Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


At present, a popular opinion maintains that the education of women in developing countries benefits a society's economic and social development and improves individuals' well-being. Economic studies and statistics have proven this idea to be true, however there are other processes by which women attain a higher quality of living without becoming educated. It can even be said that uneducated women have the ability to change a nation's political system. Although this scenario is unlikely, it is not altogether hypothetical and its occurrence is well documented in history. During the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1989), the Chilean arpilleristas combined their collective memories of brutality with their traditional gender roles to at first privately share grievances of their "disappeared" loved ones and eventually to protest the regime in place. These poverty-stricken women of shanty towns met in clandestine workshops and formed a grassroots organization to create tapestries woven from their own garments and hair to sell to foreign markets. The arpilleristas soon realized the power held by their collective memory and tapestry work. Politically mobilized, the women began to outwardly protest the government's attempts to conceal and ignore their memories. National and international attention to their cause resulted in democracy's defeat of Pinochet's regime. This essay will show how a collective memory framework of persecution led to a political awakening for these women. An exploration such as this will uncover that perhaps the most enduring political movements begin with the uneducated whose blood, sweat, and tears are found within its basis.