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Quilting and textile arts can be an expression of political soldarity, but quilting can also be used as a textile-based therapy for women recovering from sexual violence and trauma—sethis essay by Rachel Cohen, PhD, and Catherine Butterly, Msc. In post-conflict areas such as Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, Ecuador and elsewhere, the hands-on process of creating story cloths to process the traumatic past can be a powerful healing tool. As a recent exhibition of story cloths at the UN demonstrates, creating textiles can make visible to a larger community the suffering of war and displacement, while also offering injured women healing and control over their stories.

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Resistant Fabrics by Olivia Vela Page '23

On October 18, 2019, I was in Providence, RI when #ChileDespertó, Chile woke up. While the streets back home were flooded with people confronting decades of injustice, I was 5 thousand miles away staring at my phone — useless. I couldn’t join the masses. I couldn’t make noise or stop tear gas or cook or provide first aid. But I also couldn’t not be thinking about this, so I poured all my energy into Instagram; no other media source made sense. 

Slowly, the images of soldiers on the streets and protesters standing their ground became exhausting. Then I found the fabrics. Beyond the creative signs, posters, and rally cries, entire collectives appeared, dedicated solely to textiles for the uprising. From embroidery, to quilts, to fabric collages, to flags, there was no end to what could be made in this unique and unstructured form. Textiles have a long history in Chilean social movements,  and arpilleras, a particular method of appliqué embroidery, have been a fundamental form of resistance. The intricate scenes tell stories, illustrate a reality, and denounce a repressive context, constructing a language beyond words and photographs. In the 17-year dictatorship between 1973-1990, female political prisoners used them as a means of both expression and subsistence. 

Thirty years later, Chileans were protesting the lasting effects of the dictatorship and revitalizing those old forms of resistance, led by women and other non-male identifying people. As some protesters built roadblocks and lit fires, others illustrated the scene with threads. Strangers pieced together scraps of fabric to write “resist,” “dignity,” and “no more repression.” Other quilts underscored the community that came together in this uprising, reading “cook, share, and in the street resist,” and “only el pueblo helps el pueblo.” Feminist collectives added their own twist, making full head masks, capuchas, from different materials, with beads, pompoms, ribbons, and mohawks, clearly demarcating their presence in the uprising.

From my sister’s dark college apartment, I felt that I had something to hold on to. It wasn’t necessarily that I could engage any more, or that these fabrics would make more change than the rest of the uprising. It was the comfort of seeing cut up old pants, the hopefulness of the colors, the people coming together, the simplicity and freedom of form, and the permanence. Even if the streets were empty — as they have been because of the pandemic — these products of the uprising have remained hung on walls, rolled up in basements, ready to reunite us all at any moment.


Historical context of arpilleras in Chile:  Arpilleras, relatando desde el desecho el arte de resistencia

One example of a collective textile project 

Visual examples:

1: "Bordando en la Memoria: Nuestra Resistencia Mujeres en Dictadura" 

2: aguja libre

3: bordadoras andinas 

4: mezcolanza creativa


5: Pancarta textil

6: Wawa Loca

7: Capuchas, resistencia feminista



8: Capuchas chilenas

9: Chile: capuchas feministas a la chilena

10: Frente Textil

A few more examples from the one year anniversary of the uprising (10/18/2020)!