As part of a day tour in Cusco, the first stop was at a shop showing the traditional way of making Incan clothing. Of course, after the show you are encouraged to buy things, but that’s how things go and each tour I took had an element like this. I’m sure the tour operators earn a commission.
It was really interesting.
The first thing she showed us is a natural soap made from a plant. You take the root of a plant, grate it, and put it in boiling water. Upon agitation, suds and bubbles are produced and it’s an effective soap!
She said the local people still use this as shampoo and they claim this natural shampoo is the reason the local people hardly get gray hair. It’s true. I saw hardly any indigenous people with gray hair…
In the demonstration, she cut a piece of raw llama wool to clean it in the water. It’s oily and greasy because llamas are never washed to preserve their wool as it’s being grown. We touched it before the washing and it was definitely greasy and not soft. After the washing, it was smooth and soft. Amazing!
Where Colors Come From
There was also a demonstration about where the colors come from. As you can see in the pictures, the clothing the local people wear is very colorful and all these colors are derived from nature.
Green comes from a special plant, purple comes from the purple corn here (maiz morada), and yellow comes from a herb. But the most impressive color is red.
To get red, they go to a cactus and extract a natural parasite living off the cactus: dactylopius coccus. This little bug made news recently as Starbucks was using them as red food coloring in some of its drinks, which angered vegetarians.
With the bug in hand, a little bit of pressure squishes it and the red is immediately visible as you can see in the pictures below. To control how red the dye is, lemon juice can be added to lighten the color.
A lot of weaving goes on to make the clothes, rugs, shawls, etc. Below is a video showing a bit of weaving. When you see the patern on the fabric she holds up as the finished product, the intricate design indicates where she is from. Each village has its own markings so people know where you come from immediately.
In the end, despite its intended purpose, this was a very cool experience. I didn’t buy anything, but I learned a lot.
Below is an example of some of the products this clothing co-op offers for sale, and also the amazing view from the shop.