The Story Behind The Bolivian Collection
It's been a few weeks since we launched our Bolivian Collection
and we've had a great response - these on-off pieces have just been
flying out of our showrooms. We decided to catch up with the
collection designer, Claudia de Rubin de Celis, so we could find
out more about the unique history and traditions behind these
Our Bolivian Collection designer,
Claudia de Rubin de Celis
How did the idea for the Bolivian Collection
with Sofas & Stuff come about?
I have always admired the beauty of Bolivian textiles. The
diversity of form, the vibrant colours, their different uses and
especially the effort and their significance for the Andean
culture. The iconography of each piece of textile reflects the
history of the hard life of the people in the Bolivian mountains,
their beliefs and religious ideology.
Having met my husband Louis 4 years ago during his travels in
Bolivia an awful lot has happened in my life. While studying and
living in this country I quickly noted how British people
appreciate the artistic value of products made by hand using
traditional techniques, products made with effort and with a strong
identity. It is here that the idea of introducing national Bolivian
textiles to the UK was born.
Each piece in the collection is completely unique
- this sofa is a little taster of what you can expect
My goal is to help promote the art of weaving by hand to
continue through each generation. Bolivia is a country where the
economic need of the poor produces large migrations to the cities,
where the desire to learn these traditional Andean textile
techniques is replaced by a desire (or an illusion) for a better
life in the modern city. In order to rescue this ancient art of
weaving, and to prevent these wonderful pieces of fabric, ending up
behind a glass case in a museum, unattainable to human touch, they
needed to be bought into the twenty first century by new design,
giving the fabric a new lease of life, while still retaining their
charm and integrity, where people can appreciate the quality and
softness of the alpaca wool in a new and exciting way that meets
the changing needs of everyday life that is closer to the people,
as it was and still is for the ancient Andean cultures of South
So my husband and I imported the textiles into the UK and having
shown them to my mother in law, who works for Sofas & Stuff,
she suggested we show them to Andrew Cussins the director, a
visionary man and a person passionate about textiles and aware of
these traditional techniques of weaving. When he first saw the
textiles he was very enthusiastic and asked if he could have some
to use as upholstery, for some unique pieces of furniture produced
by the company.
It is an honor for me to have met these people who appreciate
the natural beauty and traditional art of these textiles and also
to help me to keep these ancient skills alive.
Where in Bolivia were the textiles sourced from
and what is their story?
The textiles we brought belong to the Andean region of Bolivia,
the mountainous area that stretches through the eastern cordillera
of the Andes, an area of great mineral wealth, where its
inhabitants live in towns over 3,000 meters above sea level.
A traditional Bolivian village in the Andean
My husband and I traveled extensively through the different
towns of the Andean mountains to find the most rustic textiles many
being between 50 & 100 years old. Having crossed the Atlantic
Ocean they are now present in these beautiful pieces of furniture.
It was not easy to find them, because as I already mentioned, these
ancient weaving skills are now days almost extinct.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the
techniques used to produce these textiles?
Each textile is made with ancient instruments and traditional
tools, dating back more than ten centuries. Each woven piece has a
working time of between two to three months, because of the effort
it takes from the collection of wool, the finding of the natural
dyes, the dying, the design and finally the weaving. The process of
creating the textiles is ecological and sustainable, because of the
use of their natural elements. The rustic looms are old instruments
made of wood where the women of the house are responsible for
weaving every piece of textile in an individual way.
A traditional Bolivian loom used to weave the
The wool comes from highland animals such as alpaca and llama,
the working process of the wool is call "spinning" later, this wool
is crafted and dyed with natural colours such as "cochinilla" (a
worm that lives in the crimson tuna, the fruit of the cactus) from
which the colour red is extracted. The colour black comes from the
walnut tree. Yellow is obtained from vegetables such as onions and
a plant called Thola (found in arid areas of the altiplano). The
colour brown comes from the Nogal tree but sometimes tea or
pineapple peel is used to dye the wool, and so on.
The colours and designs of the iconography of each textile
depend on the ethnic group from which they belong. Each ethnic
group has a different cultural decor, some preserved ancient motifs
representing their gods (or inti jalka) other natural elements
represented in mythology as the snake or the sun, the star (Chasca)
or other geometric designs representing the natural elements of the
rain and the earth, others had origins in Spanish baroque, as
horses and floral motifs.
Currently there are modern patterns, especially in the Andean
region where they represent mining trucks, planes, and even
alphabetic letters along with rabbits, stars and snakes.
How are textiles of this kind used in Bolivia
by local people?
Some of them are used as blankets for the indigenous people,
others are shawls used by indigenous women. But we can say that in
general, textiles are used in various ways by the people of the
Andean region, they transport their goods in them and even serve to
carry their babies, they are part of their dress and their day to
In the iconography of each textile is written a history,
cosmology, the relationship they have with the environment, they
are simply an expression of their soul.