Inca Textile and Clothing
Ancient Andean weaving developed by pre-Inca civilizations and inherited and perfected by the Incas is considered as one of the greatest textile in the world and is compared to finest textile developed by the ancient Egyptians. The Incas used cotton, the wool of alpacas, llamas and the superior and rare wool of vicuñas and guanacos. Clothing made of the wool of vicuñas and guanacos was exclusively for the Inca and the nobility.
One of the greatest weavers before the rise of the Incas was the Paracas culture dating back to 600BC. They created brightly colored textile using natural dyes managing to create 190 different shades, some of these tapestries maintain its original colors and have been preserved in excellent conditions due to the dryness of the desert and the lack of natural light. Their creations show style and design unparalleled to any other pre-Inca culture. Common designs used in their textile were geometric figures, anthropomorphous and animal designs such as birds and felines. The Paracas wrapped their dead in tapestries; the quality of the tapestry symbolized the status of the person.
Paracas Necropolis mummy wrapped in fine textile is preserved intact.
National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History.
In ancient Inca culture the development of the textile industry and trade had an important role in society and politics. Even though the Incas did not parallel the artistic development of some of its predecessors they did develop mass production which allowed its redistribution throughout the empire.
During the reign of the Incas textile was used to solidify the control of new territories. When the Inca conquered new territory he would present its leader with the finest textile and if accepted they would also accept the Inca as their new ruler.
During the sixteenth century there were two types of Inca textile: abasca and cumbi. It should be noted that pre-Inca civilizations made use of a greater variety. Cumbi weaving was the most valued; it used the finest wool from vicuñas and guanacos, it was dyed with the richest colors and was delicately embroidered with gold and silver thread. Some textile was adorned with feathers and shells in particular clothes worn by military warriors. Clothes worn by the Inca and the nobility were made of cumbi textile, offerings to gods included the best samples and the elite were buried with the best quality ones. The Sapa Inca wore clothes made by the Chosen Women or aclla who were women chosen for their beauty. They weaved the finest clothes and textiles in the Inca Empire.
Inca clothing identified the status of people, ethnic group and their ayllu in the Inca society. Clothes and textiles worn by the general population was made of abasca textile which was made of a coarser wool, usually the wool of llamas. In the coast they mostly used cotton. Abasca textile was made by women and children who spun the sheared wool into thread with a spindle.
The style of clothing did not differ substantially in relation to social class but it was the type of textile, abasca or cumbi, and ornaments used in the dress that differentiated social status. Among ethnic groups or ayllus clothing was not a factor of differentiation; again it was the material of which their clothing was made. Members of ayllus were told apart by their coiffure or llautu, hair style and type of cranial formation.
The Inca Civilization was the largest pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas.
There were many pre-Columbian cultures that preceded the Inca Civilization, some by millenia.
The National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History is the largest and oldest public museum in Peru. It features an extensive archeological collection of more than 100,000 items.
The museum has over 12,000 pieces as part of its permanent collection, some of the older pieces date back more than 3000 years.
The Incas were an artistic people who used materials available to them in nature and blended them creating many artistic forms in utilitarian ways.