Andean Textile Technology

Andean textiles are recognized around the world for their beauty, which is linked to the highly refined techniques used to produce them. They are the cumulative achievement of several thousand years in which textiles played an active role in perpetuating the cultural heritage of the pre-Columbian Andes.

Textile development began with the manufacture of long lengths of yarn or thread obtained by spinning different kinds of fibers. The thread was then looped, interlaced or braided to make the first textile structures. The need to stretch these flexible threads tightly to obtain broader surfaces led to the invention of the weaving loom and its implements. In the Andes, this invention opened up a world of possibilities for interlacing and combining threads, leading to the development of all basic of weaving structures known to date, as well as some that are unique to this region, such as reticular weave and discontinuous warp and weft weaving.

The complexity achieved contrasts with the simple and efficient set of implements used, pointing to the expert skill of the spinners, dyers, weavers, embroiderers and featherwork artists involved. These individuals mastered a broad repertory of representation and finishing techniques, giving birth to an array of images whose transcendence can still be appreciated today in the textiles produced by the Andean people.

Unit 1


Textile materials and instruments

In the early stages, Andean textiles were manufactured using the fibers of plants such as reeds and rushes. The main fibers used in developing these textiles were cotton—domesticated on the coast around six thousand years ago—and llama, alpaca and vicuna camelid hair from the highlands. Other fibers used included human hair and the hair of vizcachas, chinchillas and bats.

The achievements of the Andean yarn-dyeing tradition were the result of a long period of experimentation during which textile artists acquired a repertoire of colors. To the different natural colors of the fibers themselves they added colors obtained from different plants, as well as colors of animal origin (Concholepas mollusk and cochinilla, p.e.) and from minerals such as iron oxide and copper.
The instruments they used for spinning were simple and efficient: a wooden fork to keep the fiber organized and a spindle composed of a straight stick and a weight and that varied in size according to length, thickness and quantity of fiber to be spun.
Three types of looms came into use: The waist or belt loom was used for narrow items; the horizontal loom, which had stakes driven into the ground; and the vertical loom, was used for weaving larger textiles. Items were generally
woven in the desired form on the loom itself to avoid the need for cutting the fabric and notable care was taken with finishing techniques and to avoid the use of knots.

Unit 2


Cordage and braiding. Woven with a single warp

Structural techniques are based on a system of warp yarns that are twisted or intertwined.Torque is the basic movement to build thicker yarn and twine. There are varieties of woven fabrics, from simple structures of three yarns to some very complex with over a hundred threads and diversity of shapes.
Looping and knotting.Woven with a single weft

These techniques use a single continuous thread that is interlaced and/or knotted to produce mesh or netting. Weaving in this way is facilitated by the use of small shuttles or needles. This kind of structure comes in many varieties, depending on the type, density and direction of the knots and loops.

Unit 3


Plain weave. Warp and weft woven structures

This is the basic technique used to structure a loom-woven cloth. It is based on the interlacing of a system of vertical (warp) threads with horizontal (weft) threads. The even and odd warp threads are lifted up alternately and the weft thread passed between them. The need to select one or more warp thread systems led to the invention of the heddle, which enabled the development of more complex weaving structures.

Unit 4


Gauze and reticular weave

The gauze weave is a loom weaving technique in which the warp threads are crossed over to achieve openwork structures that are usually very lightweight. The crossed over warp threads are fixed in place by interlacing them
with the weft threads. In contrast, reticular weave is a mesh created by the spacing of
paired warps knotted with spaced wefts. This reticule serves as a medium for various embroidery techniques and is unique among pre-Columbian Andean peoples.

Unit 5


Warp-faced weave

A structure derived from plain weave that is obtained by increasing the warp count, which hides the weft. It serves as a base structure for different techniques that are used to represent figures on a textile, including warp stripe,
complementary warp, floating warp and double and triple warp-faced weave.

Unit 6


Weft-faced weave, tapestry

A plain weave derived structure obtained by increasing the weft count, which hides the warp threads. The use of discontinuous weft weaving allows changes of thread color, which makes it a good choice for constructing images.
Variations of this weaving technique, such as openwork, slit and eccentric tapestry weaving are defined by the way the weft threads are interlaced.

Unit 7



Brocade is a decorative technique that allows figures to be created on the fabric by inserting
supplementary weft threads while executing a ground weave. There are several kinds of brocade, which are defined by the continuity or discontinuity of supplementary wefts and the pattern of weft shots.

Unit 8


Applying color.
Textile painting and resist-dyeing

These representation techniques are based on impregnation. In textile painting, pigments are applied to the surface of the cloth using brushes made of hair and/or feathers, or are stamped on with ceramic or wooden stamps. In resist painting, metal templates are used or mud and/or wax are applied to protect the fabric during the painting process.

In resist-dyeing, in contrast, certain areas of the textile surface are blocked by tying, pleating or applying impermeable substances to prevent the dye from impregnating the entire surface in the dye bath.