Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Doublecloth Fragments with Llamas and Herders

Doublecloth in Box.jpg
Dye Water Sensitivity Test.jpg
Pronounce: ayni


Doublecloth Fragments with Llamas and Herders


The principle of ayni—reciprocity, dualism, interlockedness— is consummately expressed in cloth such as this, a doublecloth dating to ca. 1000–1470 AD. Its patterns play out in indigo and white, a dualistic color choice, and in the plain-weave technique in which the horizontal warps and vertical wefts are equal partners. Moreover, in doublecloth there are actually two woven cloths, united as one; weavers sit on either side of a loom and create separate fabrics, except when they exchange one color of thread for the other to form the pattern of herders and llamas. In other words, blue areas on this face are white on the other face; likewise, white llamas are blue on the other side. This is a perfect expression of ayni, being the same pattern but in reversed colors.

Further, the interdependence of humans and camels is true ayni. The llama is the large, domesticated New World camel, one of the ancestors of the Old World camels and dromedaries. Humans can only survive in the high altitude, dry climes of the Andes with the help of the hearty llamas and wooly alpacas. People depend on their abundant fur to make clothing to defy the cold night temperatures, meat for protein, dung for fuel, and sinews for ties, among other things. This piece shows herders with llamas on lead lines, bringing them from one pasture to another since time immemorial.

Geographic Area

South America, Central Andes




Late Intermediate Period, ca. 1000–1470 AD


Cotton, camelid fiber

Credit Line

Ex coll. C. Clay and Virginia Aldridge

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photos by Michael McKelvey, 2017

Technical Notes

During burial, perhaps in contact with decaying organic material, this doublecloth textile broke into many fragments, with some large areas of loss. The 11 surviving fragments were carefully cleaned to remove accumulated dirt and grime. Each fragment was gently vacuumed using a low suction High Efficiency Particulate (HEPA) filter vacuum. After confirming the dyes were not water-sensitive, the fragments were repeatedly bathed to remove acidic dirt and deterioration products. A surfactant (anionic detergent) was added to the bath water to help lift dirt off of the fibers and into the water to be washed away. Removing the embedded dirt improved the overall appearance, considerably brightening white threads and lightening dark stains. With repeated rinsing, the textile returned to a more neutral pH, which will promote its long-term preservation. 

Former student interns Arden Davis and Rebecca Levitan produced a short online presentation about the cleaning project, called Ancient Laundry (

After bathing, the fragments were dried under clean cloths, which helped to draw more staining out of the textiles through contact and evaporation. The cleaned fragments were then realigned according the their shapes and patterns, suggesting the overall object dimension. Patricia Ewer then stitched the fragments and secured the frayed edges to a pair of padded, wrapped aluminum panels which will serve as display mounts and permanent storage supports. She worked with curator Dr. Rebecca Stone to select a section of the object that would be rolled back over a padded form to reveal the reverse color pattern on the other side of the doublecloth.  

For more conservation information, please see The Threads of Time Conservation Project.

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