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Peruvian Textiles History

Instructor: Joshua Sipper

Dr. Sipper holds a PhD in Education, a Master's of Education, and a Bachelor's in English. Most of his experience is in adult and post secondary education.

The history of Peruvian textiles is as rich and varied as any culture ever studied. Much of the high-quality, long-lasting fiber is taken from indigenous alpaca and llama, weaving a tapestry of not only the deeply formed Peruvian culture, but its link to the very heart of the Andean landscape that surrounds it.

Peruvian Textiles

Do you have a favorite jacket, dress, or shirt you wear often? Maybe it is colorful or has a pattern that you loved from first sight. Or maybe it's just really comfortable to wear. How long have you worn this item of clothing? Some of us might have clothes that fit us from late in our teen years right into adulthood. But, imagine you found an item of clothing that is literally thousands of years old! Not only is this item ancient, but it's still soft, pliable, and beautiful! What kind of artisan could make such a thing that would last so long and not wear out?

This is a description of the richness of Peruvian textiles. The timeline of Peruvian textiles can be traced back to 1000 BC and extends all the way to the modern day, with skilled artisans still producing beautiful clothing, tapestries, and other textiles that will continue to stand the test of time.

In this lesson, we will discuss the timeline of Peruvian textiles from the Chavin period through the Inca, examine what these textiles were made of, and discuss some of the design aspects of Peruvian textiles throughout history.

Peruvian Textiles from the Chavin through Inca Periods

The Chavin period in Peru extends from approximately 1000 BC to 100 BC.

The next period overlaps somewhat between the Moche (about 50 AD to 800 AD) and Wari (about 600 AD to 900 AD). From about 1100 to 1450 AD, the Chimú people held sway in the northern Peruvian region.

Finally, the Inca (about 1450 to 1532) continued the tradition of the Moche and Chimú in their own design.

This ancient tapestry from the Chimu period is faded, but shows the intricate designs characteristic of early Peruvian textiles.
Ancient Peruvian Tapestry

Construction of Peruvian Textiles

Backstrap looms were and still are almost exclusively used for all types of Peruvian textile construction.

Although plant fiber baskets as old as 10,000 BC have been discovered and preserved in Peru, the most commonly used fibers for construction of textiles in ancient Peru were from animals. Most of the fibers used in ancient and modern weaving are taken from local animals such as alpaca and llama. These soft, strong, plentiful, and renewable fibers are a staple of the Peruvian people and have provided warmth and protection for countless millions of Peruvians over the millennia.

In addition, intricate featherwork was a hallmark of Wari culture. Examples of this have been found in burial shrouds in the dry Andean landscape, which acted as a perfect preserving environment for the ancient fibers.

Backstrap looms like this one were used for weaving yardage and tapestries throughout the annals of Peruvian textile history.
Peru Backstrap Loom

Design in Peruvian Textiles

The designs of Peruvian textiles are as diverse and rich as the various cultures from which they spring. Realistic and abstract design, patterns and pictures, stories, or even just explosions of light and color can be seen in the immense variety of art and clothing.

Chavin

Textiles from this time period (and extending through the others) include tapestries woven on looms. While the examples of the Chavin tapestries we have today are somewhat faded, they still exhibit the intricate and specific style of artistry that define the culture.

Realistic depictions of humans and animals were common in Chavin weavings. Also, patterns incorporating geometric patterns, chevrons, and lines were common.

Moche

Realism was a hallmark of Moche textile design. The Moche incorporated landscapes into their designs, as well as the more representative motifs of humans and wildlife as the Chavin used.

Wari

Whereas the Moche textile designs were more realistic, the Wari tended to lean more toward finely woven, abstract designs. In fact, Wari abstract designs were responsible for influencing artists and architects in Germany centuries later, in the 1920s.

Chimú

This time period saw a return to textile designs characterized by more realistic designs, and there was also a sculptural aspect to their tapestries.

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