About half an hour outside of Cuenca, the tiny town of Bulcay is home to the last remaining weavers of the ikat tradition. The women weavers use traditional hand looms (often handed down from generation to generation) to produce strikingly colored shawls and sweaters (as well as purses, shoulder bags, etc.). They commonly use cotton, wool and alpaca for their creations, which they sell from their homes or to agents who then sell them in markets or shops in Quito.
Sadly, the ikat (pronounced â€śee-cotâ€ť) tradition is dying out. There are only about 30 weavers still producing the textiles today. The Orellana family has a home on the highway in Bulcay, a cozy, simple place surrounded by well-tended flower gardens and poinsettia trees. Ligia Orellana, one of the few remaining weavers, learned the technique from her mother, and in her family weaving goes back four generations. She says that ikat weaving does not appeal to the young women of Bulcay: "The young people today want to do easy things," she said.
There are many reasons for the decline of ikat weaving. Ligia Orellana and her sister suffer from persistent back pain, the result of hours at the loom or embroidering. Bulcay doesnâ€™t get many visitors: "Thereâ€™s very little tourism here," Orellana admits. The ikat weavings are fine, colorful and well-made, yet because of the costs associated with bringing them to market and the level of competition with other Ecuadorian handicrafts, prices must be kept low.
Bulcay itself is a pleasant little town, but there is little to see or do besides visiting the homes of the weavers, which is generally only possible if youâ€™re on a tour from Cuenca. Bulcay is on the way to Gualaceo, and tours may stop there if you ask them. The modest PachaĂma hotel in town is the only one, but Bulcay is only a few minutes from the HosterĂa Uzhupud and Gualaceo.