Weavers of The Clouds

The Fashion and Textile Museum is currently hosting ‘Weavers of the Clouds’; a comprehensive exhibition on the Peruvian textile tradition, which has, since ancient times, been a steadfast custom embedded in Peru’s culture and history. We decided to go along and it was fantastic. The Fashion and Textile Museum provides a greatly enjoyable showcase of both visual and educational emersion in Peru’s world-famous textile heritage.

As well as being a creative outlet, the textiles of Peru have chronicled and illustrated the social, economic, political and religious development of the Peruvian peoples with a legacy of over 7000 years. From pre-Colombian cloths to present-day garments and accessories, the exhibit guides you through the rich history of this craft.

The saturated colours from the natural dyes and decorative prints of Peruvian textiles are incredibly distinctive and revered worldwide. The exhibit hosts many pieces, ranging in their origin and date. From Llama and Alpaca fibres woven and weaved in the Andean mountains, to cotton adorned with sequins and feathers from the Peruvian coastlines; the rooms tell a story of their significance and intricate detailing.

It was interesting to learn how to identify regionally specific garments, as well as distinguishing the maker or wearers place in their society expressed by the decorative patterns and symbols.

The museum also guided the viewer through Peru’s history, noting how moments such as Spanish colonisation were turbulent for indigenous cultures. The Spanish implemented a general dress code, disrupting the purity of the material traditions, as European and global style influences crept in.  In 1528 the Spanish also destroyed all written record of the Incan cultures in terms of its folklore and history, meaning the textile designs and their motifs remain our only surviving insight to the pre-colonial times of the Incan Empire.

“It’s a cloth made thread by thread, by the hands of people. Each piece has its own life, a reflection of the spirit, skill and personal history of its maker.”

Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez

Over the years, globalisation has given us access to the ancient crafts of Peru’s history. The exhibit highlights the importance of preservation in the face of mass-consumer commodification.

It was cheering to learn of the Quechuan communities in the mountains who maintain the elaborate weaving customs, despite the pressures of modernity. The exposure of the textile arts of Peru by Western fashion houses and homeware brands is both a testament to the deep appreciation of the art form, yet it remains a risk of exploitation of the peoples who continue as guardians to their national traditions.