We have an epic guest on our blog today: the super talented weaver, Ellen Bruxvoort! You may remember seeing her featured in our Fibre Spaces series last year, and she’s back to share a detailed story of her trip to Ayacucho, Peru. (Heads up: this is one of the most beautiful guest-blog-posts we’ve ever seen!! ) Continue reading to dive into her weaving adventure, and please visit her Insta/Website for more gorgeousness. What an awesome community of fiber artists we have in FibreShare! Go, Ellen, go!
This past February (2016), I had the opportunity to travel to Ayacucho, a very small town in Peru for a month to teach and learn.
I stayed with a family of 4: Ciriaco, Victoria and their sons Jimmy, and Danny, who have all lived together in Ayacucho for 12 years. While the bulk of my time was spent exploring, eating foods I never knew existed, teaching English and practicing my Spanish (still rusty), I was able to get my hands on a few looms and get a feel for how traditional Peruvians weave.
I always joke that one of the reasons I started weaving was because of a throw pillow, and when the family that I was staying with showed me some of the pieces they made, I laid my eyes on some of the most beautiful handwoven throw pillows I’d ever seen. With just days to go before I left to my next destination, I asked them if they could teach me.
The next day, we began.
Given my expansive Spanish vocabulary (not), most of this process was me following Ciriaco’s lead because not only was it sometimes hard to communicate, but they don’t teach you weaving words in public school. Therefore, much of this process was watching, listening and doing my best to follow along and take mental notes. I have a relatively modern idea of what weaving means- according to this, I thought we could easily weave a pillow from start to finish in one day. When I said that, Ciriaco looked at me and laughed. At first I though, okayyy okay you just think I’m slow, I get it.
But then I quickly saw that everything is done by hand. Everything is a process. Everything is a time investment. And I think this makes the results (no matter how simple) that much more rewarding in the end.
We began at 9am and he had already been up for at least an hour to prep the fire for dyeing, winding and washing the wool. We purchased the wool in two 1kg spools that were already spun the day before.
Next we measured the warp.
Whereas most of us here in the states have purchased or built ourselves fancy warping boards for floor looms, he stuck four iron rods in the ground and counted down from 75 with a pile of rocks. He started out with 75 and after every pass, he tossed one rock out of the circle he’d drawn in the dirt. The sun was already out and crisping our skin but we were having fun as he joked, “this is my least favorite part.”
Victoria dyed the wool while we were winding. For the sake of simplicity and using our time efficiently, we decided to only use black and white, but Victoria loves to dye with all sorts of natural colors harvested from her expansive garden.
After the warp was measured, we separated each thread onto a rod and wound it onto the back of the loom. This was incredibly time-consuming as we had to be careful that each warp did not cross at certain steps of the winding process, while also adhering to proper tension during winding.
Each individual warp was then passed through the alternating sets of heddle loops (all 300-something of them).
After that, we used the tiniest handmade latch hook I’d ever seen to pull each individual warp through the reed (that had to be like 32 dent) and tie them off onto the final rod. And while you’ve maybe spent 5 minutes reading this, we spent a loving 7.5 hours just getting to this moment. By then it made complete sense why he laughed at me for assuming it would be so simple. I was laughing too.
FINALLY READY TO WEAVE!
I spent the next two days in this little mud hut weaving my life away and loving every second of it. Through everything from sweltering heat to intense rain, it felt so good just sit and meditate again.
While I was weaving, I told Ciriaco how I use shuttles back home to pass the yarn between the warp and he looked at me funny like, “what’s a shuttle?” And when I explained it to him, he gave me an excited nod and left the room in a hurry. He came back about 15 minutes later having carved the funniest looking shuttle out of a piece of household scraps. But it totally worked! He was so excited about it, and I used it to finish the rest of my pillow.
I was scheduled to leave for Cusco in the next couple of days so I knew I had to work fast, which means…stripes! After I cut it off the loom, we sent it down the road to one of their neighbors who sews up their pillows (it takes a village, as they say). Here I am standing in the home classroom (before our english class) with my piece in its entirety!
And here are my students!
The next morning, Victoria went to retrieve the pillow from down the road and the work was finally complete. My very first pillow! (stuffed with all the extra yarn, because who travels with pillow inserts?)
It was great to finally check off the item that somewhat pushed me to begin weaving in the first place. I look forward to working with this family in the future as we attempt to design, swatch, and export pillows long distance in an effort to continue the funding for these kid’s English education. They are currently building a stand alone classroom above their house so that the kids will have more space and hopefully long-term, paid teachers. Before I left, I purchased one of the pillows that they wove to keep mine company all the way back in Austin, Texas.
I hope to travel to other parts of the world, especially Mexico, South and Central America in an attempt to further this exploration of traditional weaving techniques. I’m currently looking for any opportunities involving an artist residency or weaving work exchange in Oaxaca or other weaving communities in Guatemala. If anyone has recommendations or connections to those destinations, feel free to reach out to me! Thanks for reading 🙂