Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


Although pre-historic Andean textile artists explored almost every textile structure ever invented, knitting was unknown in the Pre-Columbian Andes. Recent excavations at the colonial town of Magdalena de Cao Viejo on the north coast of Peru have uncovered what may be the earliest surviving examples of knitting in the Americas (see image). Along with disease, bureaucracy, Catholicism, violence, and other effects of colonization, the technique of knitting was imported to South America after the Spanish Conquest in 1532 and was adopted and adapted by indigenous Andeans. The discovery of early New World knitting, exciting enough in itself, inspires further questions about colonial Andean textile production and knowledge transfer in a rapidly shifting and potentially dangerous political climate. Who brought knowledge of knitting to the Andes? Were indigenous people intentionally taught to knit? Where did they get knitting needles? What kinds of knitted items were created? And what was the political significance of people making and wearing knitted garments? As a brand-new textile technique in a world overwhelmed by enforced social and political changes, knitting could have been used to express assimilation, resistance, or a hybrid of the two. Probably the use of knitting had a complex variety of meanings as both Andeans and Spanish re-negotiated their roles and identities in colonial Peru. This talk examines the known colonial knitted artifacts, and investigates their implications for textile production practices and the creation of political identity in the colonial Andes.