Peru News: The Road of Native Cotton Colors

The Country's nasent Center for Innovation and Rural Development is proposing a "ruta del algodón nativo de colores" - or "road of native cotton colors" - designes to preserve regional biodiversity, promote rich Peruvian history, and boost tourism. 

Five years in the making, the route includes some of the few remaining strongholds of the crop, which has been supplanted in recent decades by higher-yield hybrid strains and government subsidized US cotton. The project, which is expected to launch in July at a cost of $3.27 million USD, includes Ica, Lima, Ancash, La Libertad, Lambayeque, and The Amazon. 370 acres of land in six Lambayeque districts have been allotted for raising native cotton. Planting is planned to begin in mid-2012. 

Native Cotton comes in color-grown hues, including Russet, brown, copper, and green.

Taxonomically Known as Gossypium Barbadense but simply known as country cotton to locals, Peruvian cotton is cultivated the same way it was always been: no chemical fertilizers or synthetic pesticides. In addition to the budding white bolls of traditional cotton, varieties will also come in the color-grown hues of browns and greens. Over time colored cotton fell out of favor as it is shorter fibers and yields less cotton in general. However, coupled with its inability to compete with US cotton and the commercially superior all-white strains, Peruvian cotton is practically extinct.

Now the naturally colored cotton is on its way to a revival. Brands such as Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Esprit, have shown interest in the material and since fields across the countryside have shifted from cocoa to cocaine and now to cotton. 

The route is expected to attract tourists who are interested in Peru's agricultural history, as well as designers who wish to connect with producers (THATS US!) 

How do you feel about this? Would you like to see naturally colored cotton revived? Would you be more likely to buy it knowing now that it directly helps the economy of Peru and the cotton is practically extinct? Leave us a comment and let us know.

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Next Stop, Peru!

Fun things are happening over at emiLime and we wanted you to be the first to know! Emily arrived in Peru this week and got straight to work - meeting with the artisans to develop new designs for our fall/ winter 2012 line, while at the same time discovering new techniques. Our first meeting was with our cacho de toro (bull horn) expert, who is helping us develop our new line of emiLime jewelry line that will include horn, stone, wood, tagua, metallic thread, gold, bronze, silver and straw.  If you are interested in seeing a first look, leave us a comment here. 

We are also very excited to have partnered with designer, Johanna Hatzenbuehler who has come up with some amazing patterns that we can't wait to show you. We are able to bring these patterns to life with the help of one of our artisans who is known as the master knitter of the hand knitting machine. 

Using the hand knitting machines enables the artisans to repeat complicated designs thanks to a card that records the pattern saving valuable time and resources.  

Hand knitting machines were first introduced in the late 1800's so that women could knit while multi-tasking. Companies then began marketing them to households to allow for ideal efficiency so that a woman could enjoy the art while also getting things done around the house. The very first machine was the Lamb Knitting Machine, priced at a mere $54, with 84 kneedles and weight of 15 pounds. Most of today's knitting machines can include over 200 needles and even include a digital entry of the pattern to be used. 

Hand knitting machines help artisans alleviate existing problems with arthritis and carpel tunnel from so much use of the hands while at the same time allow lovers of knitting to keep enjoying the art. A machine can also produce lighter fabrics in a much better quality than physically by hand. An artisan can produce wonderful works by combining multiple methods to the textile a machine produces. For example, combining light and tightly woven fabrics from a machine with crochet and loosely woven hand knitting techniques can produce a wonderful effect. A hand kitting machine is just one of the many tools our artisans use to produce quality and beautifully unique work! 

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Handcrafted Techniques Used in Peru

Artisans in Peru are known for their skilled craftsmanship and ability to transform natural materials into a piece of art all by hand. The women that work with emiLime are skilled in many techniques, creating an array of products with embroidery, crochet, weaving, hand carving, and as previously mentioned in an earlier blog, knitting.

The beauty of handmade pieces is the history and journey that goes into to making every piece. Are you wondering what technique was used on your scarf? All these techniques are rooted deep within the history of the Peruvian culture as well as cultures throughout the world. Let’s start with embroidery.

Our  Bees hat and arm warmers use a blend of knitting and embroidery techniques. 

Embroidery is the art of decorating materials, mostly fabrics, with a needle and thread, or sometimes yarn. Although machine embroidery arose with the Industrial Revolution, the art of hand embroidery, and the culture that it reflects, has continued through the generations of Peruvian women that passed down the skill from mother to daughter. Sometimes embroidery is used to tell stories, while at times it is simply used to embellish its foundation.

Weaving is a textile craft in which two distinct sets of yarns or threads, one running lengthways (the “warp”) and the other running across from side to side (the “weft” or “filling”), are interlaced to form a fabric or a cloth. Additionally, weaving is usually done on a loom, a device that holds the warp threads in place while filling threads are woven through them. There are two types of looms that have been used in emiLime products. One is a large stand alone loom. These are used to make bigger pieces of fabric. Both men and women use this type of loom and in artisanal villages, many families still have looms in their houses. The other type of weaving is done on a back strap loom. This is commonly found throughout South and Central America. It is portable and much smaller than the stand alone loom and is fixed to an object like a tree.

Stand alone looms found in some of our artisan's homes (top) and women using a back strap loom (below)

Material created using large loom. 

Final product from woven fabric. Our True Love or Bust purse. 

Crochet, on the other hand, is the process of creating fabric out of yarn, thread, or other material goods by using a single crochet hook.

Our curl scarf in berry is crocheted.

Hand carving is another unique technique that we use in some of our products. Among many other materials, we work with skilled hand carvers that use bullhorn to create giant buttons or other adornments used for products such as emiLime’s Stag Headband and Tube Mobius. Bullhorn is made out of keratin, a term that refers to a family of fibrous structural proteins, and is in fact the key structural material making up the outer layer of the human skin. You can imagine that it doesn’t take much strength to hand carve beautiful pieces like the ones emiLime’s women have made! It does, however, take creativity and skill.

Hand carved bull horn or cacho de toro buttons. 

Stag headband with hand carved bull horn. 

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