Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


The opened tunic from the Textile Museum in Washington D. C. (fig. 1) is a beautiful object the colors and design of which are well known since a part of it was used 22 years ago on the cover of The Junius B. Bird Conference On Andean Textiles. The tunic has no archaeological context, but its characteristics place it among Early Horizon Epoch 9 woven fabrics from Ocucaje.

Mary Elizabeth King has described the piece in her doctoral thesis. It is made of four widths: two main panels in balanced plain-weave with discontinuous warp-and-weft, and two borders in triple cloth – all in camelid hairs. The central panels show interlocked snakes and three bands of guilloche in five colors (red, gold, green, cream, dark brown), while the borders show another type of guilloche in green, gold and brown, with the brown almost completely missing.

Mary Frame has demonstrated how this design was influenced by fabric structures. Isolated from the whole, the snake design might be looked at as a three-strand braid, and the guilloche motifs as twisted strands – either three-strand plied yarns or three-strand twining (fig. 2ab). And a third reference to textiles is possibly hidden in the composition of the whole piece which can be looked at as “the perfect image of a sprang fabric [in oblique interlacing], with the two halves in reflective symmetry, twined headings at either end and a hold-line in the middle” (fig.2c). According to Frame, this hidden sprang image suggested to her by Martha Stanley is hypothetical as this precise group of features is not found in the archaeological sprang sample from Early Horizon 9 which formed the basis of her research.