Today was an exciting collaboration between Alberto and I, as we integrated metal stamped jewelry and leather working! To be honest, this design was sketched out on paper and that was about it, so we didn’t quite know it would work.

The leather stamped cuff are beautiful and the women had a blast with the design element!

Leather Stamped Cuff-2

These bracelets lent themselves to a more creativity because the women had to think about the micro and macro design. First they had to design what would be stamped on the metal blank, then consider how the blanks would sit on the cuff, and finally the designs on the cuff itself. If you’re an artist, you know that that’s a lot to think about!

Needless to say, the women were thrilled with a project that required so much creativity. And I was thrilled that the women were combining various techniques- metal stamping, riveting, and leather work. Working with multiple medias not only stretches the women’s imagination, it also pushes the boundaries of their skills.

Leather Stamped Cuff

For me, it was very satisfying to work alongside another artist and collaborate on design. We bounced ideas off of each other about how best to construct the bracelet and each played to our strengths when it came to the design. We both agreed, however, that the design can be improved and are going to work towards that next year.

Unfortunately, we have to cut our leather working class a day short because Alberto’s wife needs to go to Lima for medical care. Of course I’m sad that we won’t have class tomorrow, but it’s important that everyone who works for us is able to do so without worrying about the health of their family members. This is a part of fair trade practices that we value so much.

Although we won’t have leather class tomorrow, Alberto and I have some exciting ideas about the workshops next year. I spoke with Jessica about Alberto’s idea to do a class based on production and she agreed it would benefit the women tremendously. Now that we are all working together to support the women, who knows what’s possible!


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.