Stumbling upon Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco in Peru after a visit to a local market only seems like yesterday, not the two years that have passed. I still recall carefully inspecting the bright textiles and beautiful patterns that seemed to be in every direction that I looked. I had heard of the organization before I visited their store, but hadn’t expected to visit in person any day soon. Luckily I was wrong and I explored every inch of the small museum and available products. I had been looking for something to bring home from Peru that would reflect the culture, but nothing had caught my eye and I yearned to find something I knew would be authentic, not another tourist trap or from a store claiming to be fair trade. After deciding on a scarf of purple and deep reds, I felt proud of my choice, but upon returning home I didn’t seek the opportunity to wear it much. It can be easy to tuck our travel souvenirs away in favor of clothes we wear all the time, but recently I’m determined to wear this accessory. Why? To share the beautiful craftsmanship and history of this scarf. After all, this was the reason I was careful in selecting it; I wanted to share a piece of Peruvian life.
The journey of my story with this scarf begins with the history of Peruvian textiles and weaving. Traditional textiles can be traced back to many ancient cultures including the Chavin who started the back strap loom and many other techniques and the Paracas and Nazcas who were known for their brightly-colored embroidery. Textiles were highly valuable to the Incas who used textiles as currency, status recognition, social order and even in architecture. Eventually, the Spanish conquistadors worked towards eliminating these practices and even went as far as outlawing citizens from wearing traditional Incan clothing. Although weavers would still practice traditional techniques, there is a heated debate over whether or not artisans should use pre-spun, pre-dyed yarn; some see it as a loss of tradition, others see it as adapting to the modern world. Whichever side you may be on, the traditional forms of dyeing and weaving have become rediscovered and incorporated into today’s practices. The more knowledge we have of these traditional techniques, the more pride and inner-respect practitioners have in themselves and their indigenous roots.
Inspiring others to have faith in themselves is definitely something I can get behind, which is why I’m beginning to see my scarf in a new light when I pull it out of the closet. Summer may be approaching, but while I’m still enduring cold spring mornings, I think of my scarf and think of the hands that made it and the respect I share when I wear it. The more I pair it with deep purples and reds with some neutral tans, black or greys, the more I see the potential it has in my wardrobe for many occasions. If you’re having a dilemma about how to style a unique design or travel item you treasure but haven’t worn, start with the basics: pick neutrals, pick similar colors and most importantly learn the meaning behind your purchase. Understanding the story behind your clothing item will give you the confidence and inspiration to share it no matter the occasion.
For more information on Peruvian weaving, visit Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco.