Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,


Copyright 2014 by the author(s).


In the past thirty years, new forms of women’s textiles began appearing throughout Latin America. The techniques used were not indigenous to the region, yet they were used as forms of self-expression of the horrors and sorrows the women experienced as the result of warfare in the region. In the 1970s Chilean artist Violeta Parra Sandoval introduced arpillera-making to women living in Santiago who experienced first hand the agony of having family members tortured, killed or “disappeared” at the hands of the government. Arpilleras use embroidery and appliqué to create scenes of repression, violence and loss. Banned within Chile and sold abroad to provide economic support, arpilleras were a private art form that became public art as their creators told the world of the violence in Chile. The arpillera tradition spread to Peru, whose population also experienced “disappearances” at the hands of the government. Cuadros use brightly colored appliqué to tell of the horrors of war, allowing the women to express feelings that are difficult to put into words. When brought to El Salvador, the technique gave women a means of expressing their feelings at the horrors they encountered during their civil war. While Chilean women also used non-native crewel embroidery to create tapestries that illustrated the violence experienced during the Pinochet regime, Mayan women produced embroidered textiles that told stories of poverty, fear and disrupted lives resulting from their civil war. Their works provide a means of exorcizing the horrors of war and supporting their families. For these sisters in thread, these textiles serve a therapeutic and economic role in their lives. These textiles and their creators became part of larger resistance movements, creating platforms for memory and justice, commemorating the dead, documenting historical events, giving a voice to the invisible, and helping them heal.