I was waking down the street in Cusco when a small boy, maybe ten, stopped me. “Mama, you buy this.” He held up a brown traditional knitted cap with ear flaps. It was not a question. “Who made it?” I asked him in Spanish. “Me mama, and me. We both make. All in family make.” he answered in English. I believed him. I bought the hat for my grandson.
Peruvians all knit. They knit on busses, on park benches, and sitting on the street, their completed products piled high beside them. They carry on a conversation while their hands move rapidly, rarely dropping a stitch. Their completed products can be bought from them directly, in shops, at the market.
At the Inca and Pre-Colombiano Museos there were two folks in the court-yard knitting with backstrap looms, both members of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco. Each place had a small shop that sold their finished products at fair market prices. For my traveling budget the prices were expensive. But, considering the hours each article takes, and the backbreaking-I’m projecting here- process of sitting on a stool, leaning forward for hours on end, I know every penny is earned. I was lucky to find a bin with a 40%discount sign allowing me to purchase a few items.
The folks who make the items will pridefully explain the patterns, for each has a meaning: pachamama, (earthmother) cocoa leaves, serpent, jaguar, and the plant the dye came from.
At the market in San Blas Plaza, surrounding the first Catholic church in Cusco, I was stopped by a woman who was sitting on the steps of the church, a small loom hooked around her foot, weaving long strips of beautifully crafted, colorful belts or as she pointed out, “this is for guitar, this for belt, this for hanging picture..” Yes. I bought one of them. Had to.
At a small table a few feet away I stopped to look at colorful items hand made by the more-than-middleaged woman who stood there. “Mira! ” she said to me. (look). She took a bag off the table and plopped a water bottle into it. Perfect. This woman buys ends of hand-woven material and makes small items: coin purses, bottle carriers, and other clever, useful items we all use. Yes, I bought the bottle carrier. After all, I’ll be trekking around Machu Picchu day after tomorrow, and will need a bottle of water.
For all the variety, deciding what to purchase is confusing. There are folks who will explain how to tell real alpaca from fake, hand-made from machine-made, natural dyes from chemical, and those who will sell fake for real prices. Bargaining is expected, but it needs to be done with a conscience. It’s easy to take advantage of a single woman on the street who needs to feed her family, but it’s not nice. A person who has a stall in the market usually has enough money to stand firm on prices.
Bargaining and identifying the real McCoy: next blog.