(post from Raisa, who is in Cusco, Peru for the spring of 2014) This past week I returned to the non-profit Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC) here in Cusco, Peru.
The Center was established to preserve the intricate production and textile traditions of the surrounding Andean villages, some of which literally go back 10,000 years. The museum is fairly small but includes a remarkably comprehensive exhibit on Andean knitting and weaving as well as a shop filled with traditionally made hats, blankets and shawls.
The Center also provides training and support to nine different communities where traditional weaving and Andean fashion design are still practiced
CTTC also makes a point of having "live" weavers and knitters on hand so that visitors can see techniques in action - thus the male knitter we saw on my recent visit.
He is knitting a hat in the round using incredibly fine needles - maybe as small as a size 1. The final chullo, or Andean-style hat with earflaps, will have 20-stitches-to-the-inch!
For some perspective: a hat using size 8 needles generates about 4 to 5 stitches per inch.
He's also using (very soft) alpaca yarn made from Alpacas grown in his community. The alpaca fleece is spun into yarn by women using drop spindles; the yarn is then dyed naturally using local plants and mordants. Finally, the dyed yarn is used to knit and weave every day items such as hats, clothing and carrying cloths as well as religious cloths and robes.
And his pattern? It's in his head! When I asked him about this - particularly given the number of colors he's constantly managing along with the complex design - he laughed and said, "Well, it's just in my head. I've been doing it for so long it's hard to forget."
For a more comprehensive review of knitting in this part of the world, I strongly recommend Cynthia Gravelle Lecount's book, Andean Folk Knitting: Traditions and Techniques from Peru and Bolivia. It's a terrific written summary of many fiber techniques and traditions used by the Quechua and Aymara people of Peru and Bolivia.
Perhaps these closeups give a better perspective on just how intricate a hat this man is knitting. The pictures above show the knitting from the knit side, but the picture below shows it from the purl side -- or how he views and works on a piece. Of note: in the states, we usually knit in the round from the knit side and carry the bobbins on the purl side for color-work. These are REALLY tiny needles, and I've never seen so many bobbins with different colors at a time. I think the colors of the naturally dyed alpaca come through here, too. The final chullo IS a bit stiffer than we're used to, but is still soft and fairly light on account of the alpaca yarn. So beautiful.