Among the most admired pieces of Aymara textiles are the beautiful blankets and blankets made of alpaca or sheep wool. While some only combine natural colors - such as white, black and various shades of gray and brown - others incorporate vivid shades of pink, purple, red, ochre, green, orange and yellow. Traditionally these colors have been obtained thanks to natural dyes, whose use dates back to pre-Columbian times and which reflects a deep knowledge of the environment and nature, from which the most varied dyes are obtained. On the other hand, traditional knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation is associated with each stage of the dyeing process. Currently, artificial dyes have been incorporated, mainly anilines, which some artisans use to complement the range of colors or to replace the old dyes, whose use has decreased drastically due to the shortage or restrictions imposed on some species, such as the case of the queñoa and the cochineal.
One of the proud bearers of Aymara textile art is the artisan María Choque. María lives in a small town located in the highlands of the Tarapacá Region, in an area where the Aymara tradition is very alive: “99% of the people here are artisans, ranchers and farmers,” she proudly points out. However, currently there are few who like her are dedicated to crafts: “...because of how difficult it is to sell here. So they don't do it, they make things for them, they make their aguayos and their clothes for them, but everyone knows how to weave, they know how to spin and they do everything,” he explains.
Everyone has their animals and María is no exception. Like many other Aymara children, since she was little, she herded her family's animals in the narrow and fertile ravines and the green wetlands of the high plateau: “My father and my grandfather emigrated for a time due to lack of land in Colchane and they went to the Putre side. , which is called Itiza. There we grew up on the side of Tignamar... and there we had plenty of livestock: llamas, alpacas, sheep, goats, so it was our forte.” Later, when she got married, the artisan moved with her animals to her husband's home. Currently, he has herds of llamas and alpacas that he takes care of throughout the year: “They graze in open places and then you move from one place to another, looking for wetlands, grass. Then you leave a place for a while, then grass, wetlands sprout there, then you move and then you return to the same place…”
Born among wool
For María, textile making is part of her life and culture: “it is a team effort, a family effort: the grandmothers were always there, my grandmother was there, and my mother was there, and they are transmitting the knowledge to us.” The artisan learned the trade since she was a child. : “I was born among the wool… I remember that at the age of 6 we were already spinning and at the age of 8 I made my first sash.” Laughing, he adds: “In my time there were no toys here…. So what did we do while the mothers wove aguayos and blankets? From pieces of wool we made blankets for dolls, we made clothes for dolls, that's how it started. Later, when you are older, your mothers also demand of you: now you have to learn to spin or you have to learn to knit, do this… then they pass on to you, it is a demand from every mother.”
Deep knowledge of nature
For her designs, María uses wool dyed with natural herbs which, as she emphasizes, is traditional: “Today we continue to dye with plants and vegetables from here in the area… what we use the most is siput'ula and umat'ula  , the lamphaya  , the queñoa  and the necatula.” Each plant provides a different tone: “The siput'ula gives you the mustard color and all the yellow tones; the umat'ula the green tones, the lampaya is a very special color, it is like a darker brick, an ocher, those tones give you... the queñoa the brown ones” indicates the artisan.
Today we continue to dye with plants and vegetables from here in the area... what we use most is siput'ula and umat'ula, lamphaya, queñoa and necatula. The siput'ula gives you the mustard color and all the yellow tones; umat'ula the green tones, the lampaya is a very special color, it is like a darker brick, an ocher, those tones give you... the queñoa the brown ones”
The use of natural dyes reflects a deep knowledge of the high Andean flora and its properties, which is why most of these species have diverse uses in the Andean world. Umat'ula, for example, is used for medicinal purposes, as well as as fuel and fodder for animals. Lamphaya, for its part, is a species highly valued as medicine, in infusion or as mate, “for the bladder, dysentery, diarrhea, bone pain, stomach pain,” among others  .
The queñoa or keñoa ( Polylepis tarapacana ) with its twisted branches and green leaves is one of the most emblematic species of the highlands: it was key as a construction material, mainly for roofs. Due to this, most of the old churches and houses have queñoa beams  . As a medicinal plant, its leaves and bark are used to prepare remedies to cure various diseases, such as heart problems and lung conditions "rheumatism, diabetes, 'urinary sickness', rheumatic and arthritic pain, diarrhea and dysentery"  . Its wood was also essential as fuel. However, the indiscriminate exploitation of this species to supply the demand of mining and urban centers in the 19th and 20th centuries brought it to the brink of disappearance “being classified as a 'vulnerable' species”  . Currently its use and extraction is penalized by law.
The increasingly scarce cochineal
To obtain pink and purple hues, the carmine cochineal ( Dactylopius coccus ) is used. This insect is a parasite that lives in the stems of tunales in warm areas and was widely used by the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica and the Andes as a dye. Subsequently, it was in great demand “in the European textile industry until the invention of anilines and other synthetic dyes in the 1850s”  . However, today it is increasingly difficult to access it, as María mentions: “In the past there was a woman from Copiapó who sold, but she no longer collects due to phytosanitary problems.” Indeed, in some areas, the species became a pest that affected cactus crops, which led the authorities of the Agricultural and Livestock Service to control, limit and even prohibit it.
In coexistence with Pachamama
Although the use of industrial dyes is becoming more and more frequent, the artisan prefers natural ones, because they are more respectful and take care of the environment: “The tincture of herbs and cochineal is an element that does not degrade, does not degrade wool, the environment, you don't pollute. On the other hand, if you use aniline, you are polluting…” he states.
María's way of thinking is related to the Aymara worldview, where there is a close relationship with nature, "it is something every day," she highlights. “If you are shepherding, if you are going to do something, like for example, start shearing, you always have to thank God and then the Pachamama, the Tata Inti, the mallkus… which are the hills that protect you from everything…” he maintains. This is why, before cutting a plant that will be used to make tinctures, you must always ask Pachamama for permission: “because she is the one who gives you everything, so you can't come and rip out a plant or break it.” the earth. You always have to ask her for permission, tell her “I'm going to do that” and ask her to forgive or apologize for doing that, because Pachamama is a living being, she is not dead…”
“If you are shepherding, if you are going to do something, like for example, start shearing, you always have to thank God and then the Pachamama, the Tata Inti, the mallkus… because she is the one who gives you everything, so you can't reach in and pull out a plant or break up the soil. You always have to ask her for permission, tell her “I'm going to do that” and ask her to forgive or apologize for doing that, because Pachamama is a living being, she is not dead…”
The alchemy of vegetable tinctures
The first step in making tinctures is collecting the plants. “There are harvest seasons, from May to August. The branches and leaves of the plants are used. They take out about 10 centimeters, but not more,” says María. Subsequently, the branches and leaves are dried in the shade, after which they can be used.
The next stage is the preparation of the dye: “1 kilo of grass is used for 10 kilos of wool. Then it is soaked overnight and the next day it is boiled all day… Then it is strained and the dye is just taken out to dye the wool,” details the artisan.
Before dyeing the wool it is necessary to wash it “because the wool has animal fat, so you have to degrease it with hot water and baking soda” explains María. Once the wool is clean and wet, the dye can be applied. “Depending on the color you want, soak the wool, between 10 minutes and 30 minutes is the maximum that you can have the wool in hot water, at a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees,” he adds. The dye is then fixed with baking soda and the wool is finely washed and dried in the shade.
The fabric speaks for itself
María transmits a deep love for her craft: “I feel very proud to be an artisan. I have all the Aymara knowledge from my father, my mother, my grandfather, my grandmother. It is something ancestral to the area, so I wear it and it fills me with a lot of pride.” For the artisan, it is very important to pass on tradition and knowledge to new generations: “It is difficult, but there are some mothers who teach them, for example, I pass on to my daughter what my grandmothers and mother did with me…”.
For the artisan, one of the important challenges is understanding the work behind each piece: “There is a lack of knowledge from people outside to value the craftsmanship. That is difficult, to make people understand its value, that it takes a lot of work... The piece that is worn is something native, it is something traditional, it is the Aymara culture. The fabric speaks for itself, it is a part of our culture.”
*This is the third in a series of articles and research dedicated to traditional crafts, the work of our great collaborator Christine Gleisner @christine_gv
 The siput'ula (Parastrephia quadrangularis) and the umat'ula (Parastrephia lucida) are two small shrubs that grow preferably above 3650 meters above sea level. The umat'ula or umatola, which literally means “tola of water”, springs up in humid places such as meadows and river banks (Taken from Carolina Villagrán, Marcela Romo & Victoria Castro “Ethnobotany of the southern Andes of the First Region of Chile: a link between the highland cultures and those of the upper ravines of the upper Loa” in Chungará, 35 (1), pp. 73-124
 Lampaya or lampaya (Lampaya medicinalis) is an aromatic shrub with thick oval leaves that is covered with purple flowers.
 The queñoa or keñoa (Polylepis tarapacana) is a tree from the Rosaceae family that grows in extreme living conditions between 3,500 and 4,500 meters above sea level.
 Villagrán, op. cit.
 Environmental Management of the Doña Inés de Collahuasi Mining Company SCM, Queñoa, Arbol de las Altos, Santiago, Chile, p. 48
 Villagrán, op. cit.
 Environmental Management..., op.cit., p. 57
 Denisse Arnold, Elvira Espejo & Juan de Dios Yapita. The Aymara textile terms of the Asanaque region: semantic vocabulary according to the productive chain. La Paz, Institute of Aymara Language and Culture, p. 63.