Code of the Quipu “Colors” – Pre Columbian textiles: Part II

Inca Quipu

Inca Quipu

I did some more digging and found information on the colors that makes up  Khipu or Quipu ~ Pre-Columbian textile. A Peruvian, Inca method of keeping inventory and history pre-written language. I was under the paradigm that the 24 colors of the strings (yarn) were made up of 24 different colors. I now understand that there may have only been six different colors and the other eighteen were combinations created during spinning these six different colors.

My digging lead me to Code of the Quipu A study in Media, Mathematics, and Culture by Marcia Ascher and Robert Ascher. It is a reference book on their findings and even tells you how to make a Quipu. I have to say I glanced at this last section. There was a whole lot of detail. Not a 2nd grade class art project!  So if you want more details….check out the book.

A Study in Media, Mathematics, and Culture

A Study in Media, Mathematics, and Culture

I haven’t (as of yet) found any information on the dyeing process. On to the color for now: Each cord has a color. Color is a part of the quipu’s symbolism. Each quipu’s colorcode relates some cords together and sets others apart. Let’s start with the six individual colors. Take a combination of two solid colors and spin them together with an S twist, giving a “candy cane” effect. Two “candy canes” twisted together using a Z twist gives a mottled effect. Different solid color cords could be joined so part of the cord was one color and the other half was another. What I might call a bar effect, they call joining. Using 6 colors and the various candy cane, mottling and joining effects, allows for a large number of distinctly different colors.

I will continue to look for information on the dyeing process of the six colors. So  stay tuned to a possible part three. If anyone has any information or is able to send me in the right direction,  I would appreciate a heads up.


Khipu or Quipu ~ Pre-Columbian textile

Talking Knots

I just finished the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann ~ New revelations of the Americas before Columbus. An acquaintance, also a spinner, told me about it.  For the most part I found the book interesting.

quipuWhat fascinated me was the Khipu or Quipu and the spinning aspect of it. It is a form of “writing” developed by the Pre-Columbian Inka’s of Peru consisting of a series of knots (tied in 1 of 3 ways), Z and S twist, and 24 possible colors worked into the fiber. William J Conklin, a researcher at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC, states “When I started looking at khipu…I saw this complex spinning and plying and color coding, in which every thread was in a complex way. I realized 90% of the information was put into the string before the knot was made.” This may be the only 3 dimensional “written” document. I tried to found out more about the dyeing methods of the 24 colors but my email to the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. went unanswered.

LLama, Alpaca and cotton fiber was used  for spinning, as it was locally available. It is believed the colors represented  non-numeric information while the spin and knots may have represented accounting figures (encoded with a binary system) and an inventory system.

More research is being done, with historians looking for the “Rosetta Stone” to help interpret the Quipu’s true meaning.

Since I started spinning…I am finding out the history of spinning is fascinating and is woven through all cultures.

Off to spin, garden and see what bubbles up to the surface next.