We quilters love the romance of the quilt, finding messages hidden in plain sight, buying into the underground railroad quilt patterns that pointed slaves toward freedom. And then there is the real deal. Alive and well, and historically proven: the arpilleras.
Arpilleras or cuadros are exquisitely detailed hand-sewn three dimensional textile pictures, that usually depict the life and trials of the Peruvian or Chilean people. These 3-D quilts are made almost exclusively in Peru and Chili and have a fascinating and disquieting history.
According to the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, "During the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, many Chilean women created complex tapestries depicting the harsh conditions of life and the pain resulting from the disappeared victims of Pinochet’s repression." Not only were these fabric creations art, they serve as reminders, diaries, documentation of the criminal acts committed against the Chilean people. They became a symbol for the women's protest against Pinochet and his dictatorship.
Through arpilleras workshops women learned to hold leadership roles as president, treasurer, etc. And the arpilleras became a form of income as they found markets for their creations. Online there are several locations where these art quilts can be purchased and, according to the sites, the proceeds benefit the impoverished women of Peru or Chile. Threads of Hope is one of those sites. And here's another site with arpilleras for sale. And another.
I particularly liked the story of how women who were imprisoned in Chile smuggled messages out past the guards, hidden inside of the three dimensional appliqued figures. Guards, male of course, saw sewing as 'women's work' and did not see any threat in this passive domestic art.
In Her Hands: Craftswomen Changing the World by Paolo Gianturco is a fascinating book with great photos that includes these art quilts and other products made by women around the world as a means to support themselves and their families and get out of poverty.
I admit that I'm a sucker for subversive stitcher stories and this is one of the best I've heard in a long time. Around the world women are struggling to make a difference, using whatever tools and skills they can lay their hands to. Many of them have picked up a needle and pricked the conscience of the world. In Chile, they toppled a dictator.
The photo depicts city market day with goods of every kind. This 18-inch square is for sale at The Folk Art Gallery for $62 plus taxes, shipping, etc.