21st Century Art, C.E. - B.C., A Context

21st CENTURY ART, C.E. - B. C.

...the geometry is the light...


Ocucajes, Chimu, Nazca

Textile making in Peru dates from at least 3000 B.C., an art with a history of over 5,000 years -- maybe longer. Women were/are the weavers, their main fibers were cotton (Gossypium barbadense) and wool from the cameloids: llama, alpaca, vicuna and guanaco. They also used many other spinnable, fibrous materials, including bast from the maguey plant and human hair. To execute their complex and equisite designs, wool and cotton's natural colors were used as well as dyes from plants, bugs, and minerals with an enormous range and brilliance of color.

This short-sleeved cotton tunic in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from the Late Chimu period, between 900 and 1400 C.E., is made of drawn work with touches of basket, tapestry and brocade weaving. The warp and weft threads are bunched together. It is tie-dyed brown, leaving, where the treads cross, white and undyed. Both in weaving and coloring (blue, brown and yellow on sleeves and at the bottom), it is a highly unusual piece.

In ancient Peru, most textiles were woven to size and were rarely cut. Fairly often, however, two or more complete weavings were sewn together. Shrouds of immense width have been found, some measuring over sixteen feet wide.

This woolen cloth (Early Nazca, 100 to 600 C.E.), a checkerboard of figures and plain areas, is worked in basket weave and embroidered with crewel stitching. The elaborate figures contain masked and human faces, severed heads, and serpent motifs.

Though similar in design,
each of the figures is
endlessly varied in color
and detail.
The distinctive "T" design used in this Chimu (900 and 1400 C.E.) fragment is found in Oriental Tribal rugs, particularly from Baluchistan, as well as in Chinese Lattice designs, both ancient and modern. The uniquefringe is of attached threads woven back into the fabric.

It is impossible to list all the techniques and embellishments know to Peruvian artist-- but among the accomplishments of the great weavers and stitchers of Peru were/are tapestries, plain cloth, twills, double-weaves, triple cloth, brocades, fine gauzes, patterned nets and pile fabrics using many decorative techniques including embroidery, painting, applique, ikat, featherwork, twining, looping, braiding, knotting, knitting, crocheting. Their fabrics include ponchos, shirts, mantles, skirts, breechcloths, headgear, veils, curtains, belts, bags, collars, headbands, legbands, carrying cloths, sacks, slings, netting, hairnets, hunting and fishing nets, quilts, wall hangings, samplers, doll and figure clothing, shrouds, grave goods, cordage and the quipu which carried the knowledge of the Incas.

Early Nazca Design

There are many extraordinarily beautiful books on Peruvian Textiles. Three
worth study are:

Rediscovery of Pre-Columbian Textiles published in 1994 by Lamandart;

Ancient Peruvian Textiles from the Collection of the Textile Museum,
Washington D.C and The Museum of Primitive Art, New York., published in

A Study of Peruvian Textiles in The Museum of Fine Arts Boston by Philip Ainsworth Means, published in 1932

There are also a number of online sites where one can begin one's exploration
of Peruvian Textiles in cyberspace, including Dress and Meaning in Ancient
and Weaving Materials and Accessories

Nazca and Chimu images copyright © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1932

Nazca image copyright © Lamandart Publishers Ruiselede, 1994

21st Century Art, C.E. - B.C., A Context

Copyright © Jan Haag 1997

Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail: jhaag@u.washington.edu