Set of ten Pendant Strings ready to be added to a quipu. Camelid fiber. Playa Miller, coast of Arica. Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, CMBE PE-18 (Photo, Fernando Maldonado).

Quipu strings twisted in ‘Z’ (detail). American Museum of Natural History, Nº 138705. Photo, courtesy from AMNH.

Quipu strings twisted in ‘S’ (detail). Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, 0780.

Diagram of the two possible directions in twisted yarns. Drawing, José Pérez de Arce.

Two ways to tie the Pendant String to the Primary Cord. Drawing, José Pérez de Arce.

Making a Quipu

To make the various quipu strings, the quipucamayocs spun the fibers with a portable spindle or with their hands, attaining different kinds of threads depending on the direction of their spinning motion. A rightward (clockwise) motion produced threads running in the same direction as the oblique axis of the letter “S,” and a leftward (counterclockwise) motion oriented the threads in the same direction as the oblique axis of the letter “Z.” To produce a thicker, stronger string, the threads were plied in the opposite direction of that in which they were spun, thereby enabling them to reinforce each another with their natural tendency to unwind. Thus, Z-spun threads were always S-plied into strings, and S-spun threads, always Z-plied into strings. To date, the vast majority of Inka quipus studied for their thread spinning and plying patterns exhibit strings that are Z-spun/S-plied, the same combination characterizing almost all of the Empire’s textile industry. Only a few have all S-spun/Z-plied strings or a combination of both patterns.

Once prepared, the Pendant Strings were attached to the Primary Cord by means of a “half-hitch” knot, which could be oriented in two different ways, enabling the observer to distinguish either the obverse or the reverse side of the knot. A few quipus have been studied that exhibit complex Pendant String attachment patterns.