Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Lliklla (Woman’s Mantle) with K’isa (Color Gradations)

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Lliklla (Woman’s Mantle) with K’isa (Color Gradations)


The Aymara people who inhabit the regions around Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and Perú have been noted for their masterful use of color since they were incorporated into the Inka Empire during the 1400s. Newer techniques, such as k’isa, developed in the early 20th century, continuing this colorful tradition.

The term k’isa refers to the use of three shades of the same color next to one another in narrow stripes. These gradations can be arranged symmetrically around a central stripe, moving outward from darkest to lightest shade, or vice versa. For example, toward the right side, in from the wide green column, the narrow stripes include a thin pink outline then dark blue, medium blue, and light blue in quick succession. These blues form a k’isa.

This rainbow technique quickly spread throughout many different Bolivian indigenous communities, in part due to its status as the first hand-woven technique to be replicated on a mechanical loom. In the 1970s, many Aymara people migrated into the urban areas of La Paz and started businesses to mass-produce cloth containing k’isa color gradations. K'isa became a symbol of modern indigenous identity and economic prosperity; in 1979 the Aymara ethnic flag was designed based on this technique.

Geographic Area

South America, Bolivia


20th century


Polyester, mercerized cotton

Credit Line

Anonymous loan

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

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