Ancient Peruvian Textiles: An Ongoing History

While venturing through Lima I came across Museo Larco, a gem of a museum filled with ancient Peruvian ceramics, metalwork, and textiles. The understated facade of the building is misleading. Just beyond the gates are an overwhelming number of multicolored flowers, resting elegantly against white stucco walls. Small enchanting courtyards appear at every turn. The Peruvian flag flies high.

The exhibit of textiles was smaller than I expected. I almost missed it, but then I saw a glimpse of a beautiful cotton cloth with blue and yellow feathers sewn onto it in a simple yet striking pattern. I felt as though the whole room started glowing, beckoning me and pulling me in. I wandered through the textile room in awe. I was and am simply amazed by the process of turning animal wool into yarn, creating natural pigments from insects and plants, and somehow turning these elements into intricate and flawless patterns. Just think about that transformation - animals and earth combined to be made in to clothing, wall hangings, and blankets. 

Here are some of the fascinating facts about Peruvian textile history I learned from Museo Larco.

+ In the pre-Columbian era, textiles were valued in the same way precious metals like gold and silver were. In fact, textiles often denoted social status.

+ Domesticated in the Andean region more than 4,500 years ago, Peruvian cotton is some of the finest in the world. Many international brands are proud to include “Made with Peruvian Cotton” on their products - emiLime included!

+ Alpaca and vicuña wool were also used for weaving in ancient Peru. Like Peruvian cotton, these materials continue to be some of the finest materials in the world, exceptional at protecting people from extreme cold.

+ In ancient times, women were most commonly the textile experts. They spun, wove, dyed and embroidered exquisitely.

+Beyond being used as clothing, ancient Peruvian textiles carried religious messages both in pattern and structure.

+One of the most interesting uses for textiles in ancient Peru was as a wrap for the dead. These cloths were believed to relay messages into the afterlife. Common in the Paracas culture (vibrant from about 800-100 BCE), these wraps are known as Paracas mantles.


+ In addition to being wrapped in Paracas mantles, the dead were often buried with baskets full of materials and supplies for spinning and weaving.

Ancient Peruvians also used threads to perfect a record system called quipus. Using different colors and knots, these systems were used to record quantitative information.

Peru’s textile history is rich and ongoing. Each emiLime product is created with these histories in mind, valuing quality of materials and the deliberate, handmade process. May these beautiful traditions and practices continue to flourish.  

Written by Aida Villarreal-Licona

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