Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Jessica Gerschultz


A colorful Chancay gauze fragment in the Michael C. Carlos Museum’s collection of Andean textiles deserves consideration for the ingenious yet unpublished technical combination of its weave structure. Its Late Intermediate Period weaver pushed beyond technical limitations to join the laborious techniques of gauze weaving and discontinuous warping to reinforce the cloth’s protective and regenerative functions. Worn on the head during moments of transformation, the headdress would have empowered its wearer in ritual contexts, perhaps helping her to initiate her own rebirth in the afterlife. The weaver’s sophisticated fusion of the two techniques resulted in “jumping” serpentine figures, rendered in gold, dark brown, and white, on an indigo background. This depiction of serpent movement, created by the use of a discontinuous warp made whole through the tying of tiny knots, recalls both the corporeal process of the cloth’s production as well as the physical exertion of snakes. Moreover, the cloth’s overall polychrome patterning evokes the vivid dorsal patterning of snakes who have just shed their skin and emerged headfirst as regenerated beings. Through an examination of the Carlos Museum textile, this paper connects the symbolic attributes of fiber with the physical process of gauze weaving and the funerary contexts from which gauzes are excavated. It also problematizes a tendency in the literature to apply the term “gauze” to openwork textiles; gauze weaving with its inherent iconography must be seen as a deliberate technical choice made by the weaver for its distinctive symbolic connotations.