The weaving in the Inca world There is the image, very cited, of the Inca peasant always industrious, spinning incessantly. She spun and wove the cloth that she and her family wore, and carried the spindle to the grave as a symbol of female industriousness. But in the Andean sociopolitical life textiles played a special role, which went far beyond their merely utilitarian and ornamental uses.
A common offering in sacrifices, it also served at different times and occasions as a symbol of high social status or as a sign of forced citizenship; it was also used as a funeral equipment, as a trousseau for the bride or to seal an armistice. No political, military, social or religious event was complete without the offering or transfer of tissues, burned, sacrificed or exchanged.
The main fibers that were spun in the Andean region were cotton in the lowlands and the wool of the camelids in the sierra. Cotton is found in very early archaeological strata, prior to the arrival of corn.
Archeology does not tell us much about the altiplano, given that textiles are not preserved in mountain conditions. It is not well known when the llama was domesticated, but burials of slaughtered camelids dating from the first millennium before our era have been found.
Woolen fabrics spread to the rhythm of the Inca expansion, but apparently they did not penetrate everywhere. Some inhabitants of the sierra lacked flames and their clothes were woven “like a net” with cabuya fiber. With the cabuya fabric, sacks were also made for the transport of sand and stones in public works.
The main wool supplier was the alpaca, whose fleece is long and rich. Occasionally the other camelids were sheared, but their wool did not matter in the total production. The flame was rough and thin, and was used mostly to make ropes. Its wild counterpart, the guanaco, has an ordinary wool and, like all wild products, it was considered the property of the cult. The finest wool came from the vicuña, but this species has always been scarce, so it is assumed that only wool was used for the clothes of the kings and those who were granted as a sign of royal favor.
There were two types of fabrics and two kinds of looms. The first type of loom, present in all households, was used for domestic fabrics that were known as ahuasca. They were pretty rough fabrics, of any color and thick.
The second variety, the cumbi, was a thinner cloth made by professionals on a larger loom.
A special cloth, possibly a variety of cumbi, was made for the sacrifices in festivities, although all kinds of fabric could serve as an offering at different times.
The cotton fibers, in addition to being used for clothing, were used for candles and mattresses. The fiber of cabuya was woven in ropes, which sometimes were braided with llama wool.