Arpillera from Chili, shown at exhibition in Derry, 2008. Arpillera from Chili, shown at exhibition in Derry, 2008.

Arpilleras reflect a South American folk art that uses appliqué, embroidery and patchwork to depict scenes of everyday life. The Spanish word arpillera derives from an old Spanish word for burlap or hessian cloth. They are sometimes called cuadros (squares). Most arpilleras are used as pictures and hung on walls. The most famous arpilleras and arpilleristas (the women who make them) are from Chile.

During the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), poor women in and around Santiago began making arpilleras as an income-generating project organized by the Roman Catholic Church’s Vicaría de la Solidaridad. Church workers donated clothes, paid for the finished arpilleras and organised their sale. Many of the women were members of an association (Agrupación de los Familiares de los Detenidos Desaparecidos—AFDD) for families of those who were detained by the regime and 'disappeared'.

The women stitched scenes from their daily life: children begging in streets; men standing in line for free soup; women demonstrating in front of the Supreme Court for news of their loved ones; a family sitting around a table, with an empty chair; police raids on homes etc. The first arpilleras were anonymous, but by the 1990's women started to sign their first names and the date on the back of their work. The Church smuggled thousands of arpilleras out of Chile for sale elsewhere. These decorative panels helped to raise awareness of the human rights abuses taking place inside Chile. As criticism of Pinochet increased, the government made it illegal to own or publically show arpilleras in the country.


  • AGOSIN, Marjorie (1987). Scraps of Life: Chilean Arpilleras: Chilean Women and the Pinochet Dictatorship. Translated by Cola Franzen, Toronto: Williams-Wallace Publishers Inc.
  • AGOSIN, Marjorie (2008). Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love: The Arpillera Movement in Chile, Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.
  • BRETT, Guy (1986). Through Our Own Eyes: Popular Art and Modern History, London: GMP Publishing.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 16th May 2016).


Last modified on Tuesday, 22 March 2022 20:08