A Peruvian weaving technique: ñawi awapa

Following my day of learning a few Peruvian knitting techniques, I was fortunate to have a long half-day workshop with Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez on a single weaving technique from her home village of Chinchero.

Ñawi awapa means "eye border," and it is a cord used to finish the edges of textiles, as you can see on the small bag below:

Pencil bag_8866

The cord protects the fabric, reinforcing vulnerable spots against wear, and produces a neat finish, and, as in parts of this bag, functions as a joining technique. It is attached to the fabric as it is worked, although it can also be constructed as a free-standing tube, as is the case for the nifty little handle on the bag above.

Ñawi awapa strikes me as the weaverly equivalent of the knitter's I-cord, combined with a variant of cardweaving, also called tablet weaving (albeit, in this case, card- or tablet-less: the similarities are in the warp-faced structure and manipulation of those warps). That's not very helpful, but if you have experience with either of those techniques it will give you a starting point for understanding. It's also like intricate braiding with the crossing of the threads held in place by the weft thread. From the perspective of weaving processes throughout the millennia, it falls into the realm of crossed- or twisted-warp, warp-faced tubular weave structures.

Enough of that.

Here's what it looks like, woven freestanding. That bit where the weft shows between the warps (right at the top) is part of what I wove. The lower "eyes," much neater, were on the starter section that Nilda supplied for me. She got us all off to a good start.


Then it was our job to continue the pattern, although she clearly instructed us to, if (WHEN) we messed up, just keep going. This isn't something you can easily unweave to correct.

This is the basic setup. That starter length is fastened to a string, which in turn is tied around my waist, like a backstrap loom. The far end has been secured to one of the legs of an overturned table. The warp is tensioned between my body and the table leg. (The tables were not entirely stationary enough to resist moving completely, but they were adequate for our needs.)


That forked stick holds the threads of the warp in order and forms a cross, with threads alternating between up and down positions. In this technique, the cross only forms the baseline for the manipulations to follow. A string is tied across the open end of the forked stick to keep the warp threads from slipping out, which would be disastrous. On my lap are Nilda's detailed instructions, which most of us spent a lot of time following precisely, one step at a time.

Sorry this view changes directions, but that's the way it goes. So did we. In addition to the forked-stick loom, we needed a temporary shed stick to hold some of the crosses in place.


You can see that I'd done three eyes (two gold and one, hiding on the other side, red) and was working on the second red eye. The two colors of eyes alternate. My eyes were nowhere as neat and compact as the ones that had been woven for me at the starting end of the cord. But they were eyes. That's no small thing.

The weft (that brown puff in my hand) always goes through the warp threads in the same direction, which is how the tube is formed. It's like sliding all the stitches of I-cord from one end of a double-pointed needle to the other before working the next round.


The unused eye color is hidden inside the tube when it isn't predominant, although it's brought up to form the very center of the contrasting-color eye.

Who thought this up??

Simply getting an eye to appear correctly is an accomplishment. Below, you see one of my Picasso-esque results, with the center of the eye off to one side. The eye above it has the center gold portion in the correct position, but for some reason (probably I didn't get the weft tensioned just right) there's a crossing strand of weft getting in the way.


Peruvian techniques are so diverse that each village has its own set. During our knitting workshop the day before, Antonia Roja spent part of her time weaving on her backstrap loom (in the image below, it's secured to, and resting against, a full-size floor loom). Then she spent most of the day weaving ñawi awapa.


What we didn't know until later was that this technique was new to her. Antonia is from the village of Pitumarca, not Chinchero, as Nilda is. Nilda had showed her how to do it the day before. Based on her previous experience with the plenty-intricate weaving of her own hometown, Antonia caught on really quickly. And at the end of our workshop, it turned out that there was a bracelet-length piece of Antonia's ñawi awapa cord for each of us to take home. What a treat! (In the photo below, Antonia's is the finer one with the more consistent eyes. Mine is the bigger, lumpier version.)


I've previously admired this corded edging on a number of the textiles from the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco, known as CTTC.


(Sorry for the slightly fuzzy photo. I've made two attempts at shooting this decently and instead of trying again I need to get back to the work I should be doing right now. . . .)

There was a trunk show of woven and knitted textiles going on all around us as we crossed and uncrossed threads, hoping we were twisting the right selections in the right directions each time. I went home with a couple of small, very useful, objects that I will enjoy making part of my daily life. I've made a practice over the past several years of selecting one piece from the CTTC or Cloth Roads displays whenever I come across them: at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Convergence, SOAR, or wherever. I've also been given a lovely bag by a friend. Understanding the work involved in making them—which I thought I knew about, but now comprehend at a whole new level—I can't believe how inexpensive the finished pieces are. Fortunately, the pricing is high enough that the weavers and knitters are able to substantially improve their lives in many ways by doing this work, which also honors and sustains their traditional cultures.

For more, see Cloth Roads again. There are new items arriving regularly. But the best way to see this stuff, if you can, is to locate a booth at a festival. Look closely. The number of textile wonders contained in a small space will astound you.

This is my day's worth of ñawi awapa. I did get to advance the warp twice because I had woven enough to need to reposition it! But I still wasn't consistently getting nice clear centers on my eyes, even at the end of the day. Then again, about two-thirds of the way through the workshop Nilda came around and told me to do it without looking at the paper. Mistakes are less important than incorporating the learning.


Maybe next time I'll be able to both skip watching the paper every step of the way and form the eyes precisely. . . .


(Photo of Antonia courtesy of Kris Paige.)


3 thoughts on “A Peruvian weaving technique: ñawi awapa”

  1. Fun! I agree, the prices for these intricate treasures are crazy low but I’m glad it’s enough to afford these amazing artisans improvements in their lives.

    I keep thinking of that time you and I looked at that booth at MDSW – was it CTTC? Cloth Roads? My memory seems to think it was all Peruvian knits? Beautiful intricate stuff.

  2. Hi Deb,
    Great post as usual! I’m excited to be going this area, taking some weaving classes with Nilda, visiting villages and seeing Machu Picchu (on my birthday)this May. I’m traveling with Loomdancer Odysseys. (http://www.loomdancerodysseys.com/) Your readers may be interested to know that Cari has 3 openings still available if anyone has dreams of weaving in the Peruvian highlands!

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