25 April 2007


WARNING: long post, lots of pics

I got back today from my trip to Cuzco. Yesterday was such an amazing day that I was too overwhelmed last night to write about it. In summary, we went to visit microfinance clients of our local partner organization in Pisac and Chincheros. All of them were artisans: a silversmith who makes his own jewelery, a carver and potter who makes exquisite bowls from wood and clay, a man who carves and paints beautiful board games and pieces and also makes clay pottery, and others. It was amazing to talk to them all about how they were able to improve their lives with the microfinance loans. Their intelligence, talent, and persistence really impressed me.

I spent like it was the last day of money. My colleagues made fun of me, but how can you not support people like our microfinance clients? They earned my respect, and my soles, with their hard work and beautiful products. The first place we went was the artisan market at Pisac. It was thronged with tourists of all stripes, the good, the bad, and the painful, but you should go there. Buy a bowl from Benturino and a game from Roger. You won't regret it. Ask them about microfinance.

Then, after lunch, we went to Chincheros, where we first met a woman whose name I believe is Matilda. She has sheep, she shears them, washes and cards the wool, spins it, and then dyes it with all natural dyes. She is lively and smart and funny and talented. To the left, she is showing us a hat that she is working on, which is knit on the finest yarn I've ever seen someone using for a hat (like lace weight if you are Barbie) on five of the tiniest needles, which were more like pins, thin rudimentary metal sticks, than like the Addi Turbos some of us claim we can't live without. Stunning color work.

She also showed us some of the yarns she was drying and the things she used for creating the dye. To the right, the bags have green leaves (top), next to the yarn that was dyed using those leaves (chillca), and cochineal (bottom), which makes a beautiful red. Matilda also weaves some really nice traditional Chincheros pattern weavings out of alpaca and wool. She sold me the mountain of natural, un-dyed wool at the bottom for 10 soles, or about $3.00.

After spending some time with her, we went to see two of the most amazing people I've met here: Adrian and Antonia Huaman. These two remarkably talented weavers are also microfinance clients of our local partner organization. And they, for me, are exemplars of what well-implemented microfinance can do for people. Originally, Adrian wove pictorial tapestries and Antonia sold them at a tourist restaurant. Then, they got a loan, and invested it in wooden looms, which they built themselves, and in hiring some younger boys to work with Adrian. Now, from that profit, they have a number of different kinds of looms, both of them make stunning weavings and tapestries in traditional Chincheros patterns, they employ about 10 people, and they bought a new house where they plan on opening a restaurant and gallery, where tourists can not only eat traditional Andean food (yum), but can also learn to weave and purchase beautiful weavings with a deeper appreciation of the tradition and talent that goes into each one.

Antonia's mother gave us a demonstration of how to ply yarn in the traditional way with a hand spindle. I'll have a movie of this, hopefully, sometime soon, so you can see her in action. It is amazing.

Adrian and Antonia showed us their weavings. They make table runners (yes, I bought one, and you should look for the ones that have the borders on them), and tapestries and handbags and purses. It takes 36-40 days to make a table runner, which they can sell to a tourist for around $50. The runners are made with the backstrap loom method, and the scraps of each are saved and used to make dolls and other small items, like change purses. Antonia told me about the dyes that she uses:

Cochineal - reds

Flor de Colli - yellows

Cacasuncay and Motemote - browns and pinks, respectively

and Awaypile - fuscia

Adrian and Antonia also showed us their hand-made looms, and showed us how they work. It was really impressive -- check out all those bobbins hanging from Antonia's loom! Crazy-making. Adrian makes the pictures from his head now, but he first paints the designs on the warp (?) threads, so that when they cross over the weft (? sorry if I'm not using the right words, weavers), they don't stand out as white, but blend in. He does some huge tapestries, with really elaborate pictures, wrapping little bits of colored unspun wool into place deftly.

So, the haul. Below, first picture:
a chess game, a parchesi game (from Roger in Pisac), a hand-painted clay mug (also from Roger, a gift!), two hand-painted wooden bowls from Benturino, baby alpaca yarn (oh, gotta tell you about that...), and a belt, called a faja.

Second picture:
a table runner from Antonia, the wool from Matilda, and a little change purse which was a gift from Adrian and Antonia.

23 April 2007

Do you know where your yarn comes from?

Today I had a really great treat -- I had an interview with the woman who is the head of a local organization here in Cuzco that works to provide artisan producer groups with an outlet to the market where they can earn a living wage. Now, I'm honestly not the biggest fan of fair trade, mostly because it has been poorly implemented by so many groups, unsustainable, notably unfair to many, and distorting to the markets. However, there is such a thing as good fair trade, I'm learning. This might be one example.

For those of you who are currently knitting with alpaca and those of you who often do, think about what you paid for the last bit of imported alpaca you bought: $7? $10? more? Now take a moment to think where each cent of those dollars went. How many do you think went to the people who spent the greatest number of hours in the production process? How many to those who have the greatest control over the quality of that product? If you guessed, "very little" or "almost none" in answer to those questions, you are correct. Almost all of the money you spent went to large factories who buy from intermediaries, who buy from other intermediaries, who pay almost nothing, well less than $1/day, to the people who carefully raise, shear, clean, card, and possibly spin that yarn.

It strikes me as strange that the highest value added in this chain goes to those who add the least value: industrial spinning and dying factories, intermediaries who do nothing but move the product from one place to another.

Anyway, the woman I interviewed validated my idea that it is possible to produce yarn in a way that would provide a living wage to women in a positive environment, as well as a more profitable buyer for alpaca herders to sell their fleeces. She wants to start a small-scale spinning factory for women that would also provide them with other social services. The women would hand spin or use wheels or small machines, and all the products would be 100% natural, alpaca and wool products dyed using natural dyes or not dyed at all. Sounds good to me -- I'd buy it. They could hire a consultant to help them improve the quality of the yarns and keep them apprised of changes in the market.

What do you guys think of this idea?

Up there is a project for someone lucky. I'm crocheting it, so they are very lucky.

More vocab:
  • Spinnery: hilanderia
  • Fair trade: comercio justo

22 April 2007

Chifas and some yarn

Saturday was a day for exploration in Lima. My friend, MJ, who is Peruvian, and I went to Chinatown in search of a good chifa, or Peruvian Chinese restaurant. Many folks who haven’t been to Latin America find it difficult to believe the number of Asian immigrants here. Peru likely has more than most, having had even a Japanese-descended president, Fujimori. Chinese food in Peru is similar to Chinese food everywhere, but with some special Peruvian touches. The fortune cookies are different, but the fortunes are the same. Mine said, “The stars are in your favor”.

After eating, MJ and I wandered around Chinatown a bit and saw the arch. It is small, but definitely Chinatown. I think that you can buy everything there, from Peruvian handicrafts to the latest in Japanese technology to Chinese herbal medicine to books in German. Wild.

Someone gave us intel on where we might find some yarn in the area, so we left Chinatown for downtown Lima. Neither place, I will note, is somewhere you want to go with a big handbag and lots of jewelery. You need to be very careful down there, and don’t go alone, even in the daytime.

Eventually, we found the Galería Santa Felícita on Huallaga Street, a big warehouse-like space with a bunch of stalls dedicated to crafts of all sorts on two floors. The first floor is mostly stalls selling retail or wholesale craft supplies, such as ribbon, beads, fabric, and, most importantly for our purposes, Yarn. The second floor is a series of workshops where you can take classes in different types of crafts (“manualidades” in Spanish). While these aren’t crafts in the taste of many gringos I know, I think that it would be fun to go with a Peruvian friend to make some things and learn how to do them. I’m always up for learning something new, craftwise or otherwise. There were even tables of women knitting, crocheting, and macraméing! That was cool.

Now, about that yarn. If you are looking for acrylic yarn, this is your place. They have a pretty decent variety of Peruvian-made acrylic yarns for good prices. There are some really fine cottons, too, if you want to make tatted lace or something crazy like that. However, we asked at every store about wool or alpaca, and not a single one carried 100% or even more than 10% natural fibers. For me, this was a grave disappointment. Like coffee-producing countries where the people only drink Nescafé, wool and alpaca producing Peru only uses acrylic for home crafting. I imagine that this is probably due to the better price that one can get in the export market or the value added that knitted items have in the tourist market.

So, I left empty-handed. Now I’m in Cuzco, and I have high hopes for finding some stash-worthy material up here.

Some Spanish yarn vocab, for those of you who are interested:
• Yarn: lana, lana hilada, lana para tejer
• Wool: lana, lana de oveja, lana de oveja hilada
• Alpaca: lana de alpaca, alpaca
• To Spin: hilar
• To knit: tejer
• Sheep: oveja

18 April 2007

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yay! One more fun year down, and many more to go, I hope. To the left, the birthday gifts I got today:
  • Flowers from Joe! What a good husband.
  • A pretty black scarf from the hotel (how many hotels that you've been to give you birthday gifts?
  • A cold Old Speckled Hen, my fav British Ale
  • Yarn! Of course

I also got flowers from my colleague, WB, which are also beautiful, and are currently decorating my office. A manicure was my present to myself, but I couldn't get a good pic.

The yarn came from a yarn store that my friend AS told me about here in Lima. The store is called Nakayama knits & crafts, at Avenida La Paz 324 Miraflores (they are still working on the website). The owner is a Japanese-Peruvian, and it looks like she may speak Japanese. They sell a lot of beautiful hand-knit items, both traditional Peruvian style and more modern stuff, as well as a wall full of yarn. They sell a wider variety than Alpaca 859, including blends and acrylics and novelty, which is nice.

I bought 700 grams of DK weight so-soft acrylic in a pretty light yellow color, made by a Peruvian company called Hilados Acrylicos San Juan, S.A. It is their Cigüeñita line, and even though it is 100% acrylic, it is super soft, and perfect for a baby blanket (I wonder whose...!).

This is a very friendly and nice store. I recommend that you stop by if you are in Lima.

One thing that I still have not found here in South America is a yarn store where you really feel like you could spend hours just looking; where you could plop down in a chair with a project and knit for hours (like at Lovely Yarns or A Good Yarn); where you feel comfortable touching everything and asking 2 million questions. Alpaca 859 and Nakayama have nice things, but limited selection (although Nakayama's selection of types of yarn is broader), but no... community space. Maybe that aspect of knitting just hasn't exported this far yet?

This second pic is the back of my tank top so far. I'm almost at the neck, and then I will block front and back and Kitchener them together at the shoulder, and then do the neckband. So far, so good.

14 April 2007

Saturday shopping

This is what I brought home today. I also saw a pair of too-cool-for-school shoes in a window, but decided to save my money for baby alpaca. Good call, no?

On the left, three postcards, two with pics of cute alpacas doing their alpaca thing, and one of three vicunas. Two of these will hopefully make their way through the snail mail system to a couple of special people who shall remain nameless.

In the center, an unbearably cute watercolor of alpacas that I bought in the Parque Kennedy art market. The artist's name is Francisco Yarleque Antunez, but everyone calls him Chusty. He also does some oils that I'm not as fond of. If you would like to get in touch with him when you are in Lima, go to the park on a Saturday afternoon and ask for him among the other painters.

On the right, the baby alpaca in question. The color is a beautiful apple color, and it is a super soft DK weight, perfect for a Christmas gift for someone else who shall also remain nameless, but let's just say she's not yet received a knitted gift from me, but certainly deserves one. It is made by Mitchell & Co in Arequipa, Peru. This is their "Indiecita" 100% baby alpaca. I bought 500 grams for $48. Each ball is 50 grams, $4.80 a ball. This price is by no means great, but it is better than it was two years ago when I went to the same store.

The store in question is pictured below. I know, this is the one I complained about earlier in this here blog, but I couldn't help it. I didn't find any other place to buy and I just had to.

Alpaca 859 is on Avenida Larco in Miraflores. In fact, it is at Larco 859. you can email them at alpaca859 at yahoo dot com. The last time I went there, they were kind of rude and snobby, and told me that they didn't know where else one could buy yarn in Lima. This time, probably because I bought something from them first, they were nicer, so I have some places to check out next week. The selection is limited, but the colors they have are nice and the quality is high. They sell the little yarncakes individually or in bags of 10, and also have 1 kilo fingering weight cones in many colors.

In addition to all that goodness, I also had a grand treat today. A serendipitous treat. Passion fruit green tea bubble tea. YUM. This was my first (yes, I know, I'm behind the trend, but really, does that surprise anyone?) bubble tea, and I LOVED IT. They sell in in the cute Japanese store pictured below, along with a ton of other great Asian goodies on Pasaje Los Pinos 118 in Miraflores, across the street from the Ripley department store. They are open from 10am to 10pm. I drank this stuff down super quickly, and I swear it is the best remedy for a mild hangover ever invented by human beings.

13 April 2007

One Letter on its way!

I mentioned before that I joined Felicia Sullivan's pen pal project, which is a great idea. I forgot to mention that earlier this week, I received confirmation from our secretary that my first letter to Theresa has been sent through the Peruvian postal system! It was sent on 4/11/07, but who knows when she is going to get it -- the USPS has its problems, but compared to postal services in South America, it is perfect.

I hope that this inspires you to get out your pens and pretty paper and start writing again! Keep my Dad, the happy mailman, in business!

12 April 2007

Front done!

I finally finished the front of the tank top I'm making out of the alpaca from Bolivia, and have cast on for the back. I put a lot of shaping in the front, more than will be in the back, because, well, I'm rather well-endowed, and most of that endowment is on the front, and I find that fitted sweaters do all kinds of weird things when I wear them.

So, this is an experiment. There is no pattern, just math. Knit-to-fit. We'll see what happens!

This weekend, I'm going to head out to look for yarn shops in Lima, so if you can think of any suggestions, bring them on!

05 April 2007

Math and knitting

Exhibit A: proof that I can do math when assisted by technology.

As my colleagues and those who go out to eat with me know, math in my head is not a talent that I have. Inevitably, I will get things as simple as 10% of 100 wrong. Therefore, I had no faith in my ability to figure out knitting math in my head unassisted.

To the rescue: one very awesome Motorola Pebl phone in the blue color, and its very helpful calculator.

The pic shows the alpaca swill I bought in Bolivia in the process of becoming a boat-necked tank top. I had to double it because it was too fine to knit even with size 1 needles. That made me annoyed, but so far, so good. In spite of the overpowering smell of patchouli on that stuff. Yuck.

Yarn shopping in Lima update: I got a lead from our receptionist about where I could potentially buy yarn here in Lima, but will not be able to do so until the 15th or thereabouts (payday). I bought my ticket to the States today, so I have no money, and plus it is a holiday here until after Easter.

However, I did check out a place on Avenida Larco that I found the last time I was here. It is closed like every other store that I actually want to go to, but I wasn't that disappointed. Really, I just wanted to get a pic of the inside and some prices so that I could complain to you, dear reader, how overpriced the place is and how it smacks of serious economic injustice. Lucky for Alpaca 859, they were closed.

Pen Pal Project update: I'm almost done my first letter to my pen pal! Very exciting.

03 April 2007

Nothing to do with yarn

I'm so sorry for those of you who only come here for the yarn-buying info, but this post is not about yarn or knitting, so you can quit reading if you have a one-track mind.

Otherwise, I would like to tell my dear readers about Felicia Sullivan's great new pen pal project! You can sign up on her blog and she will assign you a pen pal, with whom you will exchange REAL HANDWRITTEN LETTERS. Risa, I know you are going CRAZY right now to get a pen pal. I can just see you getting into this.

So go get your pen pal and pull out all that great stationery that you've been hoarding!