Art House Arpilleras


Materials Needed:

Canvas/muslin/burlap backing, acrylic paint, fabric, felt, pom poms, cotton balls, Tacky Glue for fabric, scissors

According to Wikipediaan Arpillera, (which means burlap in Spanish,) is a brightly colored patchwork picture made predominantly by groups of women. Arpilleras originated in Chile during a dictatorship that started in 1973. The handmade pictures were an expression of protest against political and economic injustices there at the time.  The sale of the quilts helped the women who created them earn money from their artistry, at a time when there were very few opportunities for employment.

Many of the colorful arpilleras that are made today come from Peru, or other South American countries that have experienced similar oppression. They are very colorful, and reflect tranquil pastoral scenes of rural life in the Andes mountains. Artists use layering and texture in their designs, with paint and fabrics, to tell their stories by quilting and appliqué work into large, beautiful quilts.

How we made them:

My friend had purchased one from Columbia (pictured above, left), where she has family. When I saw it in person, I knew I had to incorporate a similar type of project into my Folk Art session that year. My friend graciously volunteered to the bring the arpillera to my Lunch Bunch of K-2nd grade artists, where they were able to get a close-up look at its beauty and detail.
1. OBSERVATION  What’s going on in this image? One of the first things my little artists noticed was the number of little pictures on this large material that looked like a blanket. They talked about the colors and shapes they could see. They listed the animals, people, buildings, vehicles and natural elements like weather, trees, grass, a pond and mountains. They were able to infer what was happening with the people, whether they were driving, planting, farming, or playing. They also began to identify with the tiny people in the arpillera and compare similar experiences. It was a wonderful lesson, where everyone was energized by what they were seeing and got inspired to make their own arpillera based off their individual neighborhoods.

2. PLANNING  It was important for each artist to sketch out their ideas on paper before moving to the canvas, which in this case was a piece of canvas drop-cloth that I measured and precut for them.  Once they transferred their sketch idea to the larger canvas they got to work painting, then cutting and collaging pieces onto their background. Traditionally, the pieces of an arpillera are quilted and sewn together, or embroidered.  But to save time, we chose to glue the pieces of our neighborhoods onto the painted fabric backgrounds.


Overall, I think this was one of the most engaging projects we have ever done in the studio. The cultural tie-in to an actual arpillera was a wonderful way to begin the project. Encouraging each artist to design their own neighborhood made the artwork much more meaningful to each child. They were bold, and absolutely beautiful. Here are a few of the finished pieces: