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Bringing Pichinku yarn to life!

So I stumbled across this gorgeous photo of a yummy looking teal blue yarn with dried flowers as I was scrolling through my instagram feed one night - it was some ridiculous hour of the night and I couldn't sleep because I'd gone to bed at seven with the baby because I was exhausted and then I woke up a couple hours later, the rest of my night doomed because I'd tried to go to bed early. How does that even make sense!? But I digress. Back to the yarn.

THIS yarn!

Pichinku, Naturally Dyed Peruvian Yarn in Teal (image courtesy of Dana Blair)

Something about it made my sleep deprived brain stop and say, "Ooh, what's this!?" - and I followed the yarn trail all the way to this Kickstarter project for Pichinku, a naturally dyed Peruvian yarn. Now, I couldn't watch the videos (with sound, anyway) because it was the middle of the night, but needless to say I was intrigued. Pledging was a given but I had to know more!

After a brief internal debate, I finally convinced myself to reach out and see if I could get an interview - and she said yes! I can only imagine how busy she is in the middle of such a huge campaign, but I am delighted to introduce you to Dana Blair, Director of Operations of Threads of Peru, located in Cusco, Peru, and Founder of Pichinku!

Dana Blair, Director of Operations for Threads of Peru (image courtesy of Dana Blair)

Tell me a little bit about yourself and the journey that took you from small town PA to the Andes!

Dana: Though I claim to be an honorary Peruvian, I was born in Hawaii, raised in Pennsylvania and studied Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. And when I began to travel internationally in college, I never stopped!

I’ve always been the “wanderer” in my family, fascinated by world travel, people and culture. When I moved to Cusco in 2013, I had worked in Brazil with clay potters, and in the Anthropology archives of both the Matson Museum of Anthropology and Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

I relocated - Pittsburgh to Cusco - in less than two weeks after accepting the position of Director of Operations for Threads of Peru, a not-for- profit social enterprise that connects the world to handmade treasures of the Andes, helping to strengthen ancient craft techniques and empower artisans. Let me tell you, my parents were thrilled!

Our team provides support and training to indigenous artisans that practice totally non-mechanized weaving and natural dyeing techniques. We work to improve the quality of their products and market them internationally. With rusty Spanish and absolutely no Quechua, it was the most extreme, breathtaking environment I can imagine even now. In days I was traveling to remote, in-need communities where basic education, running water and electricity are just now arriving.

To say that it’s been an educational and life-changing experience is to say very little. When the success or “failure” of your efforts could in part determine the well being of impoverished families, you find yourself striving to do much more than you would have imagined yourself possible.

What's a typical day like for you and the artisans?

Dana: My day-to- day schedule in Cusco has never had much rhythm, but I’ve always taken it at my steamroller pace (“ritmo de miedo” in Spanish)!

But keep in mind that before now, I was working with textiles and will just now be switching to yarn! The exploration and adventure of creating our own production systems, quality control processes, etc. for Pichinku begins when I get back to Cusco. And I’m already counting down the days!

Nevertheless, my work has mostly been 50/50 split between “normal” and“dreamlike” e.g. some days spent on my Macbook in cafes around Cusco sending emails, and others spent working with the artisans at 13,000 feet in the mountains. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been paid to do it!