fibre to yarn… the andean way

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The altitude is 3,762m, the air is thin and oh so pure… it’s a place far from home where the mountain ranges seem to go on for ever… It’s Chinchero in Peru, and it’s home to a very old wonderful colourful market… fruit and vegetables are bought and sold there in the same way they have been for hundreds of years… the main difference now is the odd tourist and backpacker.

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You can purchase just about everything you’ll ever need and more … from alpaca jumpers to ancient hand made spoons … even fairy floss!

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It’s an historic market held on sacred grounds… and we were lucky to see them preparing for a festival on the day we visited.

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We ventured over the valley to the hill nearby… here the lovely Peruvian women showed us how fibre was turned into colourful yarn… with traditional methods that have been used for hundreds of years.

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The first step was obtaining the root of the soapwort (jabonera) plant… it was grated into warm water, then frothed up with hands ’till it become sudsy. It’s a natural shampoo…. and smiling a beautiful cheeky smile, she tells me it’s ‘good to stop the grey hairs’… ha, a few years too late for moi!

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The pure wool fibre was washed and became a beautiful clean white within minutes… then rinsed and strained using a woven basket a few times… it was soon looking pristine enough to start spinning.

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Watching the spinning was really beautiful… she made it look so easy and effortless… and I know it’s not! Despite this I’ve added learning how to do this to my crafty wish list… I’m not sure I’ll break into song though.

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There’s a little insect that lives on the cactus… the Cochineal bug leaves a powdery white trail on the cactus… ‘sacrifice’ she whispers as she crushes it in her hands… the vivid red liquid stains her palm.

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Then the magic starts… she squeezes some lime juice into one part of her palm and the colour softens and mellows… then a large piece of rock salt transforms the red into a new shade as she rubs it… a little powder from one of the dishes in front of us is mixed in and the colour changes before our eyes again… She rubs her palm with the skein of yarn to remove all the colours and dips it in the pot of water… a new colour is born… a teaspoon of salt is added and half the skein is dipped again to reveal a new shade. I am in awe by this stage!

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All the colours are made from items that are naturally available to them… purple corn, beans of some sort, plants, leaves, flowers, salt, limes… all imparting their signature colour on the yarn… so naturally… what a privilege it was to see… I just love that it’s the simple things that create the colours… the resourcefulness… the years of learning that go into creating specific colours… who thought to add lime juice to change the colour the very first time? So clever… so beautiful… so honoured… so inspired.

So, you guessed it, I’m also adding yarn dyeing to my crafty wish list! Have you ever dabbled in dyeing your own yarn? Or fabric? Do you have million things on your crafty wish list that you are busting to learn?

Wishing you magic moments and colourful inspiration this sunny Saturday…

postcards from peru… machu picchu

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Machu Picchu is very high in the clouds, peaceful despite the murmur of tourist and guides, and oh so magical. The awe inspiring stonework is quite something to behold, the scale impossible to grasp in photos. The massive rocks and boulders that were too large to move, were incorporated beautifully in the design. Some stones perfectly rectangle, others with little notches carved out to fit the next layer precisely. It’s not as high as Cusco but I felt closer to the sky than I’ve ever been (aside from flying!), literally amongst the clouds. The huge surrounding mountains and their jagged ridge tops, allow sunrays to filter through the clouds and shine on this incredible wonder of the world so beautifully. Perfectly curved terraces hug the steep mountain tightly, making use of every available bit of space. Water channels weave their way through the site. Sweet happy soundings swallows flit about. Baby hawks on the lookout for food. The friendliest ‘wild’ lamas wandering about. One sat down, had a couple of big yawns, then let people sit next to him, patting him and getting their photo taken. I swear he was smiling at the camera! Another followed tourists sniffing out food and gobbled it down quickly when it appeared. We wandered for hours, mostly in silent awe, and tried to soak it all in. The spiritual vibe. The calmness. The beauty. The majesty. You can’t possibly take it all in on one day. So we’re going back tomorrow for more. Will write again soon.

postcards from peru… cusco

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We arrived in Cusco yesterday weary but excited be here and to see my son for the first time in ages. It’s only been 7 months but it felt like a long time… that first hug was a tight one. We celebrated with dinner at a nice restaurant in town and tried to catch up on 7 months of happenings. I’m impressed with his language skills as he conversed with ease to the waiter and our taxi driver, he’s come a long way since the Spanish lessons he used to have at the dining table back home this time last year.
The lack of oxygen takes some getting used to, we need to take it easy until the dizziness, headaches and general woosy sort of feeling fades. So we had a quiet morning then went to San Pedro Market, and it was everything I thought a Cusco market would be and more. From the traditionally dressed women with their aprons, skirts, jumpers, plaits and hats to the mamas carrying their bubbas on their back in the colourful woven fabrics Peru is known for. I was in alpaca heaven surrounded by alpaca jumpers, hats, gloves, scarfs, and socks… I may have partially filled that spare suitcase with a ‘couple’ of jumpers. The butcher section of the market proudly displayed their meat with the goats heads taking pride of place at the front. A bit confronting for me but maybe that’s just because the heads still had a full set of teeth in, eerily smiling at you as you walked by! Then there were the potatoes. I know Peru is famous for them but to see so many varieties was quite a buzz. We found our way to another the fruit & veg market. It was absolutely a locals market and we got a few stares as we wondered around stocking up on supplies. In fact two very cute young girls, maybe five years old, followed us for a wee bit giggling shyly at me when I smiled at them. I guess a white haired pale skinned lady wasn’t something they saw everyday. All in all it was a special day taking in the Cusco vibe. Hope you’re all keeping well, will write again soon.