THREADED: The Awamaki Lab Places Peruvian Handwoven Textiles Front & Center

ColumnThe Awamaki Lab returns with a Season 2 collection featured at the Textile Arts Center in Manhattan.

Fashion designers Andria Crescioni and Courtney Cedarholm both knew from a young age that designing was integral to their composition. Each grew up with an individual attraction to the tactile and hands-on approach to creative expression. Cedarholm was always especially drawn to fabrics and yarn, and by third grade, had already proclaimed her desire to be a fashion designer.

Crescioni, on the other hand, lived out her early days in the suburbs of Southern California, spending her weekends reconstructing vintage finds from thrift stores and flea markets.

“The process of seeing something go from a vague idea in my head to a tangible piece drives me to continue creating things and exploring new ways of doing so,” says Crescioni.

With the collaborative effort of Awamaki, a non-profit weaving project that works for sustainable community development in Ollantaytambo, Cusco, Peru (and empowers young indigenous women), these two fashion students from Parsons were given an opportune design residency to explore their own garment genesis amidst the Sacred Valley of Peru.

Cedarholm and Crescioni were off on a journey into unfamiliar lands and unknown textile territory. That adventurous spirit subsequently permeated into the depths of their design inspiration.

“The clothing was inspired by the idea of a vintage explorer, especially Hiram Bingham,” says Cedarholm. When reviewing pictures of Hiram Bingham exploring in the 1900s, Crescioni was instantly taken by the garments featured. “I decided to juxtapose the Andean textiles with more casual and tailored sportswear, inspired by vintage explorers, to make them feel more unexpected and modern.” adds Crescioni.

In their own collaborative format, the designers decided to each embrace a particular angle for the collection; Crescioni developed the woven pieces, while Cedarholm concentrated on the knitwear.

“One of the main focuses of the collection is to showcase the traditional hand-woven textiles from the Patacancha Valley,” Crescioni explains. She was also intent on incorporating an element of hand-woven textile into every design, whether it be the entire pattern or an adorning trim.

For Cedarholm, her knitting became an extension of her everyday existence.

“I was quite a fan of carting my knitting everywhere, walking and knitting is my new favorite skill.” As Cedarholm explains it, creating the garment sample was necessary before any of the next steps in production could be tackled. So, for both designers, developing their patterns was key to moving forward in relaying their design framework to the Quechua women weavers for production.

Rooted intentions of showcasing the authentic artisanship of the weavers vibrates throughout Cedarholm and Crescioni’s garments. Cedarholm says: “We did not dictate designs to them [the women weavers] but instead observed them weaving and began to learn it to really understand how much goes into one textile and that turns into a great respect for the material and a true questioning of design to make sure the textile is showcased in its best form.”

The collection’s evolution unfolded atop a table of collaboration in genius and resourcefulness – designers and artisans learning and sharing with each other along the way. As Crescioni says, “This hands-on experience really gave us the opportunity to design pieces that compliment the way they [Quechua women weavers] work, rather than hinder it.”

The cultural exchange of working with the women weavers of Awamaki undeniably affected Crescioni and Cedarholm’s design process. “I think the limitation on materials in terms of diversity was the biggest challenge, yet at the same time helped narrow things down,” Cedarholm says.

As the saying goes, less is more sometimes. For Crescioni, this idea of reducing the options almost calmed her creative process. “When you are working in a city like New York, there are no limits, which can sometimes be overwhelming for me. In Peru, you are forced to simplify, to be creative with less, not only when it comes to making clothing but in day to day life.”

Crescioni’s own reaction to the differing lifestyles of these locations inadvertently comments on the consumptive culture of the U.S. Through the art of the Sacred Valley of Peru’s local culture, themes of simplicity and necessity simply surface. Design in this context could potentially symbolize larger lessons and reflections of the societies in which they are harbored.

Experiences from the Awamaki Lab relationship fosters rewards that extend far beyond an exchange of creative innovations. For Crescioni, one of the most rewarding parts of the project is the direct relationship that one gets to have with the weavers at Patacancha.

Cedarholm reflects on her time spent working closely with the women.

“Beginning to know them more has given me such a curiosity and respect for those who are behind the actual making of a garment. And in thinking about who made a garment you also think of who designed it. They are usually on the higher end of the food chain, but this collection attempts to disregard any mention of food chain.”

For her, the intention of the Awamaki Lab Season 2 collection was to just work together to create something fresh and new.

Due to the way Crescioni and Cedarholm approached their adventure abroad, they were able to absorb authentic and intimate connections. Their openness allowed for true dialogue outside of the daily design activities, such as time spent in the homes of the Quechua families, learning their crafts and sharing meals with them. Crescioni reminisces about one weekend in November when a weaver in Patacancha taught them her age-old methods. “It was an intimate experience, walking through the surrounding hillside with her and her children while their sheep grazed. As we walked, we would take a seat, set up our back-strap looms and weave, enjoy the view, and chat. It was an incredible example of life and craft coinciding together.”

For Cedarholm, the garments largely represent that comfortable, content, and serene atmosphere. “We want the clothing to feel like home, you can just climb into them and live.”

Meditating on the process, Crescioni says, “I have a deep respect for the artisans that create the textiles and I hope the garments we’ve created allow the weavers’ unique vision of life to be appreciated in a new context.”

The Awamaki Lab Season 2 Collection will be unveiled in its entirety on Friday, January 27th at the Textile Art Center‘s Manhattan location. Featured alongside the garments will be a backpack collection; Brooklyn-based pattern maker Hannah Flor volunteered with the Awamaki Lab this season, developing a project with the sewing co-op in which each weaver designed their own backpack.

Kestrel Jenkins

Kestrel Lee Jenkins currently resides in New York City where she writes a weekly column covering the sustainable fashion world.