This is Nellie. She started the weaving collective we visited in Chinchero (Centro Cultural Parwa) and although she's very shy she is happy to teach foreigners like me how she and her colleagues create their beautiful work. In the photo on the left, the fleece in the basket is wool Nellie's washed using soap made from grated Yucca root. She is spinning with a hand spindle and without carding the wool first. The spun wool is dyed with natural dyes (such as that obtained from the cochineal beetle) and set with natural mordants (such as lemon juice, salt, and the urine of small boys which apparently has more uric acid than any other urine - who knew). When the yarn has been spun and dyed it's ready to weave. Nellie and her fellow weavers use wool, alpaca, and baby alpaca with a backstrap loom and traditional techniques to create stunning patterns. A backstrap loom is tensioned around the weaver's back and can only create a fairly narrow strip of fabric. Watch this video on YouTube if you'd like to see the weaver in action. My knees and back hurt just watching her at work.
On our trip we learned that the collective/community model is common in Peru, especially in the rural areas. Individuals do not own the land - the community owns the land and everyone is expected to pitch in and help with whatever needs doing, whether that's planting, fertilizing or harvesting. If you don't help, you don't eat. Even dogs are communal: although they appear to be strays they usually belong to a neighborhood and the community feeds and houses them.
On the slideshow below I've posted some photos of the weaving process and my new table runner. Please take a look.