Tale of Ancient Heritage and Living Craft

  1. Marilyn Anderson says:

    Wonderful piece about SECRETS of SPINNING, WEAVING AND KNITTING. Just would have loved good captions for the photos in this email. Each image is very interesting but some leave me with questions.

Comments are closed.

Malcare WordPress Security