Looking for a great gift item for a loved one to sustain our Wisconsin Winters? Or perhaps a warm, cozy accessory for yourself? It’s that time again at the Co-op—Andes Gifts are here! Each year as the temperatures drop, we stock the Co-op with a wide variety of knit hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, and leg warmers from an organization called Andes Gifts. Sure, you’ll find knitwear in many stores this time of year, but these knits have a story that will warm your heart as well as your head and hands. Read on to discover what makes these accessories so special.
Our story begins in the highlands of Peru and Bolivia. Many of the indigenous Aymara and Quechua women who live here work full-time in addition to raising children, cooking, and cleaning the home. Those who live in rural areas often commute by bus into the city for work.
It is in these highlands where alpacas originated and were first thought to have been bred for meat and fiber.
Alpaca fiber is considered a luxury fiber these days. Itis several times warmer than sheep’s wool when made into garments. Clothing made from 100% alpaca fiber is odor-resistant and moisture-wicking, yet lightweight. People who have allergies to sheep’s wool can often wear items made from 100% alpaca. However, alpaca fiber is usually blended with other fibers such as wool, nylon, or acrylic when spun into yarn for garment-making. This is because clothes and accessories made from 100% alpaca have a tendency to lose shape and “sag,” due to lack of elasticity in their fiber.
Named after this region’s mountains, the Andes—the longest continental mountain range of the world—Andes Gifts brings together local women and alpaca fiber.
Women who knit
The women who knit for Andes Gifts are able to work from their homes or in close proximity to home in group knitting circles, year-round. Rather than a 9-5 job, they are able to knit at their own pace, whenever they are able to. This allows them to tend to the needs and whims of young children as well as other daily tasks. Knitting is not believed to be detrimental to the hands (in fact, it can be beneficial to those suffering from arthritis); it also prevents repetitive motion injuries that may result in performing the same motion for hours each day, as is often the case in sweatshops.
Andes Gifts provides on-the-job training for those who have not yet learned the skill of knitting. They are taught traditional Andean knitting techniques to produce beautiful, colorful, and useful knit accessories for people of all ages. The finished products reflect the natural fibers and rich cultural heritage unique to the highlands of central South America. From googly-eyed monster hats (in child and adult sizes) and fun animal scarves, to elegant, lightweight fingerless mitts, to classic, basic knit hats, there is truly something for everyone.
I personally own two of the 100% alpaca hats (in different colors), which have lasted me several winters. I enjoy the lightweight feel of the hat, while also keeping me quite warm. And even though I am now a knitter myself, they remain my go-to hat. There are also alpaca/acrylic blended hats, which are bulkier, yet also as warm. Some are lined with a layer of fleece inside for extra softness.
At the Co-op
Check out the variety at all Co-op locations, while supplies last. When we run out (usually in late winter), they’re gone until next November, when we receive our yearly shipment of Fair Trade knitwear.
Learn more about Andes Gifts, including a few short videos containing interviews and featuring some artisans at work, visit their website: www.andesgifts.com.