That’s what happens when you enter the small textile factory of Hilana near Quito, Ecuador. You sneeze. There are fibers everywhere.
But you can’t hear anyone else sneeze because the noise of the machines is so loud that it blocks out all other sound. It’s an amazing feeling, almost like listening to the pounding of drums, a very rhythmic beat that permeates the very deepest part of your chest cavity.
When I was invited to visit Hilana, I imagined a very small company with an electric loom or two. What I found was a factory that employees a great many people, from mechanics to keep the machines working well, to seamstresses who bind the edges of blankets, to tailors who design and make jackets and shawls and ponchos, to the administrative staff who manage the logistics of the entire place. This is no small operation and takes an extreme amount of talent to run.
Upon arriving, we were first introduced to huge piles of cotton and wool, the latter still dirty and matted, fresh from the sheep from which it had been shorn. Then we saw the machines that processed the cleaned wool – machines that combed and teased apart the fibers and then slowly but surely placed them all back together again until finally by the end, the wool was spun into yarn.
The day we visited the mechanical looms were busy pushing out blankets with a pattern of two facing jaguars, their bodies twisted in an agile pose. We saw the jaguars repeated again and again in blue, in green, more in red, all with an off-white background. The intricate border pattern was reminiscent of the fleur-de-lis. Blanket after blanket came off the loom, all connected in one long flow of fabric that was rolled onto a single roll at the end.
Several men were working in this area. One had an interesting job working with a long piece of manila folder like paper that was punched with multiple holes. It looked like a spool of music that a player piano might use. He was gluing together the pieces of paper to be used in the big machines that were making the blankets. I can only assume that each line of holes matched up with a line of pattern in the blanket. Such a simple way to make such a complicated pattern.
Upstairs, the pace of the factory changed. It was much more quiet, even with the sounds of sewing machines going non-stop. The hum of these machines was gentle compared to the heavy pounding going on downstairs. Also, the crew was different as well. While we saw only men downstairs, the sewing machines were obviously the purview of the women. In one room, women were binding the jaguar blankets that were quickly coming off the looms downstairs. In another, two women were working on different items of clothing using other fabrics that are made by Hilana. Adjoining this room was a huge storeroom with many jackets, coats, and ponchos to be bought. It was here that we were invited to try on what we liked.
All in all, a very successful trip to a more than successful small Quiteño business!