this blog journals a selection of my travels...
i'm pleased to have you along on the journey!
our newest collection: alpaca pillows from the highlands of bolivia. inspired by our favorite vintage frazada blankets, the weaving of these pieces draws upon one of the remaining vestiges of traditional andean culture. made from luxe, heavy-weave alpaca – a fabric once deemed so opulent it was reserved for use solely by incan royalty – the pillows exemplify the distinctive symmetry and individualized detailing we find so compelling in the traditional frazada textiles that we have long sourced for l’aviva home.
a mainstay of their daily life, the aymara women have been hand-weaving frazada blankets since pre-hispanic times. in vibrant contrast to the harsh and muted landscape of their home in the upper andes, these textiles stand out for their bold coloring and graphic, striped patterning.
there’s something essential woven deep into this fabric. for hundreds of years, the aymara have used their wool and alpaca frazadas to help shield against the cold winds of the altiplano and to serve as picnic blankets upon which to share midday communal meals. the importance of the fabric, however, goes beyond the practical, as the individualized colors and designs of each piece serve as a dynamic expression of its maker’s family lineage and local identity.
unfortunately, these extraordinary handmade pieces are becoming ever-more scarce. in recent years, the price of the wool and alpaca used to weave the frazadas has risen to the point that it’s become prohibitive for the aymara to continue making them for their own use. mass produced fabrications made from less-expensive, artificial materials are fast becoming the new standard.
a love for the simple elegance of traditional frazadas, coupled with an appreciation for the threat that now exists to the continuity of that tradition, has inspired our partnership with villa esperanza, a group of weavers from the town of challapata (in conjunction with the phenomenal organization ayni bolivia - thank you eduardo + vania!) to create a first-of-its-kind pillow collection. our collaboration draws on the enduring elements of this vital art form, capturing the graceful minimalism of traditional frazadas. our pillows maintain the striking graphic design, vivid coloring, and embroidery detailing we find so compelling in the weavings that inspired them. and it is my hope that this project can play a small part in helping to carry forward the inspiring legacy of this rich andean tradition.
the impetus for this most recent trip to bolivia was a desire to grow our partnership with the community of women that makes l’aviva home’s incredible hammocks. i was introduced to these hamacas atadas on my last trip to bolivia and have been captivated by them ever since.
each requires a month of careful work to complete. the process – which has slowly evolved over centuries – is totally unique, not only to the country or region but to the work of this specific group of women. hand-spun cord is woven on horizontal looms to create a kind of fused macramé. a crocheted lace pattern is added to line the sides while braids and tassels are attached to finish the traditional hanging beds, used throughout the region since the pre-columbian era.
the women who make the hammocks are guarayos - one of the indigenous groups in tropical bolivia – and they live in the remote town of urubichá. the village lays alongside the rio blanco, on the approach to the bolivian amazon. it takes six hours by car over mostly unpaved roads to get there from santa cruz.
working with these ladies over the course of the last year via remote, i became increasingly intrigued by their story. i wanted to learn more about who they were and how they were creating something so refined and elegant in such an isolated spot. i felt drawn to forge a deeper connection, to visit them and work with them in the hope that we could make something new together.
so i set off for urubichá, with friend claudia mercado (a bolivian jewelry designer) in tow, to see how we might be able to build on the foundation of these designs as we created other outlets through which these talented women could carry their tradition into the future.
peering through the open doors of the town’s thatched-roof homes, one sees looms for weaving hammocks at almost every turn. this used to be a common sight throughout the region but today it’s almost wholly unique to urubichá - a vestige of the community’s heritage that’s been protected by its isolation.
unfortunately, very few women still use the looms to create the hamaca atadas. there just hasn’t been a demand for them, given how challenging and expensive they are to produce. raw materials are scarce. the cotton needs to come from brazil. it’s incredibly time-consuming. and, due to cost, the ladies are not able to find a local market for the products.
working together in urubichá, our project was at its core one of translation — to come to understand the process and tradition of the women’s craft enough to match the structure and spirit of the hamaca atada to the construction of some original pieces.
we set about defining those elements that made these hammocks and their design so distinctive. in doing so, we focused on the bold graphics of the patterning, the heft of the threading, and the knotted style of weaving.
and drawing on these elements, we developed the outlines for luxe oversized bags and bedcovers/throws that really embody the spirit and sensibility of their inspiration. they retain the bold design and relaxed refinement that make the hammocks so special to begin with.
to work with these women to evolve such a longstanding tradition was inspiring and i’m excited to see how the seeds that we’ve planted will come to be.
for several years now, we have been working with sofia, a woman here in la paz who sources vintage frazadas - blankets woven by the aymara people - for l’aviva home. she’s continually on the lookout for special pieces for us, and we adore working with her. (along with friend adriana, who bridges some of the logistical and technical bits of the process). l’aviva home’s ‘team la paz’.
when i come to bolivia, i visit sofia in her home in el alto (an outgrowth of la paz which sits high above the rest of the city) - a world unto itself. it’s here that sofia guards her most coveted finds.
frazadas have traditionally been made by the aymara for their homes and daily use - they protect against the high-altitude cold, and are used as ‘picnic’ blankets upon which the aymara eat their mid-day meal working in the alto plano.
the more frazadas i see, the more i am struck by how seemingly endless the procession of colors and woven details and pattern variations is. it occurs to me that i cannot think of another woven tradition in which there is such incredible variety within the form. beyond a few very basic parameters (frazadas are made in two symmetrical panels, each limited by the width of the loom, and joined together by a central seam), there seems to be no dictates followed in terms of design. each frazada is wholly individual.
the price of wool + alpaca has risen in recent years to the extent that it’s become prohibitive for the aymara to continue makingthese pieces for their own use - instead, they are often turning to less expensive, mass-produced pieces made from artificial materials.
consequently, this tradition - one of the mainstays of aymara life - is in danger of dying out.
we’ll continue to include the vintage frazadas in our collections for as long as sofia is able to find incredibly lovely ones for us.
on this trip, we have also begun to look at moving forward. we have planted the seeds for a new collaboration, in which we will begin to work with a group here in bolivia who will be making cushions for us - new pieces, from alpaca, based on traditional frazada designs. this project will be done in conjunction with ayni bolivia, an inspiring organization based here in la paz that i am excited to work with. we’ll provide the artisans with certain color and size parameters - but, beyond that, the artisans will design the pieces, each individual, based on their own visions - in keeping with the sense of individual expression inherent in the frazada tradition.
more on this to come.
in the meantime, our new collection of vintage frazadas is currently en route back to new york, soon to share with all.
an incredible first day in la paz…
a selection of hauntingly beautiful images from our visit to chichicastenango market this weekend by lovely + talented friend courtney hardt…
here in guatemala, amidst the many new discoveries, i’m obsessing over three things: natural indigo dye, ixcaco cotton, and pom poms!