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The warm wool of Chiloé

Pantuflas, Tierra Chiloé.

Wool plays a very important role in the history of Chiloé and in the life of its islanders.  Not only is it an excellent form of protection from the cold and rain, but it is also a reflection of the local culture, so closely bound with nature and the communal lifestyle.

It is mainly the island women who have taken on the job of keeping this tradition alive, passing on their knowledge through each generation over centuries.  Observing their mothers and grandmothers, they have managed to learn and continue using the same techniques of their ancestors, those which were inspired by Mapuche weaving techniques.  It is the women who spin, dye, form balls, and weave.

Originally, the wool of Chiloé was obtained from the guanacos, but, with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the XVI century, this animal became extinct in the area, making way for sheep’s wool.  At the beginning, their weavings were white, but with the arrival of exchange commerce, colors and designs began to appear.

Photograph by Waldo Oyarzún. Woman with quelgo. Ancud Regional Museum Photographic Collection.

To knit the wool they utilize 100% natural methods.  Even today, the weavers use leaves, bark, roots, branches, flowers and fruits of different plants to give color to the wool.  They also use mud, for darker tones.

The tools used today are the same ones they used in the past, with the loom, of course, being the most important.  In Chiloé, the people proudly say “I weave on qüelgo”, a very large, wooden artifact which functions as a horizontal loom.

The chilote weavings are soft, of good quality and can last for many years.  Most of the island homes feature woven rugs, blankets, throws, ponchos, sweaters, socks and hats – even pants, belts and bags.  In the artisan fairs one can find a wide array of designs and sizes.

To provide the most complete experience possible, Tierra Chiloé offers its guests the option to truly feel this handcrafted tradition which, as we have seen, represents an intimate part of life on the island.  In addition to contemplating the beautiful views of this impressive part of southern Chile and enjoying its delicious gastronomy, we invite you to also use some of these woven items and appreciate the warmth of the chilota culture.

Tierra Chiloé.