“We arrived at Patacancha early in the morning only to be greeted by beaming women and a pot of potatoes for breakfast. It was quite clear that our weavers had already been hard at work for many hours.”
Carys, an Awamaki Sustainable Tourism volunteer, was immediately impressed by the Songuillay cooperative members upon her arrival in Patacancha for the natural dyes workshop. Members of the cooperative got up bright and early to prep for a full day of natural dyeing for Awamaki’s 2016 wholesale line. The Songuillay women have been doing so well that they were able to pay for a natural dyes expert, Andres, to lead the workshop. Andres divided the women into five different groups and each group worked to develop the same pre-arranged colors. It was hard, but by the end of the day each group had an amazing color explosion hanging on the drying line.
The concentration of our weavers did not waver as Andres carefully conducted them through color pallet, ranging from the bright greens and yellows created by the ch’ilka plant to the fierce reds and purples created by the cochineal beetle.
Even through the women were under the instruction of Andres, their preparation was what made the day a success. At the previous dye workshop the year before, the women where not prepared at all when Awamaki arrived with the dyes expert. The woman did not know what to do, and we had to start everything from scratch, which took time. In contrast, when Awamaki arrived this year, the women were already split into groups and each had their own fires built under huge pots of boiling water. All the materials were laid out and ready to go. Jess, our Head Designer at Awamaki, described how wonderful it was that the women were so prepared.
“It was a moving day to see how organized our weavers were and how much initiative they took in preparing the yarns for dyeing. They were so interested in learning and their confidence increased throughout the day. They started asking my opinion or running over to other groups to ask them how they got their color a certain way.”
Some of the men from Patacancha were hanging around and would occasionally help out, but the women continued to run the show. Karina, a Women’s Cooperative Program volunteer, was amazed by the women’s dedication to both their work and their family.
“Groups of women were gathered around the pots of steaming, colorful dyes – spinning, mixing, dyeing, drying. What’s incredible is many also had a baby on their back or a toddler at their feet!”
Andres did a wonderful job directing the women throughout the day in the art of color creation. However, in the future we want to train a few women from each cooperative to become experts in the natural dyeing process so we no longer have to hire outside of the community. These women would be responsible for leading the dye workshops not only in Patacancha but also in Kelkanka. They would have to attend all of the dyeing workshops in order to learn the complicated process, such as how the dyes react together and how much fiber you can mix in with each batch of dye. It truly is a huge commitment to learn and take on, but we are sure that our cooperative members can rise to the challenge! Supporters like you enable our cooperative members to gain new skills in design, and in turn empower them to reach for the rainbow (of natural dyes!).
As the busy season winds down, our design team has been making frequent trips to our weaving cooperatives in Kelkanka and Patacancha to host capacitaciones with our artisans. These training sessions are designed to build the skills that will help the cooperative move up in the Impact Model. The three cooperatives in Patacancha and Kelkanka are all on Level 2, which means to get to Level 3 they must perfect the quality of their products and begin to make their own designs so that they may begin to sell to their own clients. With this in mind, we offer two series of workshops, one about Quality Control, and the other about the Principles of Design.
The Quality Control Workshop comes first. Here, we discuss the practical aspects of weaving quality products. This can be as straightforward as discussing ways to keep the textiles clean during production and transport, or as complicated as making sure width is consistent and lifts aren’t too long (see photo). This workshop reinforces the standards of production for which the artisans know they are accountable.
After we get the craftsmanship down pat, we start to get a little more conceptual with the Principles of Design Workshop. This is a fun one because the creative juices really start flowing. The workshop starts with a short presentation about what’s going on in today’s fashion industry. Here, the artisans gain a wider context for what’s going on at Awamaki. We start with some examples from fashion magazines, which we use as a jumping-off point for discussing the needs of our clients. What are our clients looking for? How will the textiles that our artisans are producing be used? Then comes the best part: the design contest. Each woman is given blank paper, a new pack of colored pencils, and the simple directions: they have two weeks to draw a design for a textile then weave the textile they designed. The artisans are compensated for their participation in the contest and the winners will receive cash prizes.
We piloted this design workshop with our Songuillay cooperative in Patacancha and were met with great success. Drawing designs before creating the 3D textile was a completely new concept to our Patacancha artisans, who previously just imagined their designs before setting up the loom. In fact for many of our artisans, it was the first time they had ever put pencil to paper to draw. But in no time the women were getting their ideas down on paper, excited about the new method and motivated by friendly competition. Meg, a volunteer in the Women’s Cooperative Program, describes the transformation, “Some of [the women] literally never picked up a pencil before and suddenly they’re like, ‘wow, I can design a whole bag.’”
The opportunity to practice a new skill is having a profound effect on our artisans. It’s not just about drawing or design, it’s about empowerment. In learning about the design process for themselves, the women are recognizing their own agency within their cooperative. With this training, these women realize that they already have the tools they need to collectively design their own line—they just needed a few new materials. “They were amazed that they were getting the opportunity to do this….And at the end, they were so excited to get to keep the pencils,” Meg recounted with delight.
So on behalf of our artisans and our staff, we extend a huge THANK YOU for making these workshops possible. Your support has given 87 women the confidence (and materials!) they need to be their own designers. This has brought them one step closer to functioning as an independent Asociacion. We’ll be going back soon to follow up on the competitions, award the winners, and find solutions to any issues that may have come up. With how much progress they made in the two-hour workshop, we can’t wait to see what they’ve designed with two weeks. Thanks for your continued support!
How do I get to Machu Picchu? Where are the best fruit markets in the Sacred Valley? What do I do on the weekends? I keep seeing the word “wasi,” but what does it mean? Por favor, can someone teach me how to pronunciar “Ollantaytambo?”
Luckily, Awamaki’s interns learn the answers to these important questions through the Cultural Orientation Spanish course. The newest additions to our team spend their first week learning from an Ollanta native about five key topics: Ollantaytambo in Incan vs. modern times, typical foods of Peru, touristic information, homestay family norms and etiquette, and Quechua language and culture.
Our team of teachers designed the course themselves with a little help from Christine Ellison, a teaching consultant who lives locally and is a teacher herself.
“It’s a really interesting way to learn about the place you’ll be living and working for the next 10 weeks to 6 months,”our Volunteer Coordinator, Laura Brokaw calls it. While half the class you devote to improving your grammar and learning Spanish and Quechua vocabulary in the classroom, you spend just as much time climbing local ruins, tasting local fruits, and walking through local family farms, or chakras.
In a nod to Peru’s culinary greatness, most students say that their favorite class session was Typical Foods of Peru. After describing the look, taste, and texture of the native fruits, the teacher leads her students to the market to identify their location and correct prices. Megan, a textiles design intern, chuckles as she recalls, “Our teacher Ruth kept laughing at the faces that Holly and I would make when we tasted the sour capuli or the super sweet chirimoya.”
Whether interns learned essential information such as how to catch the combi to Urubamba and how to politely ask their host family to serve them fewer rice and potatoes or the historical tidbit that the giant stones used to make the temple of the sun in the fortress ruins came from far away quarries on the other side of the river, all conclude that the cultural orientation course offered them something new that they’d never learned in previous courses. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced Spanish speakers alike learned useful day-to-day vocabulary while improving their technical skills.
And, of course, they learned the answers to the previously mentioned questions: To get to Machu Picchu on a student budget, you can take a combi to Santa Teresa and Hidroeléctrica; Wednesday and Friday are great market days in Urubamba; you’ve got to go to the Salineras, Chinchero, and Pisac; wasi means house; and Ollantaytambo is pronounced as it’s spelled!