Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Tapestry Tunic Fragment with Faces

New Threads Wari Tunic Fragment.jpg


Tapestry Tunic Fragment with Faces


A fragment of a Wari tapestry tunic was originally along the side seam of a four-foot square garment. However, even this small fragment illustrates several important concepts and aesthetic choices made over 1300 years ago in the Andes. The embroidered joining of the two parts has changing colors that do not blend in with the woven patterns; this is one of this piece’s subtle q’iwas, or purposeful variations.

Several different dyelots (separate dyeing sessions yielding slightly different shades) of indigo blue are also apparent. Striping is almost universal when dyeing with this notoriously difficult colorant; its visual variations were embraced. Indigo is unique in that the blue color only appears when the thread hits the air as it is pulled from the dye vat. This unpredictable, trickster character, indigo itself, embodies the unexpected. Though the experienced indigo dyer may perform the same steps, the color will sometimes not even adhere to the thread at all. Therefore, blue is inherently unpredictable, it is q'iwa itself. 

Geographic Area

South America, Central Andes, South Coast




Middle Horizon, ca. 500-800 AD


Cotton, camelid fiber

Credit Line

Ex coll. C. Clay and Virginia Aldridge

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Bruce M. White, 2016

Technical Notes

This fragment from a Wari tapestry tunic fragment was essentially coming unwoven because many warps were broken and deteriorated. Conservator Patricia Ewer developed a technique to insert small lengths of new warps, using a very fine needle and polyester or cotton threads. She re-aligned the weft threads and secured the fragment to the fabric covering on the support panel with almost invisible stitches, called “couching.” Because the object is stitched directly to the fabric covering, the support panel will serve as the permanent mount for the stabilized fragment. The support was made from an aluminum panel that was padded with polyester batting and wrapped with cotton display fabric.

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

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