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Weaving and Dyeing in Highland Ecuador

By Ann Pollard Rowe, Laura M. Miller, and Lynn A. Meisch

Publication Year: 2007

Although less well known than its much-admired counterparts in Peru and Bolivia, highland Ecuadorian weaving is an Andean tradition that has relationships with these more southern areas. A world away from the industrialized textile manufacturing of Euro-American society, these handmade pieces reflect the history and artistry of an ancient culture. This comprehensive study, edited by Ann Pollard Rowe, is unrivaled in its detail and includes not only descriptions of the indigenous weaving and dyeing technology, but also an interpretation of its historical significance, as well as hundreds of photographs, drawings, and maps that inform the understanding of the process. The principal focus is on backstrap-loom weaving, a major pre-Hispanic technology. Ecuadorian backstrap looms, which differ in various ways from those found elsewhere in the Andes, have previously only been treated in general terms. Here, the basic operation of this style of loom is covered, as are a variety of patterning techniques including warp-resist (ikat) dyeing, weaving belts with twill, and supplementary- and complementary-warp patterning. Spanish colonial treadle-loom weaving is also covered. The weaving techniques are explained in detail, so the reader can replicate them if desired. Textiles have been an important art form among Andean peoples from remote prehistory up to the present. A greater understanding of their creation process can yield a more meaningful appreciation of the art itself.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-xi

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pp. xiii-xvii

This book describes the local hand-weaving and dyeing technology used to produce the clothing worn by indigenous people in highland Ecuador, as recorded in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Although some indigenous clothing was by then factory made, hand weaving was still used...

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Acknowledgments [Includes Maps]

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pp. xix-xxiii

In any project of this kind, we researchers are wholly dependent on the hospitality of the people whose lifeways we want to record. In this regard, we wish to express our great appreciation to all those who explained their costume and dyeing, spinning, and weaving traditions to us, shared...

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Introduction: The Land and the People

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pp. 1-12

Ecuador, a country the size of Oregon or Colorado, has ecological zones ranging from mangrove swamps and dense tropical rain forests to temperate valleys and snow-capped mountains. There are three main geographic divisions (see Map 1): the Pacific coastal lowlands; the Andes mountains, forming a north-south spine through the country; and the lowland...

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CHAPTER 1: Plain Weave on the Backstrap Loom

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pp. 13-52

The backstrap loom is of pre-Hispanic origin and, at the time of our fieldwork, was still used throughout much of highland Ecuador to produce the most beautiful and distinctive garments. A vertical loom is used in the northern province of Carchi, a tradition that continues into highland Colombia, and belts are woven on a vertical loom...

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CHAPTER 2: Warp-Resist-Patterned Wool Ponchos and Blankets

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pp. 53-75

Although the wool ponchos and blankets described in this chapter have relatively simple patterns, the weavers use an ingenious technique likely to be indigenous, despite the fact that they do not identify themselves as indigenous. These textiles also have a widely scattered...

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CHAPTER 3: Warp-Resist-Patterned Cotton Shawls and Ponchos

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pp. 76-106

Among the most striking and beautiful textiles in Ecuador are the bound-warp-resist and indigo-dyed cotton shawls with knotted fringe that are made in Rumipamba de las Rosas near Salcedo in Cotopaxi province (Map 3), and in Bulcay el Carmen and Bulshun (pronounced Bulzhun) near Gualaceo in Azuay province (Map 5). Formerly, similar...

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CHAPTER 4: Belts with Supplementary-Warp Patterning

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pp. 107-155

It is startling how similar the belts woven with supplementary-warp patterning are throughout highland Ecuador, not only in their structure but also in color and design motifs. Indeed, this type of belt is one of the unifying elements of highland Ecuadorian...

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CHAPTER 5: Turn-Banded 2/1 Twill Belts

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pp. 156-174

One belt structure with definite pre-Hispanic roots and found in several areas of highland Ecuador in different variations has a horizontally banded appearance (Figs. 5.1–5.2). Typically, white (often cotton) lines alternate with one or two other colors that form warp floats, formerly of wool but by the 1980s usually acrylic. Unlike the...

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CHAPTER 6: 2/1 Herringbone Complementary-Warp Weave Ponchos of the Otavalo Area, Imbabura Province

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pp. 175-184

One style of poncho made in the Otavalo area is unusual in that it is a different color on each face, for example, light blue on one side and dark blue on the other, or blue and gray, or red and blue (Fig. 6.1). Sometimes, one face of the poncho is striped while the other is solid color (Pl. 3); rarely, one face is plaid (A. Rowe [ed.] 1998: pl. VIIIA). Since the ponchos...

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CHAPTER 7: 3/1 Alternating Complementary-Warp Weave Belts

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pp. 185-216

There are three distinct complementary-warp patterned belt styles in Ecuador, all made on the backstrap loom but each with different technical characteristics that, in turn, reflect a different historical context.1 A consideration of their technical characteristics thus contributes significantly to our understanding of their origin. Two of the belt styles...

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CHAPTER 8: Treadle-Loom Weaving

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pp. 217-250

The treadle loom operates under principles quite different from those of indigenous Andean looms (Figs. 8.1 and 8.2). The use of foot treadles to operate the shed-changing mechanism probably originated in China, spreading first to the Middle East, and then to Europe around the eleventh or twelfth centuries (Hoffman 1979). As introduced into...

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CHAPTER 9: Natural Dyeing Techniques

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pp. 251-277

Brightly colored textiles have a nearly universal appeal, and the lore of dyeing, with its often sophisticated chemistry, has therefore been important throughout history to both art and commerce. Until the mid-nineteenth century, dyes were derived from natural materials, primarily...

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pp. 278-280

Of course, one of the fascinations of studying the surviving technological tradition of the indigenous people of the Andes is its inherent conservatism. Basic techniques such as hand-supported spinning and backstrap-loomweaving have survived largely intact from pre-Hispanic times and are therefore a window on the past. Although, regrettably, few...


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pp. 281-288


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pp. 289-295

References Cited

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pp. 297-309


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pp. 311


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pp. 313-327

E-ISBN-13: 9780292795471
E-ISBN-10: 0292795475
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292714687
Print-ISBN-10: 0292714688

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 210 halftones, 6 line drawings, 6 maps, 8 color
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Dyes and dyeing -- Textile fibers.
  • Hand weaving -- Ecuador -- Patterns.
  • Dye plants -- Ecuador.
  • Ecuador -- Social life and customs.
  • Indian textile fabrics -- Ecuador.
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