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Who we are - Chupallas y Cuelchas
Who we are 2019-11-17T22:03:05+00:00


We are a group of artisan weavers with deep agricultural roots, whose techniques of braiding wheat straw have been developed over generations. We aim to spread this popular craft from the fields of the Itata Valley to the rest of Chile, and the world.

Our Sources

The towns of San Nicolás, Portezuelo, Ninhue, Trehuaco and Quirihue are 70% rural, with small farmers cultivating non-irrigated, hilly plots of land. They traditionally produce wheat for their own subsistence, as well as wine grapes to sell. These farmers typically plant a quarter-hectare to a full hectare of wheat each year to produce straw that they can weave. Although due to the rise of modern, industrial farming techniques it has become less common to plant multiple wheat varieties, these planters have remained dedicated to biodiversity, planting varieties like Oregón, Milufen, Colorado, Milquinientos, Furfulla and Carrera. Such varieties are known for their long, smooth stems, their thin and uniform diameter, their even coloring, and their flexibility and firmness.

Our Weavers

The artisans who weave the wheat straw, known as colchanderas (in the case of women) and colchanderos (men), come from the rural areas of towns such as San Nicolás, Portezuelo, Ninhue, Trehuaco and Quirihue. In these towns, artisanal wheat straw weaving techniques have been passed down from generation to generation. The braid of wheat itself—tightly woven out of anywhere from three to sixteen strands of straw—is known as a cuelcha. This distinctive craft can then be woven into larger objects, like hats (known as chupallas), bags, and mats. Artisans work every day of the year on their crafts, alongside their other daily tasks. Currently, the most common kind of cuelcha is made of four strands of straw, because it can then be woven into a chupalla—particularly if it’s finely and evenly done. Until the 1980s, weavers used from seven to sixteen strands, but the techniques that such work requires are now only common among the elder artisans.

Our Hatmakers

90% of the chupalleros, as the artisans who make the chupalla hats are called, come from Ninhue and its rural surroundings. The chupalleros buy cuelchas from the colchanderas and colchanderos, and then they trim off the rough edges of the braids and flatten them using homemade rollers. After that, they finely sew the braids together using Grossman sewing machines, most of which were brought from Germany during World War II. They stitch the hat together starting from the crown, and then work outwards in a spiral to make a wide brim. Once the hat is sewn together, the artisans iron it flat and then laquer it to make it hard and waterproof. Then it’s ready for the final touches: the interior lining, the chin strap, and the hat band. The chupalla is now complete, and ready for a Chilean huaso (or cowboy) to put it on and ride off into the sunset.