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Catching Up With Claudia

10 October 2011

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 wonderful textiles.

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 America.

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 Mountains

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 textiles

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 day lives.

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.


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