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Favourite Fabric: Andean Ch'ullu Knitting

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Excerpt from The Carnival Issue, written by Sarah Jane Downing.

The origin of the Andean Ch’ullu is swathed in mystery like mountain mist. One theory is that it originates with the indigenous pre-Hispanic peoples. Ancient Peruvian grave finds dating from 1100BC offer evidence of knitted fabrics which used a ‘crossed-loop’ knitting technique using short lengths of yarn and a bone or cactus thorn needle. Archaeologists have also discovered ceramic figures thought to date from the pre-Inca Moche culture c600AD, which feature pointy headwear with ear flaps. Another theory cites the similarity between the shape of the Ch’ullu and the ‘papahigo’ and ‘mantera’, especially when worn under a hat or sombrero. This was the headwear that was popular with Basque men during the 15th and 16th centuries, suggesting that the style Andean Ch’ullu Knitting was adopted from the conquistadors. Yet the ear flaps are particularly suited to the chilly Andean mountain air, and the term Ch’ullu deriving from the Quechua language is thought to reference the ear flaps. The term Chullo is the Hispanicised version of Ch’ullu in the Quechua language, the indigenous language of the Andean region. hats Whereas most European folk knitting is produced by women, in the Bolivian Andes it is traditionally the men who knit. They make the first Ch’ullu for their infant children, and when they are old enough they pass on the art. Usually in horizontal bands of designs featuring local animals, or bands of colour, each design offers clues to the origin of the wearer as well as the age, social and marital status. Unmarried men wearing the white topped Ch’ullu Soltero would be assessed for their ability to plan ahead, their creativity and quality of their design by potential in-laws. Traditionally made from local natural fibres such as vicuna, alpaca, and llama, the Ch’ullu is knitted in the round with five double-pointed knitting needles. Some, possibly apocryphal, sources have suggested that to get the fineness of needle required, bicycle spokes are sharpened into shape. Although appreciated by the Andean peoples as an important indicator of indigenous identity, until relatively recently the Ch’ullu has been looked upon by others as an article of peasant origin. The Ch’ullu was adopted by snowboarders in the 1990s and has taken on a new identity with the growth of the sport. Illustrated by Hannah Waldron. The Carnival Issue is out now. Save 10% on subscriptions with the code 'Celebrate'. SV68-celebrate-4


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