Something different

I haven’t made as much progress as I would have liked with my whitework sampler, so I decided to show you something different today. Sample in arpillera styleThis is a sample in the ‘cuadro’ style which I produced for my C&G Diploma. There’s a requirement for the Diploma to study the embroidery of three countries, and to produce a sample in the appropriate style for each country study. I loved doing these, as indeed I loved most aspects of the Diploma. My countries were Afghanistan, Japan and Peru, and the ‘cuadro’ sample belongs to the last of these.

‘Cuadro’ means picture in Spanish. In a modern Peruvian context, this is the word used to describe a relatively new form of embroidery which has a political purpose. These pictures are also known as ‘arpilleras’. This style of embroidery appears to have started in Chile, as a form of political protest and solidarity under the aegis of the Catholic Church. It was a medium that women could use to express their anguish over their disappeared relatives. This style of embroidery uses patchwork and three-dimensional padding to show scenes of modern life, often with a political message. The testaments embodied in these cuadros became economically and politically useful because they could be used as consciousness-raising medium exported to rich and influential countries and also as a means of making money.

Pictures in this style are produced in Peru in shantytown workshops surrounding the capital city, Lima. The pictures are exported by Catholic nuns as a means of providing a living for poor families.

Although the messages conveyed by the cuadros are often overtly political it is also quite common for them to depict contented scenes of everyday life. I chose such a scene for my sample, and I loved doing it. I used tiny scraps of material that would otherwise perhaps have been thrown away and I spent some time and effort getting the composition right. I’m not sure I’ll ever produce another one, but when I see this sample, I remember how contented and absorbed I was in making it.

You can read more about arpilleras in this essay by Marjorie Agosin.

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