Story of the Textiles

Perhaps no other society in history poured as much cultural energy into textiles as indigenous Andean civilization. For centuries Peru has been famous for stunning textiles, at one point Peruvian cotton rivaled Chinese silk in world trade routes. For Andean societies, textiles paralleled uses of gold, writing, mathematics and painted art in European history. Meaning was conveyed not just in color, pattern, and style, but also through complex processes of weaving and fabric structures. The centrality of fiber art to the Andean mind resulted in a remarkable development of skills, design, and technique unmatched anywhere.

Threads of Hope narrative textileThe most elaborately patterned hand-woven Andean cloth is made in rural villages in southwest Peru. Mountain societies developed traditions of working colorful dyed camelid (alpaca family) fibers. The fusion of the two traditions established the character and brilliance of the Andean textile tradition that has persisted into the twenty-first century.

The vibrant narrative textiles, known in Peru as “arpilleras” (pronounced “ahr-pee-YAIR-ah” a Spanish word meaning sackcloth), were originally sewn on flour sacks. Arpilleras evolved over a relatively short period when, in the 1980’s this new art form migrated from Chile, where it was developed as political protest narrative textiles exposing the torturous dictatorship of Alberto Pinochet. The women had been voiceless in a male-dominant society with poverty and abuse all too common. The textiles depicted the terrible realities of what was happening in their families and lives, thereby giving them a voice that no one could quiet. Their textiles were part of positive change for them and their culture. Arpilleras brought, and continue to bring hope.

Let us finish with the words of an artist when describing her art: “We all have a little art in our minds and in our hands; we leave something as a legacy for our society. It will stay behind us, in another place and in another time.

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