Peguche Weavers of Ecuador
Use Natural Dyes to Produce
Bright Wool Textiles

No visit to Peguche is complete without visiting the Peguche weavers at the town center where there are several shops that feature local weavers' work. There you'll find everything from rugs and wall hangings to fine shawls, scarves and ponchos.

Two of these shops are easy to find, located across the street from each other on two corners near the church square. Another shop belonging to Jose Cotacachi is hidden on a side street behind the church and to the right where he displays his finer pieces in a two-story building.

One of the shops usually has a weaver present in a downstairs room and she will demonstrate weaving on different kinds of looms.

Here is a floor loom.

A backstrap loom.

This type of loom has been used by men and women weavers for centuries. The width that can be made is narrow, so several pieces are made and sewn together to make blankets and shawls.

First she cards the wool, brushing out any debris such as leaves, twigs or seeds.

Notice the two kinds of carding combs, one with burrs attached for removing debris from the wool. The bowls hold ivory-colored sheep wool on the left and alpaca wool in different shades of brown on the right.

She spins the sheep wool into thread by hand.

Or makes thread on a spinning wheel.

She makes dyes from natural materials: dark brown from black walnuts, orange from paprika, known as achiote in Ecuador. Achiote is used to color the famous Cotacachi dish, Carne Colorado, reddish beef. The plant grows wild in Ecuador.

All shades of red, orange and pink thread is made from a colorant known as cochineal. It's made from the bodies or eggs of a small South American insect, Dactylopius coccus, that lives on cactus. The insect produces the pigment to keep other insects away.

Cochineal was worth as much as gold to ancient indigenous people, given as tribute to emperors and revered in Mayan and Aztec cultures.

The conquistadors prized it because the dye was of better quality than European dyes.

They exported it for use in coloring fabrics, cosmetics and foods such as drinks, jellies and jams, pies, tomato products, maraschino cherries and cough drops. It is still used in cosmetics today because it is natural, non-toxic and water soluble, more stable than synthetic colors.

A warning! If you see natural color E120 on products, especially foods, be aware that it is cochineal. Since it is made from an insect, it isn't something vegetarians will want to consume!

The poor little insects are dunked in hot water, then dried in sunlight or in an oven. The female insect looks like a fat beetle and the male has wings.

Peguche weaving designs range from traditional patterns, some featuring bold geometrics or stylized animals, plants and birds to modern renditions of M. C. Escher's drawings that fool the eye.

Click here for more about the village of Peguche.

This blog has more pictures of Peguche's weavers.

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