Weaving was extremely important to the Maya, Inca, and Aztec. It was valued so much that in the ancient Inca, Aztec, and Mayan Empires it was used as currency. Almost every woman in the Inca Empire wove, and the creation of textiles was so important that large areas in towns were devoted solely to factory like production of cloth. Kurakas or chiefs distributed fiber to weavers who were obligated to make clothing for their own families as well as army uniforms for the military.
Largely, the Inca weavers used the backstrap loom. However, when making cumbi cloth, which was used exclusively by Inca royalty, they used a standup loom with a vertical frame. Also, on occasion, the cumbi cloth had gold fibers woven into it. When the Inca conquered other cultures they gave them cumbi cloth. If they accepted it, it meant that the accepted the Inca as masters.
Because the Andes are so dry many examples of textiles have been preserved. These examples primarily had been used for a burial cloth and were woven by finger in much the same manner as people today knit or crochet. The Andes cultures dyed these textiles with rich, brilliant colors. Archaeologists tell us that they utilized over 200 dyes. In addition to cotton, Andean weavers also used llama, alpaca, and vicuna, in their weaving.
Not very many textiles have been found during Mayan excavations. The majority of what has been found has been found in dry caves near Chichen Itza. Most of this weaving was done with backstrap looms. Archaeologists tell us that sometimes ancient Mayans wove rabbit fur and feathers into the fabric. They have also found that agave and yucca were occasionally woven in to make the fabric sturdier. At this time, the ancient Mayans wove mostly in the colors white and brown, but after a few centuries, they began painting designs on clothing and embroidering. Historians tell us that some clothing may also have been decorated with ceramic stamps.
The Maya and the Aztecs traded textiles extensively. Embroidered geometric patterns, birds, flowers, or animals added to the value of the fabric. In addition, textiles were decorated with shells, feathers, and beads. All three cultures, the Inca, Aztecs, and the Maya grew cotton. It is believed that at its height the Inca Empire had 10 percent of its agricultural land planted in cotton.