Have you ever had those Andes mints? You know how they’re the perfect mix of sweet and cool?
This post has something that’s both sweeter and cooler. And actually from the Andes, not the American midwest.
Peru has the longest continuous history of textile creation in the world, going back almost 10,000 years to around the time of the beginning of agriculture. One of the most distinctive creations is the chullo, the Incan knitted hat.
Traditionally, the hats are made to be worn by babies and grown men, who wear their chullo hats for warmth in the high altitudes of the Andes mountains, then layer a broad-brimmed hat on top to get some protection from the sun. Though they’re not typically worn by women, the modern chullo hat likely would have gone extinct without the efforts of a young girl named Nilda Callañaupa. In the 1980s, Nilda went to the only people in Chinchero who still knew how to make the complicated hats, asking to learn. She taught her niece Yolanda, and this important part of Incan heritage was saved!
That’s not to say it’s easy. Traditional chullos require lots of patience and very tightly-knit stitches. It starts with scallop-shaped rows that make up the border. The Chinchero-style chullo that Nilda worked so hard to preserve features edging in three colors. Then, there’s a stripe and check border design, called ñaccha or k’utu. The shaping on the head is adorned with images from the natural world, like foxes, geese, plants, and furrows. Then comes the three tubular sections, topped with tassels, along with fringing, straps, and finally, the ear flaps. Oh yes, and all of this is done in the Andean style, meaning the needles, yarn, and knitting are all held backwards. This alternative to the English or Continental styles requires you to hold the right-hand needle like a pencil, while the yarn gets wrapped around the fingers of your right hand. There’s a tutorial online for anyone interested.
The patterns for chullos aren’t recorded, which is why they were in danger of disappearing. Different motifs and colors can signify regional identity or marital status, and different communities have different traditions surrounding the creation of their chullos. For example, the men of the Chahuaytire community make their own chullos, adding buttons and braids for decoration. Meanwhile, both men and women make the “bobble” style hat in Accha Alta, creating the strings of bobbles separately and then knitting them into the hat. In the Taquile community, the women do the spinning, and the men do the knitting.
This page has more information about the type of yarn used, as well as a story about a woman learning the technique.
Here’s a course where you can learn from the woman who saved the Chinchero chullo!
This pattern is really colorful, and the page also has information about knitting letters into your chullo. May we suggest “GYI!”