Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Tunic or Mantle Fragment with Tie-Dyed Stepped Triangles



Tunic or Mantle Fragment with Tie-Dyed Stepped Triangles


Of the incredible range of techniques and ideas that the ancient Andean textile artists developed, this piece required perhaps the most complicated creative process of all. At first glance, it simply seems like bits of tie-dyed cloth sewn together in a patchwork. In fact they took many, many steps to achieve, as Emory graduate student, Shelley Burian, MA, discovered when she undertook to recreate this piece (see

Ancient weavers did not cut cloth, so each component was a shaped textile with finished edges. First, a group of the woven pieces were made on a loom using temporary threads to hold the edges where the steps were formed. Yet, they could not be tie-dyed in all the different colors at one time, so the temporary scaffolds were pulled out and the little pieces separately tie-dyed and then reassembled. The stepped cloths almost miraculously fit perfectly into the final exuberantly colorful composition.

Knowing about the process, in terms of Quechua concepts, this technique perfectly represents the idea of tinku, coming together. The ancient audience was very “textile literate” and could understand the many steps that lead to the steps and fully appreciate consummate tinku in process and product.

Geographic Area

South America, Central Andes, South Coast




Middle Horizon, ca. 600-1000 AD


Cotton, camelid fiber

Credit Line

Ex coll. C. Clay and Virginia Aldridge

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Bruce M. White, 2014

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