Mapuche Children

Mapuche Children

We’ve been living in Chile for about 16 years now and no matter how long that seems there are still so many things left to learn. One such thing is the Mapuche culture.

When I first heard about them I thought about how amazing it would be to belong to that specific tribe. I invisioned Lautaro, a Mapuche leader that was brutally killed by the Spaniards, and thought about how incredible it would be to have a warrior like him as part of my family, after all, who doesn’t want to belong to a real live superhero lineage?

When I finally got the chance to see the Mapuches up-and-personal I discovered that they didn’t wear their ancestry as proudly as I thought they would, as a matter of fact, most Mapuches (the ones living in modern times) will never mention their indigenous background, even when asked.  However, not everyone is like that, but the majority rules.

A little Mapuche background

“Mapu” = land + “che” = people  >>  Mapuche

The Spanish invasion destroyed most indigenous cultures in South America, but The Mapuche of Chile and western Argentina continued fighting for more than 100 years. In 1641 a treaty was finally signed by the Spanish government confirming Mapuche independence and their land rights. All seemed well until more than 100 years later a new independent Chile and Argentina began their personal little war against the Mapuches.

Mapuche People

a photograph of Mapuche women

a photograph of Mapuche women

Mapuche people have a great love and respect for the land and their natural environment. According to Mapuche belief, it is from these elements that the divine family emanates to create and sustain man and Nature. This deep respect is expressed in their clothing and jewelry, and can be fully enjoyed in the woven clothing made by the Mapuche women.

After Spanish invasion, many indigenous tribes were forced to use hats, pants, and other clothing to dress more “civilized”.

Weaving symbols into Mapuche Clothing

Among one of the most beautiful customs that lives on in Chilean culture is Mapuche weaving. It goes back to colonial times when women would weave symbols into clothing used a large upright loom. They’d incorporate these woven symbols into hand-woven blankets, woven ponchos, and woven bags. Weaving is to date, an exclusively feminine task done by expert female weavers. Before Spanish settlers invaded their lands, Mapuches would use llama wool or guanaco wool to weave ponchos for the men and create other woven clothing for themselves, but once Spaniards introduced the sheep into Chilean landscape, its wool became the more widely used.

The patterns that are woven into Mapuche clothing were made by dyeing the yarn indigo before weaving. Wherever white was desired, yarns were tightly covered to resist the dye. This way the piece of clothing that they were weaving would have the colors they expected. Mapuche women would use vegetables and minerals to dye wool and were even known to have used fermented urine to fix colors.

Mapuche stand-up loom

Mapuche stand-up loom

Woven Mapuche Symbols

Mapuche clothing is covered in geometrical symbols that represent specific objects

Here are 2 common symbols woven into Mapuche clothing.

Symbol for Sugar

Symbol for Sugar

Religous symbol

Religous symbol

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Last Saturday, we took our first trip to La Ligua since we’ve been in Chile. Throughout Chile, La Ligua is known for its abundance of Chilean artisans specializing in handmade knits. You can find a whole range of handmade products ranging from woven sweater, sweater dresses, hugs, ponchos, you name it they’ve go probably got it in an assortment of colors.

But, when we got to La Ligua we were told that the best place to find knitwear was in Valle Hermoso (Beautiful Valley). Valle Hermoso is a 10 minute ride from La Ligua, so we hopped in a cab and were definitely not prepared for what we saw when we got off.

A town where everyone knits?

Valle Hermoso is a small, rural town where you’ll find tiny shops lined up on both sides of one street. Each store usually belongs to one family that is accustomed to selling handmade products as a way of survival. You can easily see the store owner sitting outside his or her shop knitting away while they wait for a client to walk in. It’s a very welcoming sight.

ValleHermoso03

The main street in Valle Hermoso

We were so excited with all the handmade products we saw that we decided to skip lunch and just keep looking for knits that liked. However, if we would have known that the stores are open EVERY day, ALL day, well… we wouldn’t have shopped till we dropped. On our way back we decided to ask the cab driver when the busiest day was and he said that during the weekends, hoards of people go there looking for knitted clothes.

Weaving –  a part of Chilean tradition

Among this vast number of stores, we stumbled upon a small shop with a man weaving on a peddle loom. At first we thought the peddle loom was just for show, but then we realized he was actually sitting down and weaving! How exciting!!

Local weaver

Local weaver

We popped out the camera and filmed him (tried uploading it to WordPress, but it wouldn’t allow it. But we uploaded it to another site where you can see the peddle loom in action – sorry about the quality of the shot). Anyhow, he was happy to let us watch and talk to us about the different handmade knits he made and the fibers he used on his loom. His work usually consists of making specific handmade knit called “poncho de huaso”, (huaso = a Chilean cowboy). If you look closely you can see the handmade ponchos in the picture above (right side). The natural fibers he uses are hand spun by his niece and range from alpaca to guanaco to lamb’s wool.

Peddle loom with work in progress

Peddle loom with work in progress

Novelty Yarn- Valle Hermoso Reinvents its Yarn

Yarn is one thing that is very hard to find in Valle Hermoso. As a matter of fact, we actually expected to find knitted products everywhere, along with yarn made with natural fibers or hand woven yarn, but much to our surprise, we only found one store. Fortunately, what we did find was amazing.

You really can’t tell by the pictures, but each yarn is composed of 6 strands of different colors, textures and weight. The end result is unique novelty yarn. Some of the skeins you see are composed of cashmere and flamé.

Some more skeins

3 oz Skeins

We finally decided to buy a calipso skein with a sunflower yellow thread and a 100% cotton skein. I will definitely be using both to knit something beautiful :).

Dulces de La Ligua

Our purpose for going to Valle Hermoso was business, but you can’t go to La Ligua and not buy Dulces de La Ligua!

Palomita selling Sweets

Palomita selling Sweets

Dulces de la Ligua can be translated to Sweets from La Ligua. They are small treats handmade with wafers and manjar (cooked condensed milk) covered in merengue, or cake and manjar covered with lots of powdered sugar. They are REALLY good! The funnest thing about these sweets is they’re sold by women and men dressed in white, historically known as “palomita”. It’s really common to see them flagging down cars on the highway by waving a white handkerchief in the air – it’s a real sight!

Close up of dulces

Close up of dulces

Well, that was it. It was a really long day, but we were happy with the results. Stay tuned for future posts.

Until then,

If you have any comments or questions, please leave post

-P

Among all of the different artisan techniques that I’ve delved into, weaving is the latest one. However, I couldn’t start weaving if we didn’t have the looms, so I went out in look of the looms I needed, only problem was that on the market I could only find small hand looms that didn’t quite make the cut. That’s when I decided to make my very first handmade looms :).

Problem is, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

 

My 1st HANDMADE LOOM

First, I had to buy the sticks to make the frame for the handmade looms, and then, get down to cutting and hammering. It took me an entire afternoon to make the ones I’m posting. I haven’t finished yet, but I promise I’ll post some more info (and hopefully my first handmade woven scarf) soon, but for now I’m just going to post the finished handmade looms and one that is lacking the pegs.

These looms weren’t so hard to make, took me about half a morning, even though I did have a little problem after I was done. If you look closely you see what I’m talking about.

I’ve already tried weaving, but haven’t gotten it down yet, once I do I’ll upload the pic.

Two frame looms

TWO HANDMADE LOOMS

I used 19x19mm (1×1″) square pine molding for the handmade frame and 1-1/2″ finishing nails for the pegs. The pegs are set 1 cm apart (aprox. 3/4″). If you do this, be careful to pre-drill the holes. As you can see in the picture, the wood started to split because I hadn’t pre-drilled any holes!!

The small handmade loom

SMALL HANDMADE LOOM 22x22 cm (approximately 8.5in x 8.5in )

I was worried the loom’s structure wouldn’t be strong enough, so I used metallic angles to keep the loom sturdy. The whole construction process was very rustic, but I’m eager to see what woven products I can make with them. Since they are the first looms I’ve built, it was a radical learning process. The holes for the larger loom were pre-drilled so I had no problems with the wood ….. :).

Large handmade loom

LARGE HANDMADE LOOM 14 x14 cm frame (5.5in x 5.5in)

 

THE MOTHER OF ALL HANDMADE LOOMS!

This is the “mother of all looms”. It took so much out of me that I was sore the next day, but it’ll be good for making hugs… I hope :)!

It’s made with 1×3″ architecture grade lumber. It’s so big I had to ask my dad and sister to help me move it outside of the house to finish it. I knoooowww …it is huge, but we plan on making scarves with it. Haven’t quite finished it yet, but I’m starting to think I’ll need a whole afternoon just to finish hammering in the nails … geez!

pic of giant handmade loom

GIANT LOOM 2.40m long x 38cm wide

I separated the Giant into 2 so that we basically have three looms in one. The smaller section is intended for hugs.

Part of the Giant handmade loom

Part of the Giant

We haven’t started weaving yet, but I am so excited! I can’t wait to see how the hugs come out. Hoping to have some time soon!!!!

I’ll post instructions with the process of making these handmade looms, so stay tuned.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave a post
-P