I’m a sucker for great souvenirs, and one of my very favorite souvenirs from all of my travels is from an antique shop in Arequipa, Peru. After wading through tourist markets in Cusco, Lake Titicaca, and Aguas Calientes near Machu Picchu, I was disappointed that all of the Peruvian blankets for sale in these markets were clearly machine-woven pieces that looked cheaply made. Finally, Arequipa offered alternative souvenir shopping: vintage shops.
In Arequipa, a stunning city known for being constructed from white stone from nearby volcanoes, the streets around the UNESCO-recognized walled monastery are lined with dealers of antiquities ranging from the recently discarded vintage to priceless treasures.
There, I found the blankets I was looking for – what I’ve come to learn are called “frazadas”. The word Frazada technically translates to a generic blanket or bed covering, but in Peru, Bolivia, and other Andean regions, a frazada is a specific type of blanket known to be thick and traditionally handwoven. Outside of these Andean regions, a frazada might be referred to as an Andean frazada, Peruvian frazada, Bolivian frazada, etc. Within Peru, where these blankets are common, frazadas are often called by a more generic Spanish word for blankets: Mantas.
I scooped up my hot pink frazada for about USD 35 and spent another USD 70 to mail it home when I exceeded my baggage limit on the trip home! Thankfully, I didn’t abandon my frazada at the airport, because I knew that used Andean manta blankets like mine sold for hundreds of dollars in the US.
Why Frazada Blankets are Special
Unlike most blankets, frazadas are stories. They are family stories, they are the work of women gathered together to weave, they are the result of natural dyes made by hand from plants grown or foraged hyper-locally. Even the patterns are passed from one weaver to another, and often tell a story if one can read it or be lucky enough to meet a translator of Andean weaving patterns. Frazada’s are handmade and expected to last for many years- rarely are they replaced when they are worn out, they are usually mended, re-woven, and repaired.
Real frazadas are usually made by hand for personal use- that’s why so many on the market are vintage, and why supply for frazadas continues to fall short of demand. If we are lucky enough to have them in our home in the US as artful objects, we should respect their story and see the beauty in each mark of mending.
How to wash a Andean Frazada
Washing these thick, heavy blankets (that often get repurposed as area rugs) can be a challenge. Although they fit in some home washing machines, you should avoid washing your frazada if it will overfill your washer.
Generally, front load washing machines are considered more gentle on clothing than top-load machines, but an hour of tumbling with low water levels (common with front load washing machines) can be a little harder on your Peruvian blanket than is ideal. Instead, choose an oversized top load washing machine that does not have a central agitator. Top load washing machines without a central agitator use jets of water instead of a twisting agitator in the center.
Once you’ve found a washing machine that will work for your Peruvian blanket, here are the steps to follow to wash it:
1. Shake it out.
Thoroughly shake out your frazada to remove any surface debris
2. Deodorize before washing.
If there are odors in your frazada, unfold the blanket, sprinkle baking soda over the surface, let sit for 24 hours, then repeat step number one again.
3. Choose the right soap.
Modern washing detergent may be too harsh for your handwoven wool or fiber blanket. Today’s detergents are designed for modern fabric dyes, which are more robust and resistant to fading or bleeding than those used by the makers of vintage Andean bankets.
For best results, choose a soap designed for wool and delicate fabrics such as Laundress Wool & Cashmere Wash, if you can’t find wool wash, use a small amount of hypoallergenic Woolite detergent, with a tiny amount of shampoo. Because frazadas are difficult to wash, it can be a challenge to fully rinse out soap residue. By using minimal soap you’re much less likely to end up with residue on your Andean blanket.
Note: the trick with washing 100% wool or alpaca fiber materials is to not dry out your fibers. Good wool blankets (and to a lesser degree, alpaca fiber blankets) have a small amount of fat embedded in the fiber, called Lanolin. This substance keeps the fibers from drying out and slows aging. Washing with water that is too hot or detergents that are too harsh can strip the lanolin from the fibers, drying and prematurely aging your blanket or wall hanging.
Shampoo can be a helpful additive for washing the minimally processed fibers that are present in Andean blankets and Peruvian frazadas because shampoo is designed to remove debris and excess oils without drying out hair.
4. Consider running your blanket through two cycles.
Since the washing and drying process takes time, you may wish to do an extra cycle with no detergent to ensure that the blanket is clean and that no detergent residue remains.
5. Drying your South American woven blanket
The best way to dry Andean frazadas (also sometimes called Mantas) is the way that the original weaver likely would have dried the blanket: outdoors on a sunny, dry day.
If at all possible, skip the dryer and leave your frazada to dry outdoors on a breezy day. An hour or two of sun may speed the drying process but you should avoid leaving your blanket in direct sunlight for too long since fading can occur.
6. Inspect and repair as needed
These blankets were never made for mechanical washing, and while most will endure the process unscathed, you’ll want to look over your blanket for loose threads and the beginnings of unraveling. If caught early, these are easy to repair, reverse, or stabilize.
Artist, digital nomad, and highly sensitive person, Lynli started traveling full time as a digital nomad in 2018. Writer and Illustrator by day, remote-destination explorer by other-days, Lynli is passionate about pushing the boundaries of her own comfort zone, exploring the world as a female, fat, one-bag traveler, and journalling it all on WanderBig.com