You have read our posts about the cultural heritage of manta, how men and women in the Yanamilla Prison in Ayacucho weave and embroider the manta and now you are wondering how manta may be used differently in today’s modern world.

Manta Tote Bag

Although there are weavers and women who embroider manta outside the prison, the large majority of Ayacucho’s handwoven manta is made within the prison. Weaving and embroidery are passed on to new inmates when they arrive through informal apprenticeships. Unlike the men, who have an extensive workshop area, the women have few options for work in the prison. The most common is embroidering manta.

Men Sewing Manta

In the last three years, Ayacucho has seen a dramatic shift in the manta market. As Westernized clothes become more common, manta is seen less and less in use by young people, who prefer to use strollers and baby backpacks for their children. Also, a large portion of the manta sold is machine manufactured, which can be purchased for a lower price. Vendors bring machine made manta into the prison for the women to embroider.

Overall the market for handwoven and hand embroidered manta is on the decline. The work within the prison, and the informal apprenticeship system within the prison, is the primary way the tradition of handwoven and embroidered manta is being passed on.

Woman With Manta

Clearly, you can use the manta when going grocery shopping. You will be the star at any super market or farmers market when skillfully packing your veggies away and draping the load over your shoulders. The moms and dads among you can also carry your toddlers around, just like so many women did before you.

If you are not up for that (yet), manta are a great way to decorate your home. You can use them as wall hangings, as bed spreads, or table cloths. Your creative minds set the limits here. Know how to sew? Turn them into large pillow cases or floor cushions.

SFAM_Manta

Or just grab one and hang out in your favorite park, having a picnic.

Starting tomorrow, we will have a flash sale in our online store through Sunday and all of our products will be 50% Off. Just use the code WELOVEMANTA at checkout to get 50% off of your order.

This is an amazing opportunity to get one of these unique pieces of art into your home and support the men and women in the Ayacucho prison who are working so hard to keep traditional arts alive and provide for their families.


In our last post we walked you through how the weaving for a manta is done and what materials are typically used. In today’s post we will discuss how the women embroider the manta.

Ayacuchan manta is unique in that it is the only manta that is traditionally embroidered. Although other communities are now sending manta to Ayacucho to be embroidered, the embroidery motifs (flowers and birds) originated in Ayacucho and Huanta. Since the turn of the century, this style of manta has been used in the department of Ayacucho.

Noemi Embroidering

Designs have evolved, most notably the width of the embroidery has increased and the embroidery has become more complex. Each individual woman has a slightly different take on the embroidery. While all embroidery features flowers and birds, the stylization and color of these items vary slightly woman to woman.

emborideryhands

The first step in the process is the women draw the embroidery pattern onto the white swatch that runs down the manta. There are two embroidery styles: Ayacuchan which runs vertically and features parrots and flower, and Huantan which runs horizontally and features peacocks and flowers.

Manta White_Simple 2

Each piece is one of a kind. Initially, the embroidery was far simpler and the width of the embroidery narrower. Flowers and birds had only 2-3 colors, and were basic in form. Now a single flower can include up to 6 colors, as the embroidery has evolved to have a gradient color pattern. One bird can have up to 8 colors depending on the style and size. One manta takes 8-10 hours to embroider.

mantabirds_web
Finally, the embroidery is ironed, which reduces the tension of the embroidery thread and allows the embroidery to lay flat.

For more details on how you can use it in our modern world, check out our next post.


In our last post we talked about what a manta is and its cultural heritage. In today’s post we’ll talk more about how a manta is made. Our mantas are made exclusively by incarcerated men and women in the Yanamilla Prison in Peru. The men in the prison hand weave the manta using back strap looms and the women hand embroider the material.

These days mantas are made from various types of thread, typically cotton. The process begins when the men purchase cotton thread from the prison (this thread is machine manufactured and dyed with synthetic dyes) and use soda bottles and wooden spindles to stretch and strengthen the thread.

Bobbins

Stretching thread

Next, the men warp the loom, creating various color patterns. The men weave the manta on backstrap looms. More experienced and skilled weavers hand weave the curros into the fabric.

Weaving Back strap loom

Curros are figures with symbolic values and most often represent animals and landscapes. The men also use foot pedal loom to weave the border of the manta, which is later sewed onto the edges. This material is also used as the straps for our bags.

Kurus

Each manta has a large, plain white swatch running down the middle of the material. This area is later hand embroidered by the women in the prison.

Manta- white swatch

The women in the prison also use the manta to create bags and cosmetic cases.

emborideryhands

Over time, the manta weave and embroidery style has become more complex and ornate. Only the most skilled weavers can weave curros. The more curros a piece has, the more costly and precious it is. With the availability of finer cotton, the manta and embroidery have become finer.

For more details about how the manta is embroidered and how you can use it in our modern world, check out our next posts.


A manta, also called aguayo (in Aymara) or q’ipirina (in Quechua) is a rectangular cloth used in traditional communities in the Andes region. Manta has been used for thousands of years by women as shawls, or to simply carry groceries and other goods, or even children on their backs. Not all mantas are created equal: The different colors and weaving patterns found in a manta are important in differentiating one community or ethnic group from a neighboring group.

Ayacucho Landscape

Ruraq Maki works with artisans in the Ayacucho region in Peru. The basic form of a manta typically features colorful stripes and lines of woven figures that are symbolic of local animals and landscapes, called curros. The most intricate mantas can have up to 9 lines of curros, while other mantas have none. The simpler manta, without curros, cost less.

Manta comes in white (traditional), black, pure black, light blue, dark blue, grey, and brown. The Ayacuchan manta is unique in that it contains a large, embroidered stripe down that middle, which is hand embroidered with designs and motifs specific to the city of Ayacucho and the nearby community of Huanta. The Huantan embroidery style is finer and the price is therefore higher as compared to the Ayacucho embroidery style.

Ayacuchan Manta-2

Our products are made exclusively by incarcerated men and women in the Yanamilla Prison in Peru. The men in the prison hand weave the manta using back strap looms and the women hand embroider the material.

For more details about how the manta is woven and embroidered, check out our next posts.


Today was the last day in the prison and the moment of truth of if the women would have the jewelry order done and….. They did! There were 4 pieces missing, but for a first go around with a big jewelry order (50 pieces), it’s a fabulous start!

One of the things we did together was write the women’s story for the card that will accompany the jewelry. They wrote:

“Thank you for buying this product, your purchase goes to a good cause!

This product is handmade by a group of incarcerated women in Yanamilla Prison. We are women who are incarcerated for drug trafficking and we have children outside of the prison. We are learning these skills to help our children. Thankfully, for this work, we can send money to our children and help pay for their costs.

We hope when we are released we will continue to do this work and earn money.”

We also reviewed the products together and talked about quality control. While most of the products passed inspection, a few had issues that we needed to address. These products did not make the cut, which is why the order was short, however, it was a valuable learning experience for the women.

After the prison I went to pick up the sewing order from Gladys. Gladys is a formerly incarcerated woman who was very involved with Ruraq Maki’s programs. She was released last year and bought a small house near the prison to start a sewing workshop.

This year, Gladys and another women from the prison, Rosa, opened a workshop in town so they could receive more work. The workshop is small but mighty. There are two machines, a serger, and a cutting table- everything they need to take sewing orders.

Right now they are making clothing, tailoring clothes, making Ruraq Maki products, and taking custom orders from people. When I saw Galdys’ workshop I couldn’t stop smiling. I am SO proud of her and the way she has continued to grow this dream of having her own workshop.
And what makes me even happier is how proud she is of herself. She knows she’s building a future through this business and she is working hard to do it.

I just want to reiterate what has happened here: Gladys was incarcerated for 13 years for drug trafficking. She started trafficking because her husband had stomach cancer and she couldn’t pay for his medical costs. She learned to sew in the prison and spend EVERY DAY working in the sewing room. She saved her money to buy her own machines. After 13 years she was released and opened her own sewing business.

This is what happens when the women are given opportunities to stretch their skill set. This is the story we want to tell for every single woman in the prison. This is why Ruraq Maki exists- to even be a tiny part of this story is enough.

Because this isn’t something we’re just hearing about on TV, this is real life. And every time one of these women succeeds, it gives the others hope that they can too.

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