Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Lliklla (Woman’s Mantle) with Indigo and Red

Mantle Holes Before Detail Patching.jpg
Nysa Loudon Sewing Patches.jpg


Lliklla (Woman’s Mantle) with Indigo and Red


This 20th century lliklla, shoulder mantle in Quechua, embodies the long-held Andean concept of ayni or dual parts in an almost-equal relationship. First, blue paired with bright red is a typical Andean choice; the two highest-status colors are cool and warm, natural opposites but also complementary. Second, Bolivian garments still today are almost universally formed of two units of cloth sewn together. On a practical level, making smaller cloths means each can have a tighter weave and therefore finer patterning, since the threads have a shorter distance to travel before they sag. Third, here the central seam is covered with alternating colors of bright embroidery stitching, drawing attention to the two distinct parts of the garment. Thus, this mantle represents the idea that two together make a whole, parts balancing in a dynamic dialogue.

This piece also combines ancient, colonial, and modern elements. The process of indigo dyeing was in place well before 1000 BC in the Andes. However, this particular geometric pattern was invented in the 20th century. The pink areas are dyed with chemically derived aniline dyes developed in the 19th century. The use of sheep’s wool is a modern development, replacing alpaca as the fiber of choice after the Spanish brought sheep from Europe. The artist has employed lloque (alternating threads dyed the same color but spun and plied in opposite directions to create slight, shadowy diagonals) pioneered in the 16th century. A lliklla such as this epitomizes the idea of the palimpsest, or layering over time.

Geographic Area

South America, Bolivia


20th century


Sheep’s wool

Credit Line

Gift of William C. and Carol W. Thibadeau

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Bruce M. White, 2016

Technical Notes

Textiles are vulnerable to insect damage, especially from moths and beetles. This mantle entered the collection with existing insect damage, probably from moth larvae that ate through the protenacious animal fiber leaving many holes and associated tears. Project intern Nysa Loudon stitched cotton patches on the reverse side of the mantle to provide support for the weakened structure and to visually fill holes with the correct color.

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

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