21
Aug

Re-weaving threads: Revitalization of the Mapuche traditional loom and forest natural dyes in southern Andes, Chile

Taller Witral has been a working and teaching space slowly built by Patricia Ayelef, a Mapuche woman, following her epew or dream: to revitalize the Mapuche textile culture in her territory of southern Chile.

Patricia was born and raised in Menetue, a Mapuche community located in the Andean zone of northern Patagonia. She is a düwekafe meaning an expert weaver, knitter and natural dyer of wool. She holds the living memory of her mother and other women who not only taught her how to raise sheep, wash, hand spin and dye wool, but also how to transform this material into meaningful household objects and everyday garments, such as the traditional manta (poncho), trariwes (women’s belts), fajas (men’s belts), among others. Although she has no daughters to hand over her knowledge, Patricia is eager to share all the teachings she has received and what she has self-explored on natural dyes, to other people of the territory.

Patricia tends to recently washed wool.

Traditional weaving, as an everyday activity, not only creates warm, colorful and useful textiles appropriate to cold weather, but more importantly it reinforces the social fabric within a community or territory as transmission of knowledge takes place while threads are woven. It also strengthens the connection of people to the forests as native plants are gathered and used as natural dyes, which gives added value to the textile objects and greater territorial identity as everything comes from the inhabited land. These textile objects are inevitably full of traces of history, knowledge, roots and meaning, highlighting the importance of valuing textiles in their symbolic sense and in connection with the life story of each weaver.

Samples of natural dye tones in wool (left), some of which can be seen in collaboratively-designed scarfs (right).

Consequently, dyeing and weaving becomes a true bolster of the socio-ecological fabric as a whole. Also, as culture continually evolves, Patricia has been resilient enough to open her heart to Mapuche iconographic designs from further regions of the Wallmapu (Mapuche territory) and textile techniques, such as ecoprints and shibori, which complements her situated local knowledge.

Women gather plants from the forest (left) used to dye wool during a natural dye workshop (right).

Through seed funding from the Global Environments Network, three GEN members from Latin America, Antonia Barreau, Julian Caviedes and Constanza Monterrubio, are supporting Patricia’s efforts to revitalize Mapuche textile culture, allowing her to: a) finish the implementation of her working and teaching space (Taller Witral), b) organise opportunities for knowledge transmission with other women to share this ancient technique, while creating a sense of community and sorority, c) expand her knowledge and exchange textile techniques and expertise with other düwekafe from further Mapuche areas while short residencies take place, and d) to finish an ongoing research we both started years ago about natural dyes which have been slowly replaced by aniline dyes, eroding part of the textile culture.

Patricia Ayelef Trecanao is not only the daughter of the Lonko (chief) of her community and a great textile artist, but she is also a respected woman and political leader as she has been constantly at the frontline of many legal battles to protect her people and territory. This project aims to support and celebrate her effort towards re-weaving forgotten threads for the benefit of her culture and community, and the world’s textile heritage.

Written by Antonia Barreau. Photos courtesy of the author.

Wool is dyed in large pots using a variety of plants, lichens and tree barks (left), including walnut leaves (right).

Other GEN Seed Funding 2020 projects:

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