Woven Peruvian Clutches

Climbing in the mountains of Peru, over steep passes and through orchid laced valleys, I stumble straight into an isolated family compound, complete with a pig roasting and a mother weaving. No one around for miles. 

Mother shows me her skills on the back-strap loom, an ancient craft involving threads hugging your hips at one end and tied to a tree at the other. You lean forward to loosen the threads and allow a shuttle to pass through, then lean back to tighten and beat the threads into place. I have tried to learn this weaving before and can say, for the uninitiated, it is hard. This mother is accomplishing a more advanced technique, using an antler as a tool to hand-pick her design. I am wowed.

Years later, I meet Marta Castaneda. As advisor to the first lady of Peru, Marta had contact with the artisan projects of indigenous people in her country. With her sister, Sandra, she founded an organization to insure not only that those traditions survive, but that they are profitable to the artisans. They call it Pais.

In some communities, where the back-strap weaving tradition has been dead for two generations, Marta and Sandra revive and teach it again to those whose mother’s mothers carried the knowledge and skill for more than 1,000 years. With that memory comes momentous change. Women earn fair and sustaining income as well as creative pride; their textile language snatched from near extinction grows strong; their culture returns to the colors of its past.

Ali MacGraw saw this fine weaving and how it lends itself to strong stripes (we love) and designed two clutches for her spring/summer collection. So that we lucky ones can tuck one of these dashing numbers under our arm, hand-wrapped tassels swishing with fun, and feel the ancient ways coming to life again. Feel the pride of women in the mountains coming to life again too.

That's how it happens, this renaissance.  Sister by sister, piece by piece, Pais by Pais. We lean in and feel the threads that bind us.  We lean back and tighten our resolve to be sisters to one another. We take the tools at hand, whatever they may be, and make something beautiful.  Something strong. Something . . . .together. 


All the Best,

Susan Hull Walker

From left to right: Miriam Celli Hernandez, Teodora Perez and Gladys Espinoza, Carolina Basilio