What do weavers and dyers do when they are not weaving and dyeing? For one thing, textile-related puzzles! Matthew and I just finished this incredible puzzle.
According to the description on the box, the image shows a portion of an offering cloth from the late 1700s found on the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, made from handspun wool. The description specifically says that it probably was not a woman’s manta (shawl), because of its size. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
On the website of the National Museum of the American Indian, this same cloth is catalogued as a woman’s manta, 120x120x110 cm, made of cotton and camelid fiber yarns (meaning alpaca or llama). The site where it was found is described as the Temple of the Sun or Temple of the Virgins of the Sun on La Isla de la Luna, or Island of the Moon. I’m not sure which source is more accurate (I assume the museum catalogue). By the way, check out the “materials” list in the “object specifics” part of the collection search function. A list after my own heart.
The cloth features horizontal rows of abstract patterns (reminiscent of flags and bunting) alternating with fields of representational images including amazing animals like deer (or maybe alpaca or llamas), ducks, eagles, parrots and other birds, monkeys, people, and mer-creatures (one looks like it’s playing a guitar and is half-seal or perhaps half-manatee). There are lots of things which look like stacked up bowls, which we came to refer to as “ice cream sundaes,” and reminded us of those beautifully presented piles of fruit and other offerings at Buddhist temples. The overall feeling is a celebratory sense of teeming life and energy and abundance.
As a dyer, I was very interested in the colors. Shades of red and maroon dominate, with gold, yellow, white, purplish brown, and several shades of blue, of course all dyed with natural dyes. It was hard to tell how many colors had been used in the original cloth. The same shade of maroon looked different depending on whether it was surrounded by bright red or gold… or were they really two different shades of maroon? Tricky.
This is a color theory phenomenon called simultaneous contrast. The hue (color), chroma (intensity), and value (degree of light/white or dark/black) of a color look different depending on one color’s relationship to another. If you search for this on line you can find some great examples. I liked the examples on David Brigg’s website (though to view the videos you need Flash and some other plug-ins).