Colorful Arpilleras, A Celebration of Life

Traditional hand stitching technique that once served to communicate stories of pain and abuse evolves into an elaborate art sought after in the US.
By: Inca Kids
April 20, 2008 - PRLog -- Arpilleras are exquisitely detailed and colorful hand-sewn pictures depicting the lives of women in their towns.

The “Arpillera” technique originated in Peru and Chile many decades ago, nobody is sure when but it gained popularity in the 80’s and 90’s as a form of expression for women escaping from the violence terrorism brought to Peru.  Women would gather together and recycle materials from other projects to hand stitch a traditional landscape or situation they were living.

All the Arpilleras tell stories, harvesting potatoes, tending llamas and sheep, weddings, and in the past, terrible stories of pain and abuse.  Many times, Chilean and Peruvian women communicated what had happened to them or their families.  Tales of murdered, missing or tortured loved ones by terrorism or dictatorship regimes were depicted in many Arpilleras of that time. There are also many recollections of stories during the Pinochet era when women visiting their relatives in prisons would use the tapestries to carry messages to the political prisoners.

After the decline in terrorism in Peru, many women that had fled their towns, established their families (or what was left of them) in Lima and continued creating “Arpilleras” to communicate their traditions, their activities and their wishes.  The same happened in Chile after the end of the Pinochet era.

Nowadays, small groups of women in their communities, working in cooperatives, maintain this art alive by hand stitching tapestries and other items such as storybooks and backpacks.   Some specialized retailers such as Inca Kids, a fair trade project working with skilled artisans from Peru, offer their products online and in boutique stores in cities across the country (

The “Arpilleras” usually use cotton fabric as a base for the creation and diverse bits of jersey, yarn, velvet as well as recycled materials like buttons to complete a three dimensional design.

Women are usually represented in bold hues, to show their strength, optimism and hope.

More and more this technique is reaching the homes of American citizens, Arpillera tapestries are now very sought after, with customers paying thousands of dollars for a specific story.   Well known authors, such as Chilean Marjorie Agosin have private collections that have been displayed here in the US.   Even some schools, like Concord in North Carolina, have undertaken Arpillera projects with their Elementary School students.

So, what served as a form of expression for those that could not communicate in other ways has now evolved into pieces of art that record events, both tragic and joyful, in the lives of their creators.

(Additional Information: While Arpilleras have their roots in South America, there are similar technique in other countries. This link contains more information about pieces created in Asia and Africa.)

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About Inca Kids:
Fair Trade project working directly with skilled Peruvian artisans offering Peruvian art, alpaca accessories, artisan toys and decor.

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Tags:Arpilleras, Arpilleria, Peruvian Arpilleras, Arpillera Tapestries, Peruvian Tapestries, Peruvian Art, Inca Kids, Peru
Industry:Arts, Textile, Society
Location:Atlanta - Georgia - United States
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