In our culture today, it’s most likely a felt or straw Stetson or a baseball cap, that thing men put on their heads. (In my father’s time, it was the ubiquitous fedora.) In Peru, it’s a knitted chullo, often topped with a brimmed felt hat. One for warmth, one for sun protection.
The knitted chullos of the Peruvian highlands are a marvel. Men knit them for their sons; women knit them for their husbands. The knitting is often impossibly fine but not delicate—twenty stitches to the inch or more, and sturdy enough to last a lifetime. The patterning is a riot, a dance-party, with llamas and tiny men and women and chickens and so forth capering about. Or maybe more serious, with stars and suns and Inca crosses.
Young men with marriage on their mind embellish their chullos with pearl buttons and seed beads, often so profusely you can’t even see the knitting. Ribbons, too—handwoven streamers edged in beads. Lots of them. In many communities, baby chullos are extravagantly patterned with bobbles, said to help protect their little infant heads from bumps.
I remember when we were photographing chullos for Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands, back in 2006. It wasn’t one of those glamorous photo shoots like they write about in fashion magazines. It was Paula Trevisan standing on tiptoe on a shaky wooden chair, pointing her camera down to the floor at the chullos Nilda Callañaupa kept pulling out of the storage closet at the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. So many different styles, all speaking of their particular village identities. The book shows a good sampling, along with the women’s hats, the mantas, the voluminous skirts, and more.
Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands offers a great overview of Quechua village life and a sense of how communities use their weaving and their wardrobes to proclaim both their uniqueness and their cultural solidarity. And right now, you can enjoy all this richness by way of a special auction being mounted by Andean Textile Arts, a North American support group for the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco and other weavers of the Andes. I was particularly struck by this amazing, extravagant example of a festival chullo from the village of Chinchero.
You could have it for your very own! Go HERE to preview all the pieces in this one-of-a-kind auction, ranging from museum-quality work (not antiquities) to highly affordable wonders. Remember in old cartoons how the hat would pop right off a character’s head?
Learn more about the traditional hats of the Cusco region in Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands, now 30% off.