Good-luck witches in Santiago, Chile

Award winning brooch by Alba Sepulveda

The Spanish conquista brought its religion to South America, and with the Inquisition a huge witchcraft lore began in Chile—from love-related persecution of famous women such as Francisca de Escobedo, Juana de Soto, Maria de Encío, and Juana de Castañeda all the way to two centuries of the Enchantment War, when Indigenous Mapuches were persecuted due to their costumes and tattoos.

During a trip to South America two years ago, I became aware of little witches hanging in vehicles and bicycles as good-luck charms in Santiago, Chile. This generalized belief has opened up a big market for textile figurines in every material imaginable.

A few weeks ago during an international crafts fair in “the witch’s town of Santa Ana”—west of the capital city of San José, Costa Rica—I met a Chilean finger weaver who works with crin (horse hair), and invited her and her son to spend a day at my place. This encounter was hard to accomplish due to tight schedules and travel distances, but it was very inspiring for me (I still work 100% by hand).

Of all the Chilean weavers working with horse hair, I was lucky to meet one whose work is exquisite, and whose original design has been internationally recognized.

Her name is Alba Sepúlveda. At age 7 she learned this ancient trade from her mother, Ms. Enriqueta Ramos, who wove the roots of the poplar tree. Many years later, the poplars became extinct in the area, forcing weavers to experiment with horse hair.

Alba Sepúlveda, horse hair dyed with aniline and agave ixtle

Nowadays Alba teaches 50 other women to weave, and the crin trade continues to grow: Finger weavers, who must have good sight and be able to spend hours working by a lightbulb. They harvest only the hair of breeds whose hair absorbs dye well, in a process that takes several days.

Alba Sepulveda, "Atom" brooch, Unesco Award

In 2008 Alba received the 2008 UNESCO Seal of Excellence for Handcraft Products award for the brooches shown here.

Alba Sepulveda's award winning "Black&White" brooch

Needless to say I am the proud owner of a little witch made by Alba, which is absolutely beautiful. It measures 4″ in length by 1.5″ in width, and it has tiny details delicately crafted with crin…wonderful! Unfortunately, my knowledge of finger weaving and knotting is very limited, and there’s no way I could remember all the explanations Alba gave me about this long process.

Alba Sepulveda, horse hair witch and necklace

Alba Sepulveda, Flowers

Alba lives in Santiago, Chile. If you’re interested in seeing or buying her works, you may visit her blog and newly designed web

I love the artistry and intricacy of design in all of Alba’s works, which she brought over to my house that day.

Alba Sepulbeda: "Camelia"

Here are but a few samples for everyone’s enjoyment:

Alba Sepulveda: "Flower"

Alba Sepulveda: "Flores"

—Silvia Piza-Tandlich


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