In the South American altiplano, between 3000 and 5000 meters above sea level, night falls with a spectacular light and an icy wind blows into the interior of the houses.

To take shelter from the cold, Andean families have covered themselves with colorful, warm and heavy wool blankets for as long as they can remember. These are what we call today “ethnic carpets”.

ethnic rugs from high up in the Andes

We entered the house of an Aymara family. A house made of adobe that opens its doors during the day to take advantage of the heat and closes them as soon as the sun goes down. There is a stew in the pot, the elders chat, the children play and, sitting on the floor, a lady teaches her grandson how to weave these blankets that generation after generation have tucked the family in.

Aymara child

These blankets are an icon of the Aymara culture and are woven on wooden looms, with one end tied to a stick and the other to the weaver’s waist. With the patience and skill that years give, during three weeks the wool is braided and with an alpaca bone, similar in size to a comb, the symbols and drawings are made, often improvised. “And the thing is that no two blankets are the same, each one has a story,” the lady explains to her grandson.

woven carpets woven on wooden looms

The houses where they live have small rooms. For this reason, blankets are woven in two long, independent and generally equal pieces and are joined in the center. Sometimes with more discreet seams and sometimes with spectacular embroidery.

The grandson, who will one day weave his own blanket, knows where the wool comes from. He himself has played with the lambs that his family looks after and at home there is always someone spinning wool, while they cook, while they chat, and even while they pick up the house.

spinning wool

He has also seen his mother dye wool with herbs and other natural pigments from the area. Reddish tones predominate (pinks, oranges, purples…) which are extracted from the cochineal, an insect that lives on the stalks of the prickly pear cactus, a cactus that grows very well in the high Andes.

the clothes

The lady has finished weaving the blanket, a blanket that she can exchange at the local market for other products she needs or sell so that its colors can fill with life a home that is thousands of miles away, in a city whose name she has never heard of. She smiles when we tell her that we will happily take her to Spain, where they will appreciate her work, admire her skill, and enjoy her exquisite taste in color matching.