Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Carolina Paz Gana and Lynne M. Jenkins.


Sewing is traditionally women’s work. Often characterized as homespun, even quaint, it is associated with the domestic sphere. What at first glance may appear charming belies the persuasive ways in which women work with textiles to depict apartheid in South Africa,1 identity,2 forced migration,3 grass roots activism,4 encoded messages,5 and remembrance of murdered and missing indigenous women.6 Perhaps that is why the powers that be are mostly unaware of its subversive potential, and thankfully so, as this potential remains under the radar “sew” to speak while galvanizing those at the margins. How might sewing bring women together in a circle of care, give them a sense of belonging to a larger community that provides hope and meaning while creating the conditions for activism and social justice? Such gatherings of women allow for precisely the confluence of belonging, healing, and resistance. Given their origins, we believe political arpilleras are particularly compelling in this regard. Arpilleras are three-dimensional appliquéd textiles of Latin America that originated in Chile.7 The backing is hessian,8 which translates into arpillera in Spanish. Women stitched onto hessian their everyday lived experiences under the gruesome and oppressive dictatorship of the US-backed coup of Augusto Pinochet, which occurred on September 11, 1973, against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende.9 So, too, their threads and bits of fabric from the clothing of the “disappeared” allowed them to express what could not be expressed in words. Judith Herman in Trauma and Recovery10 writes that violence against women is a form of terrorism. Women essentially navigate a kind of war zone as part of everyday life. Sexual assault, child abuse, and family violence can only be understood in a sociopolitical context. Herman argues the personal is political. She writes that recovery from interpersonal trauma commonly develops in progressive stages, and she describes a model of recovery for women in which there are three stages. Stage one is safety and stabilization. Stage two is remembrance and mourning, and stage three is reconnection, commonality, and integration. We believe there is great value in women entering the public sphere as a collective to address violence against women systemically when recovering from gender-based violence. Recovery11 is not an individual personal act achieved in isolation but rather a cooperative endeavor linked to a sea change of cultural attitudes, values, and beliefs. Women tap into their potential by evolving into agents of change. In the following, we address an arpillera group program for women survivors of violence at a violence against women organization.