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Andean Knitted Figure Purses

Monederos for Your Money

Cynthia LeCount Samaké Jun 25, 2021 - 15 min read

Andean Knitted Figure Purses  Primary Image

Left: Figure purses. Maker(s) unknown. Knitted and crocheted. Handspun sheep’s wool. Purchased in a market in Cuzco, Peru. Date unknown. Male, 11¼ inches (28.6 cm) tall; female, 9¼ inches (23.5 cm) tall. Collection of Liz Ligon. Right: Figure purse. Maker unknown. Knitted and crocheted. Handspun sheep’s wool. Purchased in a Cuzco, Peru, market. Date unknown. 10 inches (25.4 cm) tall. Collection of ­Ginger Rowe. Photographs by Joe Coca.

What do a striped fish, a well-dressed woman, a tonsured monk, and an anatomically correct bull have in common? For at least a hundred years, women in Peru and Bolivia have carried all these shapes as fashionable little monederos (coin purses).

Whether intended as ritual funerary objects, garment embellishments, or utilitarian containers, three-dimensional figures have a long tradition in Andean textile history. Two thousand years ago, Paracas women of the south Pacific coast of Peru were making colorful little figures in the needlework technique called cross-looping, considered a precursor to knitting. A magnificent example of their work, the Paracas Textile, a mantle from Paracas, Peru, dated 300 B.C.–A.D. 100, in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, is edged with a fringe of ninety detailed miniature people and animals (see “Historical Notes and Resources” below).

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