Weaving in the Andean Textile Traditions


Loom weaving is an intrinsic part of Andean culture; requiring great skill, the knowledge necessary to weave intricate patterns is passed down through the generations with children learning at around six or seven years old. There is evidence of weaving in Peru dating from 8000 B.C. in the Ancash region; implying weaving has held great importance for a substantial amount of time.

The use of loom, however primitive, means a significant advance in the history of weaving because by utilizing a heddle rod less movements are involved.

In the Andeans textiles it is extremely difficult to distinguish the designs made by with a purely ornamental purpose from those with a symbolic connotation. This fact does not solely refers to the weavings but can also be applied to the American art as a whole, an art closely link to the need to express deep meanings, beliefs that naturally nurtured man’s life.

The capacity of weave to diffuse iconographic concepts and at the same time to teach techniques in environments outside the originals one. Displaying their superlatives techniques and aesthetic capacity, weavers even used fine variegated wool strands to obtain the iridescence of the tiny hummingbirds, zealous as craftmen to faithfully copy nature, and as artists to embellish it.

Weaves are intertwined with legends and poetry which tell us about deep beliefs, and the diffusion of these beliefs is accompanied by the echo of music, always present in the Andes. Devotions and arts that were learnt in childhood, during the nights filled with shared tales and stories, in which names of distant villages came to life in the vividness of the narrations.


The vast majority of Andean weaving is warp-faced, in which the weft yarns are completely hidden by the warp during the weaving process. As a result, it is entirely the warp which determines the visible color structure and artistic character of the piece. There are several warp-faced weaving techniques common in the Andes:

Complementary warp technique creates a pattern which appears as a positive on one side, and a negative on the other. For example, a black river on a white background on one side shows as a white river on a black background on the other side. This is the most common weaving technique in the high Andes.

Supplementary warp technique involves creating a pattern that sits on a background color and appears on only one side of the fabric. This technique involves the introduction of an additional set of warp yarns which are used to create the pattern but are not integral to the structure of the weaving itself. It is a more difficult and much less common technique.

Discontinuous warp technique allows a weaver to create patterns within the warp that change along the length of the fabric. One way to create such a warp is with a six-post horizontal loom (described above, under Looms). This allows the weaver to interlock two separate warps, each sharing the middle warp bar. Weavings produced with this technique are incredibly complex and beautiful. Currently, this technique is disappearing and is only commonly practiced in one region.

Weft-faced weaving techniques, such as tapestry (tapiz in Spanish), allow the weaver to create intricate patterns using the weft yarns. Tapestry is usually created on a fixed loom frame, with work proceeding from bottom to top. This is a technique often practiced by men, and is relatively uncommon in comparison to warp-faced techniques.

Weft-faced techniques are also employed in the creation of golón, the highly colorful trim seen adorning many of the women’s traditional skirts or polleras. This technique is very complex and time-consuming, and requires many small shuttles, each carrying different color yarns.




The type of loom developed in all the Andean region is the back strap loom, so called because the weaver wears a belt or strap around the waist which enables her to adjust the tension of the warps with his body weight. A back strap loom is also made from very simple materials: wooden sticks, strings and a leather strap, making it both portable and easy to make. It consists of two sticks or bars between which the warps are stretched. One bar is attached to a fixed object, and the other, like we said, to the weaver usually by means of a strap around the back.

On traditional looms, the two main sheds are operated by means of a shed roll over which one set of warps pass, and continuous string heddles which encase each of the warps in the other set. The weaver leans back and uses his or her body weight to tension the loom. To open the shed controlled by the string heddles, the weaver relaxes tension on the warps and raises the heddles. The other shed is usually opened by simply drawing the shed roll toward the weaver. Both simple and complex textiles can be woven on this loom. Width is limited to how far the weaver can reach from side to side to pass the shuttle. Warp faced textiles, often decorated with intricate pick-up patterns woven in complementary and supplementary warp techniques are woven by indigenous peoples today.


South of Cusco
South of Peru

The four-stake loom is one of the oldest techniques. It is used in the Andes since the pre-Columbian times. The technique involves nailing four stakes in the ground. The warp beams are secured to the posts across the short ends of the rectangle, using woven straps. The warp is thus suspended with tension, parallel to the earth, and the weaver sits at one end on the ground and works from there. The four stake loom can be modified into a six post arrangement, which allows the weaver to set up two interlocking warps, each with a separate color design. Known as discontinuous warp weaving, this is an extremely difficult and little-practiced weaving technique. A combination of the four-stake and backstrap techniques uses two posts to secure one end of the warp, while a back strap secures the other around the weaver, who sits on the ground and applies tension from there.

Andean woman sitting weaves according to the shapes and design. Women use camelid bones to stress the threads. When the fabric is completed, the fabric is not cut, because there are deeply held beliefs in the settlers of the Andes. Blankets and very warm clothes are made. This type of loom is still used in all the Andean villages and is transmitted from generation to generation until today. The four-skate loom is considered as intangible cultural heritage of humanity.



Variety of loom in which the tension of the warp and weft threads is fixed and maintained by the main poles attached to structures that keep the loom perpendicular to the ground, and in some cases, additional weights on the ends of the warp threads. In the Andes this loom variant is generally used to produce tapestry work.

The warp-weighted loom is a simple and ancient form of loom in which the warp yarns hang freely from a bar supported by upright poles which can be placed at a convenient slant against a wall. Bundles of warp threads are tied to hanging weights called loom weights which keep the threads taut.

The warp-weighted loom is used in a near-vertical position, and the fabric is woven from the top of the loom toward the ground. This allows the weaver to walk back-and-forth while working, so that wider cloth can be woven than is practical on a ground loom.


 Northern Argentina

The Incas may have inherited the technology of the upright or vertical loom from the Wari (whose empire flourished ca ad 600-10000). Wari weavers produced stunning tapestry tunics on looms consisting of four-sided frames, allowing more than one weaver to work on the piece simultaneously. In Inca times this kind of loom produced only the finest tapestry fashioned by select group of skilled weavers. Vertical looms could be set up in any desired width.


The Mapuche vertical loom is called HUICHA HUICHAHUE, which means “standing on the floor”. The most rudimentary one is formed by four sticks of varying thickness, while the size of the frame depends on the cloth they are going to make. The most commonly seen Mapuche technique is called the “Nimikan,” which is widely practiced today. Both techniques are made on this loom. All patterns and symbols come from one’s mind, where the weavers become architects, mathematically dividing and calculating the number of horizontal and vertical threads used on the loom.


Northern Argentina:
Catamarca – Belén

After 1000 B.C weavers began weaving larger pieces of fabric on an upright or vertical loom

The vertical loom allowed them to keep uniform tension while weaving wide garments such as burial cloths. By 400 B.C South American Andean weavers had independently invented sophisticated weaving techniques on their simple looms, including tapestry weaving.

City of Belén in Catamarca, Argentina, is said to be the cradle of poncho – with a grand variety of designs and excellent weaving techniques realised with 4 harness loom (telares de 4 cuadros) and hand-woven llama and vicuna wool master pieces of Belén weavers.

The beauty of ponchos

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