To find superior textiles in Ecuador, you need to go beyond the textile market in Otavalo and Quito’s upscale stores like Olga Fisch and Tianguez. You have to go to the source…
As my hotelier in Otavalo said “there isn’t a handwoven thing in that market.” The famous Otavalo textile market is worth a visit for the craft items; especially on Saturday when artisans appear from the countryside, bringing unique products distinguished from the mostly mass produced goods sold during the week. But in general, this is not the place to buy quality weavings to the extent of say, Pisac market in Peru.
Instead, for $10/hour, a cab driver like the wonderful Arturo can facilitate visits to the best weavers in the area, with stops at scenic viewpoints, areas of interest and leather-producing towns like Cotacachi. If you don’t speak Spanish, discuss your plans with your hotelier and ask someone bilingual at the hotel communicate your specific stops to the driver. Or you can always write a list of desired stops.
Before visiting weavers’ workshops, a good place to start is the small, but informative Museo de Tejidos El Obraje in Otavalo. Don Maldonado gives tours in Spanish only, but there is a written guide to the exhibits in several languages. The museum outlines the process of making wool and weaving from removing the wool from the animal to the finished piece. Also illustrated are the methods for making straw mats and espadrille soles.
Calle Sucre 608. $2. Confirm hours when in Otavalo.
Ecuador’s most famous weaver, Miguel Andrango, can be visited by appointment. If you are visiting only one weaver in Ecuador, make it Señor Andrango. Definitely have your hotel call first; you might not consider the view of El Corazon – the heart on the mountain – worth the somewhat rocky trip to his village to discover he isn’t available.
He discusses his process in Spanish, and demonstrates how he prepares the wool to be woven on a back strap loom. He also briefly educated us about his sources for dye colors (walnuts, insects), using a basket of spectacularly hued earth tone wool balls to illustrate his examples.
Click here for a brief YouTube back-strap weaving demo by a “student” of Miguel Andrango.
Señor Andrango is planning to establish a weaving school to pass on his techniques to keep the weaving tradition alive in Ecuador. The workshop where we watched the student at work had incredible light – and although I haven’t woven since high school, it is very tempting to sign up. Another weaver demonstrated the back strap loom, which I could have watched for hours. However, seeing Señor Andrango card and spin wool was magical, and I’m glad I got to observe the master.
There is no cost for the lengthy demonstration and no pressure at all to buy, and a donation for the school is appreciated. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, it is well worth visiting for anyone seriously interested in weaving.
Miguel Andrango’s Tahuantinsuyo Weaving Workshop, Agato, Ecuador. Appointments recommended.
Jose Cotacachi weaves on a treadle loom in his workshop in Peguche. He creates brightly colored complex geometric patterns based on symbols from pre-Hispanic civilizations, as well pieces that showcase various images of Ecuador like birds, volcanoes, indigenous people and animals. He produces woven sweaters in addition to tapestries. He briefly demonstrated weaving on the treadle loom and answered questions before leading us around his gallery.
Prices were affordable. My new friend from the hotel and I bought tapestries.
Open Daily. We visited Señor Cotacachi in his workshop on the main street in Peguche, not in the workshop in his home pictured on his site. You can also get to Peguche by regular bus from Otavalo.
Taller de Macana – Jose Jimenez
Just outside of Gualaceo, near the Andean town of Cuenca, is the premier Ikat weaving workshop of Jose Jimenez. Ikat is a dye-resistance technique, sort of like batik or tie-dye, that originated in Asia.
Bindings are tightly wrapped around threads, which are then dyed. When the binding is removed, that area remains free from dye. These threads are then painstakingly woven to form patterns.
Senor Jimenez related it often takes up to 3 months to produce 1 shawl using this technique.
He started with a thorough explanation of the development of the dyes. Burned walnuts to produce color variations; cochinilla insects; imported indigo and colors derived from plants and flowers. It was fascinating. Adding water or salt to the cochinilla completely changed the color from pink to tomato to purple or fuscia.
Next, we watched 2 women bind the warp (vertical threads that “string” the loom) prior to dying, so that these colors remain after being dipped in the next dye.
Finally, he brought us upstairs to his workshop, with outstanding views of the countryside. Here, he demonstrated his back strap loom technique. Each string is strategically positioned to form patterns with the colored warp. This is what makes each shawl a 3 month process.
After the shawl or pano is woven, the ends are knotted in a style similar to macrame’. Others are knotted/crocheted with meaningful words like “recuerdo.” A woman was working on knotting a gorgeous purple/black shawl when we arrived. Of course, after checking out all the shawls for sale, I decided the one being completed was the one I loved, and the knotting was rapidly finished.
Although Javier, the driver thought I was being extravagant, $40 for the beautiful shawl that involved such substantial work was a fair price. This belief was confirmed as I traveled around the country and saw significantly more expensive (from $65) yet lower quality Ikat shawls at very high prices stores like the renowned Olga Fisch and Tianguez stores in Quito.
Javier was arranged by my hotel in Cuenca, Casa San Rafael, for $40 for the first 3 hours and $10 for each additional hour. We also visited the craft town of Gualaceo, and Chordeleg, a town known for filigree silver and gold jewelry. Javier also took me to his favorite place for chancho – roasted pig, in Cuenca (see featured photo is post below). The red double-decker bus tour company in Cuenca also offers tours to Gualaceo and Chordeleg – combined with Ingapirca (an Incan ruin) but I doubt they stop at the Taller de Macana.
For a few dollars more than a group tour, a custom itinerary with a taxi driver enables you to visit the sights most important to you, including the master weavers of Ecuador.
Ecuador trip planning resources:
This article was originally posted June 25, 2012.