Ecuador: The Art of Weaving Part II

You won’t find much evidence of weaving being performed in the inner cities anymore, but allow yourself a trip into the country and especially in the highlands and you’ll find that beautiful woven textiles are still made. The city of Otavalo is one of the most famous trade centers in Ecuador and is known for its weaving and famous handcrafts market.

The history of weaving started way back at the time of the Spanish conquest — when Ecuador’s biggest export seemed to be human labor. The Spanish exploited this easily obtained human resource and quickly established a textile workshop in Otavalo and nearby cities such as Cotacachi and Peguche.

Indigenous labor and Western technology turned out to be a profitable combination as the treadle loom and spinning wheel were quickly introduced. Over time, the “huasipungo” system came into effect, which allowed the locals to live and keep working on the large farms they continued to tender. Many of these estates kept operating weaving workshops, producing a vast amount of cloth in order to commercialize it.

Fast-forward about 100 years or so and a thriving textile industry was firmly in place. Weaving techniques and styles introduced by the Scottish in the early 1900’s were spread from village to village. Finally in the late 1960’s local tribes were granted titles to pieces of the very land they long had cared for, and with the land came the freedom to continue weaving as “independent contractors” so-to-speak, ensuring a continued livelihood for many individuals.

These days, the once-thriving weaving industry is mainly done for the benefit of tourists and for export around the world. A generation later, the people from Otavalo are still famous, not only for their weaving, but also for their success as traders, as they frequently travel to North America, Venezuela and Colombia in order to find new markets for their their textile creations.

But to those who appreciate the technique, weaving textiles is an on-going concern. In many small villages, the interest just isn’t there among the young, being replaced instead by the magnetic pull of the big cities. Like a lot of handcrafts, the future of the art form lies in the interest of a new generation to embrace it.

You can easily reach Otavalo by bus from the nearby city of Quito. Check out the Tours link on for points-of-contact regarding tour agencies who can coordinate a day trip (or longer) to this fascinating city.