Weaving Macanas

11 Mar

On a narrow road near the village of Gualaceo deep in the mountains of Southern Ecuador we found the weaving workshop of Jose Jimenez, Casa Del Makana. Jose and his family keep the tradition of weaving macanas, the traditional knotted shawl that has been essential clothing in this part of the world for centuries.

The Ikat design of the macana uses a tie and dye resist process of highly complicated hand weaving and knotting. Cotton is hand dyed using natural colors available nearby. Browns come from walnut. Lichens for greens. Cochineal for reds and oranges. Grays from minerals found in local rocks. While indigo is imported to create the many shades of blue.

The pattern for the design is lightly drawn onto the cotton threads. Then the sections of cotton are bound using fiber from a local plant known here as penca. The wrapping blocks the dye from penetrating the wrapped area leaving only the original color of the dyed cotton.

Wrapping the skeins of cotton may take days or months for each shawl depending on the fineness of the weave and complexity of the pattern.

The weaving is, comparatively, the easiest step. But the weaver must take care that the warp-dyed pattern doesn’t shift on the loom, thereby throwing the pattern out of sequence. The weaving is done on a backstrap loom pulling the warp taut on the frame with the body weight of the weaver. Then the weaving can begin.


The final step is creating the shawl fringe. Carefully separated cotton threads are gathered and expertly knotted with perfect symmetry finishing the intricate work with intense color.

The weaving of ikat shawls in Ecuador is increasingly hard to sustain. Shawls may take months to create and without an accessible and expanding market it is hard for this family of artisans to continue their work. We told Jose about the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe and their support of artists cooperatives all over the world. Our hope is that these weavers in Gualaceo will be able to connect to this international market for their extraordinary art.


4 Responses to “Weaving Macanas”

  1. Dede March 12, 2019 at 3:53 pm #

    Fascinating. I forwarded this to my friend CN who weaves. I love that you are seeing and sharing so much of the visual culture. THANK YOU Jill and Dana!

    • Jill and Dana March 12, 2019 at 4:41 pm #

      Meeting these people who learned their craft from their grandparents and parents starting when they were small children is such a clear view into the heart of this culture. I am so glad we have come here.

  2. Leah George March 12, 2019 at 3:44 am #

    this is so interesting and a great explanation of Ikat. Just beautiful. thanks for sharing!

    • Jill and Dana March 12, 2019 at 9:10 am #

      The workshop is a set of wooden buildings with open air porches and patios. The weavers work there and in their homes. Jose learned from his father who learned from his father back many generations. The handmade pieces of this quality are increasingly hard to find as fewer of the younger generation want to stay in the mountain villages and carry on the tradition. They move to the city or to the US and send money home to their families. Gualaceo is now a UNESCO Heritage Site recognized for its weaving traditions.

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