The craft of art knitting, increasingly rare in the modern
world, is passed from one generation to the next in the Andes. Nowhere in
the world has art knitting reached a more sophisticated level than in Peru,
where it has evolved from a millennia-old Andean textile tradition. Peru's
precious natural fibers, alpaca, vicuña and Peruvian pima cotton,
have underscored this art knitting tradition with some of the world's most
luxurious handknitting yarns.
For many women in the Andes, handknitting is one of the few non-disruptive
means of supplementing traditional barter and subsistence-based incomes
with cash. Even in remote Andean villages hard currency is needed for such
essentials as medicine, school uniforms and radio batteries. Since knitting
needles and yarn are portable and the knitting itself can be done 'flex-time',
during and between such tasks as working in the fields, selling in the market,
supervising children, or waiting for a bus, handknitting blends in beautifully
with an Andean woman's every day life.
Andean mothers teach their daughters (and often sons as well) the basics
of handknitting at about the age of ten. Starting with basic patterns and
stitches, they learn to knit simpler garments such as hats and scarves.
Those who become more proficient move on to the more intricate stitches,
multiple colors, and sophisticated shapes that are the basis of art knitting.
Countless hours and years of experience go into the creation of the most
complicated art knits. Only a handful of knitters in the world have such
knowledge, and many of them live in the Andes. These extraordinarily skilled
artisans, and their mothers and grandmothers before them, are a modern day
expression of Peru's ancient weaving tradition. Having spent up to a year
weaving a complex, warp-faced ceremonial manta, or woman's shawl, the weeks
required to complete a challenging handknit seem quite manageable.
It is truly magical to watch these virtuosos as they sometimes alternate
between four different stitches at a time, keeping track of a multitude
of yarns streaming down in tiny bobbins from their work-in-progress. The
most difficult asymmetric patterns emerge seemingly effortlessly as they
knit on fine gauge needles, changing colors and stitches several times each
An Andean art knitter puts her heart and soul into each sweater, from the
first row cast on to the final tying off of each strand of precious alpaca
or Peruvian pima cotton. The skill level and artistry of these talented
artisans have taken Andean handknitting from a craft to an art form.
Above: Peruvian Connection designers collaborate with Andean knitters
to produce some of the world's most extraordinary handknits.
Right: Click to download the knitting patterns and instructions for the Peruvian Connection designs at right.
For additional patterns, visit the website of renowned knitwear designer and Peruvian Connection collaborator Kaffe Fassett at www.kaffefassett.com.