Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

19th Century-Revival Iscayo (Woman’s Mantle)

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19th Century-Revival Iscayo (Woman’s Mantle)


Indigo dye and the vivid colors of blue-to-green that it produces have been privileged through much of the Andean textile tradition. Many ancient Andean pieces attest to the long-term mastery of natural indigo dyeing (see examples of indigo in an openwork textile, a Wari tunic fragment with faces, and a Wari tunic fragment with a staffbearer). No doubt the dedication to indigo is in part due to the magical transformation the thread undergoes. Fiber enters the dye-bath white and does not change to blue on contact, but rather transforms when the thread is lifted into the air. Allowed to dry, then dipped again, a stronger blue usually results. Therefore, dark navy and even blue-black are the most prestigious blues of all.

The rich blue areas of this woman’s iscayo, or shoulder mantle in Aymara, demonstrate the continued love of blue throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This mantle’s style is 19th century, yet it was woven in the late 20th century. The distinguishing feature of the earlier style is the symmetrical arrangement of stripes of varying colors and widths. In the 1970s, American and European art collectors became fascinated by the minimalist aspects of the 19th century designs, which weavers had ceased to produce. The style’s subsequent rise in market popularity caused weavers to revive the tradition. This combination of pink, white, blue, and black is typical of the La Paz region. Different color schemes are associated with different regions in what are now the modern countries of Bolivia and Perú, making ethnic identities visible to all.

Geographic Area

South America, Bolivia, Department of La Paz


Late 20th century


Camelid fiber

Credit Line

Anonymous loan

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

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