The highpoint of our trip to Otavalo

We’re very lucky. Our travels have taken us to many amazing places and we’ve had more than our fair share of great travel experiences. So, who knew that we would have an opportunity to learn about weaving from one of the best in Ecuador? A rare and bittersweet experience, as backstrap loom weaving is quickly becoming an endangered art in Ecuador.

Miguel Andrango warmly greeted us at the entrance to his house and studio in the little village of Agato, outside Otavalo. The studio was light and tidy but also looked like we had stepped back in time. The tools all looked very basic and well used over many years.

Miguel explained the first step: cleaning the wool in the river using a soapy lather made from agave. Fifteen to twenty minutes of pounding on rocks and rinsing was all that was needed. Impurities are removed from the wool.

Miguel carded the wool several times, each time with a progressively finer-grade carder. In the past, thistles were used before carders.

Miguel carded the wool several times, each time with a progressively finer-grade carder. In the past, thistles were used before carders.

The materials he uses for weaving are wool from sheep and alpaca, as well as some cotton.

The materials he uses for weaving are wool from sheep and alpaca, as well as some cotton.

The natural dyes are walnut for brown, Indigo for blue, cochineal (a bug) for red, lichen for yellow, and chilco (a wild fuschia) for purple.

The natural dyes are walnut for brown, Indigo for blue, cochineal (a bug) for red, lichen for yellow, and chilco (a wild fuschia) for purple.

Miguel took some of the wool he had carded and showed us how it is spun.

Miguel took some of the wool he had carded and showed us how it is spun.

It was easy to see that experience is essential to produce a uniform thread.

It was easy to see that experience is essential to produce a uniform thread.

Miguel learned to weave from his father starting at the age of 4. A close look at the wheel shows the age and simplicity of his tools. We wondered how much his tools or techniques have changed since he first learned his craft?

Miguel learned to weave from his father starting at the age of 4. A close look at the wheel shows the age and simplicity of his tools. We wondered how much his tools or techniques have changed since he first learned his craft?

Miguel weaves seated on a pillow placed on the floor. He uses the backstrap for tension in the piece he’s working on.

Miguel weaves seated on a pillow placed on the floor. He uses the backstrap for tension in the piece he’s working on.

When he had finished we spent some time in his garden, steps away from his workroom. We gladly accepted his invitation to see finished weavings in the Tahuantinsuyo Workshop. When you’ve met the artist, when you’ve seen what goes into producing a finished product from start to finish, then you appreciate the beautiful weavings even more.

Our friends, Jo and Louise, were with us, and we all knew that this was why we had come to Otavalo! We came to see indigenous crafts and (how lucky for us!) we had met a master. Now we would each find the perfect piece to take home. We knew we would be getting extraordinary works and a remembrance of a very kind and talented man who helped us learn a little about his craft.

 

June 2016

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
This entry was posted in Ecuador, South America - 2016 and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The highpoint of our trip to Otavalo

  1. Pingback: Our Best of the Best #3: great ruins, discoveries, and places to hike | simpletravelourway

  2. Cliff Mail says:

    With traditional skills we have come across most appeared to be endangered due to a lack of interest by younger generations. Was this the case with the weaving? Great experience.

    On Fri, Jul 8, 2016 at 3:05 AM, simpletravelourway wrote:

    > simpletravelourway posted: “We’re very lucky. Our travels have taken us to > many amazing places and we’ve had more than our fair share of great travel > experiences. So, who knew that we would have an opportunity to learn about > weaving from one of the best in Ecuador? A rare and bitter” >

    • We presume but do not know that lack of interest by younger generations, cheaper machine made facsimiles, and rapid urbanization requiring paid jobs, all, combine to endanger these handcraft arts. But we’re not experts. We understand that Miguel’s grandchildren go to college and will weave. Maybe they are, or will be, exceptions to the rule.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    A wonderful post – thank you! And here’s hoping it won’t become a lost art…

  4. Wow! It sounds like an amazing experience. It’s always tinged with sadness when you realise that this type of craftsman is fast vanishing, though. Technology, “development” and no-holds-barred capitalism take no prisoners. Coincidentally, I saw this weaving technique used recently in a remote hill tribe village in Chiang Mai, Thailand! I don’t know how if they spun the wool themselves, though.

    • We were in Chiang Mai a few years ago and missed seeing that; interesting to know. Surely, many of these weavers still practice in many places around the world. Passing these skills and crafts to the next generation is not encouraged by the mainstream economy and society as you say. Of more and more things, we’ll be saying “…a lost art.”

  5. leggypeggy says:

    Such a memorable experience. Thanks for sharing. So what did you buy?

  6. How wonderful to see this craftsman at work. Such a special experience.

  7. What a precious visit. We still have both our ruanas, purchased at Otavalo’s market over 30 years ago. 🙂

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