Today started out with the best surprise! Right as I was walking into the prison I heard my name called and turned around to see Gladys, one of our program participants who was released last year! After a big hug, we chatted for a few moments and agreed that I would visit her workshop next Monday to catch up (and I’m going to take lots of photos this time!).

Seeing Gladys filled me with so much joy that I knew the rest of the day was going to be stellar. And I wasn’t wrong.

After having *every single item* in my bag reviewed (they opened every box, container, and checked under every letter stamp), I arrived at the women’s cell block and we started metal stamping.

Since the last metal stamping class was such a hit, I knew this one would be too. We started with mandala pendants and design stamps to give the women a chance to practice the feel of stamping metal. A few of those initial strikes were a bit shaky (you really have to get into the flow of stamping), but eventually the women found their groove.

 

Manadla pendants

Mandala pendants

The class is a mix of our regular program participants and several new women who were watching. I gave them blanks and told them they should try it out. Sure enough, a few of them fell in love and are now stamping pros.

After the mandala pendants we moved on to the stamped cuff which is FAR more complex and requires careful measurement, planning, and focus when stamping.

Qorisonco which means heart of gold

One of the most fun parts of the cuff is are the words the women choose to put in the middle. The first round was all in Quechua and included Qorisonco, which means heart of gold, Sumaq Wuarmi (beautiful women- this one is going to make an amazing gift!), and Rikchari, which means to awaken.

Sumaq Wuarmi which means beautiful woman

Here’s the story behind Rikchari and why the phrase is so important to the Elizabeth: “Rikchari is Quechua for ‘awaken’ and it is a word full of life and hope. It encourages us to continue to live each day with courage and to never give up until the last breath of our lives.”

Rikchari cuff by Elizabeth

Elizabeth, who LOVES creating everything and anything, finished her Rikchari cuff first. As she admired it, she turned to me and said, “I’m so happy about learning this technique. I look at what I made and I feel proud of myself.”

For those of you who donated to our Sponsor a Woman campaign- this is the impact your donations make. Without you we couldn’t have purchased the materials for this class and Elizabeth, who won’t be released from the prison for another 9 years, wouldn’t have this moment of pride.

Imagine facing 9 more years in prison, being separated from your daughter, and abandoned by your partner and his family. Then imagine creating something that is so beautiful you cannot stop admiring it or reminding yourself that you MADE that. That you are a talented individual that can learn and create.

That’s the impact of your support.


Today we were set to start our metal stamping classes with a beautiful project introducing working with design stamps to create a mandala pendant. Schlepping 15lbs of jewelry making materials (including 3 hammers) on the rickety bus was not the most fun thing in the world but I’ve been really excited about this jewelry making round.

A year and a half ago I introduced metal stamping to the women and we worked with letter stamps to create jewelry with words or phrases that had special meaning to the women. This was one of my favorite jewelry making classes and where two of my favorite pieces were created: the ser grande pendant and rikchari necklace.

Rikchari Close Up
This year, we are working with design and letter stamps to create more complex designs. The women will also learn how to do cold connections with metal- which is a riveting technique that only uses rivets and a hammer.

Sadly, when I got to the women’s area to start our class chaos ensued! The women were notified only an hour earlier that they were having group therapy today. Metal stamping is really loud and, while they wanted to have class anyway, it seemed impossible to be banging on steel bench blocks with hammers during group therapy.

Therapy also conflicted with scheduled health check ups, lawyer visits, and visits to the administration. The result? 50 women yelling at each other to leave for their appointments, trying to line up while also making space for the therapists, and one poor guard desperately attempting to manage it all.

It was chaos and it didn’t let up for half an hour.

While waiting for the chaos to settle so I could leave, I noticed Lia running to and fro yelling people’s names. Marleni told me that Lia is now working as a llamador- a person whose job is to call for women when they have appointments or are requested by the administration.

She works 9-1 as a llamador and gets paid 2 soles…a day. That’s 50 centavos an hour.

And it’s a lot of work. Just during that half an hour she was running all over the women’s cell block calling out names and searching for people.

Lia with her finished bag

Lia with her finished bag

For contrast, we pay the women 6 soles for the most basic earrings that they can make in half an hour.

Yet, Lia is dedicated. She embroiders manta, attends all of our classes, produces beautiful jewelry pieces and makes extra to sell. She works HARD in every job she is given and she has to- coming to the prison as a child of the streets she’s always had to make her own way.

Which is something I admire about Lia. She’s determined to do her best and create a path of freedom for herself. She knows that her future is in her hands and she


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.