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HANDMADE TREASURES


If the Spanish conquerors a

ppreciated the precious metals, the old Ecuadorians considered a real true treasure the fabrics made of cotton and alpaca or llama wool. You may find these valuable crafts at any Indian market as well as at every fair in Ecuador.

Land of artists. Lives consecrated to the occupation of creating. Legacy and tradition: to learn of the father, to teach to the sons and the grandsons... and an explosion of colors hit a grating loom while upright straw fabrics become fine hats. The cycle repeats, the town keeps its traditional art. Neither the pass of the time nor the modernity have been able to defeat it.

Since pre-hispanic times the men of the Andean heights found in the art a way to capture creative gleams and to express, also, their fears and doubts. It is not just knitting, it is not just giving forms to the clay or the mud; it is a way to express themselves, through their drawings, their understanding of the world, their beauties and mysteries, their frozen pampas and magic lakes and their hidden spirits in the bowel of the hills or in the blond mane of the sun.

In the towns and cities of the Ecuador a great variety of handmade products exists. Cuenca is known by its ikat cloths (tied or bundle) whose technique consists in tying and tinting the fabrics before knitting the piece. With this fabric shawls and blankets weighing more than four kilos are elaborated.

The shigras or hand knitted bags made of agave fiber (an American cactus), of showy colors, are sold in the central counties of Cotopaxi, Tungurahua and Chimborazo.
It is known also, that the old Ecuadorians were experts working metals, as the silver, the nickel and the brass. In the markets, especially in Chordeleg, they sell filigree jewelry, as rings, earrings, pins, bracelets, and chains with pre colombinan and colonial motives.

The quichuas canelos or sacha rune (people of the forest) that inhabit in the shores of the Napo and Pastaza rivers, represent the changes of their existence and their mythology in ceramics so fragile as the shell of an egg.
In San Antonio de Ibarra (county of Imbabura) the artisans carve the wood to create amazing overwhelming images of virgins and saints; while their "colleagues" of Otavalo, sculpt tropical birds and animals.

Another of the crafts that you see at almost every indian market are the baskets knitted with cane or totora reeds. The big baskets with cover are made in Cuenca, the small ones come from the surroundings of Latacunga, while the most colorful are characteristic of the orient.

At the southern border of Quito it is very common to see placed at the tombs, especially in the day of all the saints and in the day of the deceaseds, human beings and animals' figures made of pasta of bread and dyed in brilliant colors, called t'anta guagua.

In the coastal areas of Montecristi and Jipijapa (Manabí), the hats of Panama -that were very popular in Europe and the United States by the middle of the 18th century- are knitted.

The hats of Panama

When the conquerors arrived, it caught their attention the beautiful headdresses that were used in the current county of Malabí. The Spaniards adapted them to their use and in the 19th century, some searcher of gold baptized them with the name of "hats Panama", reason why many people believe that they were knitted in the Central American country.

The hats became well-known when Auguste Renoir drew them in one of his classic paintings. Then, the heroes as well as the villainous of the cinema industry of North America, used them as a distinction symbol, what originated that in 1946 Ecuador exported five millions of these crafts.

For the production of the hats they used -mainly- the buds of a plant called Carludovica palmata that contain dozens of leaves of a meter long and few millimeters wide.

The elaboration of the finest hats requires of a special temperature; plus, the weavers -mainly women and children- should avoid to sweat, because their hands could stain the straw.

A hat of high quality needs from 3 to 4 days of work. A way to check its quality is to fill it with water as if it was a vessel. If the water doesn't filter through the hat then the fabric is excellent.

The weavers of Otavalo

It is not strange for the families of Otavalo to have a loom at home, because in one way or another, all of them are related to the textile industry

It is hard to say when the old Ecuadorians learned the art of the fabric, but this technique has survived through the time. During the colony, by the middle of the 16th century, a textile obraje was installed in Otavalo.

Between 1690 and 1720 this form of forced work was abolished and a system labor denominated peonaje por deuda or huasipungo, where the natives continued being slaves, but in the country properties, began.

Almost two centuries later the natives of the country property of Causin were successful in the national market when carrying out imitations of the british tweed (cashmeres), what constituted the commercial take off of the fabrics of this Ecuadorian town.

Upholsters, ponchos, belts and picturesque carpets are sold in the very well known saturday fair of Otavalo. There, the women wear hand knitted skirts and shawls over their shoulders. Men clothes are a mix of colonial and modern elements.

When buying a textile or a hat of Panama, your taking home an ancestral tradition, transmitted generation after generation from the first ones that learned how to knit until today.

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Coming and going to downtown Quito
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