Weaving a way of life
High in the Peruvian Andes, where the temperature can fall below zero degrees in the afternoon, the beautiful traditional Incan weaving technique known as telar is still practiced.
The ancient tradition of telar weaving, using a foot loom, has been a way of life for Andean women for thousands of years in the mountains around Cusco, Peru.
Weaving is at the very heart of the country’s culture and is a source of immense pride for regions, with entire families and villages committed to keeping this traditional way of life alive.
However, there are concerns that the skill of weaving could be lost, and may not be passed down through future generations.
The team behind Cusqueña, our premium Peruvian beer brewed in the nearby former-Incan capital of Cusco, felt that something needed to be done to safeguard this traditional way of life.
They created a campaign to improve the quality of life of the artisan women from Cusco’s communities, helping them to not only increase their incomes and support their families, but also to reaffirm their cultural identity through telar weaving.
The Cusqueña team worked closely with the weavers and an Andean social organization called Bartolomé de la Casas to develop a two-year sustainability program, supporting the artists' livelihoods and assisting those families living below the poverty line.
The telar weaving process is a long one, embodying a wealth of traditional knowledge, techniques and skills. Sheep or alpaca are sheared for their wool, which is washed, cleaned and dried for a day, before being combed and spun into a fine yarn, using a traditional tool called a drop-spindle.
Spinning is the time consuming element of the process, as well as being a difficult skill to master – some girls start to learn at six years old.
Finally, it is time to weave on the traditional telar foot loom, which is where the talent behind this art form shines through. The women weave their beautifully colored fabric (dyed using plant extracts) by skillfully interlacing alternating threads, row-by-row to create incredibly intricate and detailed patterns, each one representing their regional Peruvian roots.
Bottles of Cusqueña beer featured the telar loom designs and 55 Cusqueñian weavers crafted a world first – a giant hand-woven woolen billboard using more than one million individual threads, which remains as a symbol of Peruvian culture in the center of Cusco city.
Partnerships were also put in place in place with jacket, backpack and shoe suppliers which all feature the traditional telar material and increased the weaver’s incomes by 460% compared to the previous year.
The weaver’s production rates also increased by 200%, which helped them realize the levels of efficiency that could be achieved by working together as associations, instead of individual producers.
Finally, the participants of the project are strengthening their collective and personal identities, recognizing the importance of their culture, and reestablishing their role in their communities.