A workshop on Peruvian knitting, mostly of puntas!

Last weekend I took two textile workshops. This is remarkable. Mine is one of those lives where if I have time for a workshop, I don't have the money to do it; and if I have the money, I don't have the time or I'm in the wrong part of the world. I've been at more festivals and events than I can count or remember, but I'm most often the person behind the registration desk, the one driving the staff rental car into town to buy food for the participant who forgot to mention she was vegan and allergic to nuts, or the one teaching the class.

In 1990-something, I sat in on a half-day workshop at SOAR with Ed Franquemont, on a couple of Andean handspindle techniques. In another 1990-something, Stephenie Gaustad sat in a hallway during SOAR, when we both had a few moments, and taught me to spin cotton on a charkha (it was, I think, at Snowbird, which would make it 1996). In 1986, shortly before I moved to Colorado to work at Interweave Press, I took Celia Quinn's comprehensive spinning workshop under the sponsorship of the Boston Area Spinners and Dyers. What fine and memorable occasions. Most of my other recent learning has come through testing out the instructions that were about to be published in Spin-Off magazine or various textile books.

But last weekend Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez was teaching within easy reach of my home at a time when I wasn't out of town and when there was a bit of money in the bank that could be diverted. Wow.

Saturday was a knitting workshop. The only thing the workshop description mentioned was puntas, which I had learned to make from one of my editing projects, but I thought that Nilda would likely have different approaches to the process, and in any case I wanted to get to know her a little better: I've been following her work for years, and we'd met in passing at a number of fiber events but never had an actual conversation.

Puntas: literally "points," or in this context a type of edging, with many variations possible, used to begin the knitting on some Peruvian hats, bags, and other textiles. Think of them as cast-ons and picots that have grown up and gotten advanced university degrees.

The sum of my weekend experience: if you ever get a chance to take a class with Nilda, do.

Saturday we did learn to make puntas. All day. It was very cool. The varieties are endless, as are the techniques. Although I "got" all the ones Nilda showed us, I don't have a lot of faith that I'll remember how to make each of them without some refreshers. I heard a rumor that in the week after our workshop (the one just completed) Nilda would be at Interweave recording video of how to do some Peruvian knitting techniques. I trust the result will be a replacement for, and expansion on, the notes I didn't have time to take while I was learning, or the energy to jot down after I got home. Nilda is a superb teacher and her handouts are excellent. Still. These are tricky little processes.

Life is pretty crazy around here right now, so I won't do justice to the workshops in this blog post, or the next one. But I want to get something set down before yet another idea I want to share is gobbled by the press of deadlines and doesn't get into the blog at all.

This image shows my trial versions of the puntas we learned to make (plus an inspiring little hat that was tucked into the second bag of yarn Nilda gave me to work with: we each got one, all different).


Top right are the three-color puntas that we started with (#1), and bottom right are the five-color puntas that followed (#2). As I went along, I got better at putting the color joins where they were supposed to be. 

Top left is a deceptively simple little rickrack-like punta form (#3). These are the ones about which I woke up the next morning thinking, "I'll never remember how to do those!" (At the moment, I can still remember how to do all the others.) Bottom left is a relatively easy form of puntas that Nilda taught us at the end of the afternoon (#4). I think it was a reward for working the others.

She also talked about handling multiple colors of yarn, both tensioning and securing. These are things I know how to do, but now I have more options. Options always come in handy. The more I learn about textiles, the more there is to learn.

Now, here are puntas in use. Note the yarn above, which was about worsted-weight, very tightly twisted, two-ply handspun that Nilda provided for us. It's a lot bigger than the yarn used to knit the puntas on the pieces below. She thought it would be nice if we could easily see the stitches we were forming. We agreed.


Those are the #4-type puntas around the bottom of that hat.

Here's another type of puntas:


I'd need to look at them more carefully than the resolution of the image will allow to figure out which kind they are. Possibly a type we didn't cover.

The edges of this hat definitely display a punta variation we didn't do:


But the top of this little bag displays those sneaky little #3 puntas:


That's an interesting knitting technique on the bag, too. Nilda gave us a glimpse of how it's done, but there wasn't enough time to do more than enjoy it vicariously. We were too busy getting to know a few puntas.

Now one of the questions that arises is why does learning this stuff matter, either to me or to human civilization in general? For me, it's an opportunity to wonder at the number of things that people have devised to do with a material as simple as yarn: what we can fashion with, in this case, wool or alpaca fiber. For another, it's a chance to marvel once again at the astonishing ingenuity and endless creativity that people express through textiles. Especially the Peruvians. Throughout the history of the world, they have been the most prolific cultural group at devising amazing ways to construct and decorate textiles. Their accomplishments seem to me to be on a conceptual par with the greatest of modern inventions. All with very simple tools and materials.

Nilda and the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco) have been doing a lot to keep this body of cultural knowledge and these ways of thinking alive and vital, while providing sources of income to the weavers and knitters that are allowing them to, for example, send their children to school.

It was an honor to participate in that process in a small way.

And a friend who saw me there said, "I'm not used to seeing you this happy!"

When I'm home, I'm normally content and satisfied and interested, and also a little bit (or a lot) too busy. Simply "happy" is, therefore, apparently not something my hometown friends usually perceive. (I think I probably look pretty happy when I'm teaching; when I'm off somewhere quiet researching and spinning and knitting and weaving and writing; or when the dogs make me laugh; but for most of those times there aren't hometown witnesses.)

For the course of a weekend, though, I was able to enter a "beginner's mind" part of the textile world and discover new depths of creativity in fingers and fibers. That definitely made me happy.

Here's Nilda, checking Handwoven and Weaving Today editor Anita Osterhaug's punta progress.

Nilda_8871 - Version 2

There's always something new to learn.

Anita's vest is one of the products of CTTC weavers. It's handspun, naturally dyed, and handwoven. It's stunning, and it will last nearly forever. As the techniques have and will—as long as people keep learning and practicing them, even if it's just for a delightful day that ends in appreciation for the skill of the experts.


How to easily buy CTTC textiles in North America? Cloth Roads.


6 thoughts on “A workshop on Peruvian knitting, mostly of puntas!”

  1. Thanks for the lovely introduction, just enough to entice me!
    I too love learning all the nooks and crannies of textile art. If not all, than as many as I can fit in to one lifetime :-}

  2. I did a class with Jean Newsted a number of years ago where we did a variety of edgings — some puntas, but others as well, and then knit a small bag employing those bobble-like items.

    Both the bag and Jean’s hilariously fabulous handout (Cerlox-bound, no less) are stashed away in a box over at storage: I look forward to revisiting it when I get it unpacked.

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