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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

In the past several days I’ve spoken a lot about the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, yet I haven’t yet posted a formal recap on this blog. Today is that recap!

The Folk Art Market was an incredible experience, both at an organizational level and in regards to the potential for the women’s reach. I was accompanied by two volunteers, Vrnda, who is a member of our Board, and Micah, who is a close friend and long time supporter of Ruraq Maki.

New friends at the workshops

New friends at the workshops

I arrived in Santa Fe on Tuesday and attended a mandatory first-time artisan training on Wednesday, which focused on the the logistics of the market, tips for selling products, and networking with other artisans. On Thursday I attended an optional training that was sponsored by the knowledgable folks at By Hand Consulting. I participated in the track that focused on selling to a wholesale market, including exploring different types of markets, wholesale cost structures, and financial planning for wholesale relationships. Both days of training were extremely helpful for our long-term planning and will enable us to build strong wholesale relationships.

Vrnda and Micah after a long day of set up

Vrnda and Micah after a long day of set up

On Friday, Micah, Vrnda, and I spent the day setting up our booth and tagging our products. We also got to know our booth mates, Magdalena (joined by her husband Raul), who is a master sculptor from Oaxaca. Friday night was the first night of the market and is for people who are art collectors and enthusiasts (the entrance fee on Friday is $225). For us, Friday night was not our market, as our products are more for the general public, however, it was amazing to walk through the market and view the work of over 160 artisans from about the world.

Our booth mates, Magdalenda and Raul

Our booth mates, Magdalenda and Raul

Saturday and Sunday the market is more accessible for the general public and our sales picked up. These days were a great learning experience for us because we learned more about the customers at the market and what they are looking for. Most notably, we learned the ideal price points for products and what types of products people prefer. For us, that meant bags! We sold a lot of bags, sold out of one color of our bags, and almost sold out of one style! This information is valuable because it enables us to focus our efforts and resources on our best selling items.

Our manta display

Our manta display

Overall, our sales were less than we had hoped for but the most we have ever had in one event, by far. More valuable than money, though, is what we learned from the fair, which could otherwise have taken years to figure out.

Also, there were other valuable non-monetary benefits from the event! One was the workshops. Another was that Ruraq Maki was selected by the Folk Art Alliance to be interviewed on film and receive a professional copy of the interview. This video is a gift to us that we can use for anything we choose. For us, this is a tremendous gift, as non-profit videos often cost upwards of $1,000 to produce, and we can utilize this video to help us sell the women’s products.

Being interviewed for a video!

Being interviewed for a video!

Another benefit of the event is that we did connect with wholesale buyers, some of whom purchased samples of our products. For us, this is the start of building wholesale relationships which can propel the women’s work to the next level.
Finally, the most invaluable part of the event was meeting the other artisans and seeing their masterful art. The International Folk Art Market truly is an international community and we were so honored to be apart of it.