Our 2020 Arpillera Project
The Covid-19 epidemic created the need to change the way we do many things. One of these is our 2020 Arpillera Project. Before the pandemic, our group of 12 women started their Arpillera Project in a meeting room at EcoCafé in St Jacobs. After lockdown, we quickly shifted to a Facebook group meeting instead. Here are the Arpillera's that were created.
I am a community musician, activist, and world traveler; a curious mix of Chinese heritage from my mother, Eastern European Jewish heritage from my father, a left-liberal and very eccentric American childhood, early adult years living in community in Philadelphia and eastern Ontario, and more than three decades in KW. A huge part of my heart is in Africa - specifically in Tanzania where I have lived and worked, but in several other countries as well where I have traveled and made friends and musical connections. I have a passion for connecting people and building community through music.
I began this arpillera shortly after arriving home from Tanzania, during my 14 days mandatory quarantine. Though I was grateful to be home, with everything I needed for a safe and comfortable isolation time, my heart kept reaching out beyond what I could see from my window to the whole world as I thought of places where self-isolation is impossible, hygiene impractical, and medical care inadequate or unavailable.
My daughter lives in Pasadena, California. During the pandemic we have both been gardening, reading, and playing music. (When I started this arpillera it was still early spring here in Ontario - no leaves on the trees yet.) Though we can't see each other for a while yet, we communicate regularly by text and Instagram message and occasional video chat, and I am grateful for the strength of our connection. We have also been delving into exploration of our Chinese heritage. The characters, from top to bottom are: courage (yongqi), love (ai), and hope (xiwang).
I have lived and worked in Latin America and Canada as a teacher, youth worker, translator, editor, health educator, physician and public health practitioner. Now retired, I am determined to keep learning and growing, and I seek ways to contribute meaningfully to my community and to help bend the arc of history toward justice.
This arpillera shows two window views. One is of the bleak present I saw in March 2020, when I started making it, isolated in my apartment. The other view is of an imagined and hoped-for future, a “new normal” of justice, solidarity and sustainability.
ARPILLERA – means burlap in Spanish, and is a brightly colored patchwork picture, made of scraps of cloth, and made predominantly by groups of women. The construction of arpilleras became popular in Chile during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Arpilleras were made in workshops organized by a committee of the Chilean Catholic Church and then secretly distributed abroad through the church’s human rights group. Then, they were recognized as an example of subversive women’s art in an authoritarian political context.
Who would have thought that I would feel akin to Chilean sisters of long ago. Different, to be sure, but still that isolated, disconnected, and discontented feeling.
Earlier this year I registered for an Arpillera 5 week class. I heard that it was about making a life story piece of art. Well, I have a bit of a creative bent, and, I so admire Isabel (a new business owner that came into town in the last year), who is a world art activist and promoter. Thought I’d stretch myself.
The first class was held March 10th. We were given a piece of 18x18” burlap, and we rooted through Isabel’s stash of fabrics and notions. After discussing what theme we as a group would choose, it was decided on a broad topic of women’s place in the world, with a focus on our own personal life. One thing I remember about that morning is that Isabel’s assistant Ceci said “the fabric will give you inspiration”. What?! Me, inspired by cloth? Thrown onto a heap, with no thought of completion because of a busy life, I thought this may be one of those ventures that just doesn’t reach fruition.
Then COVID19. Stuck at home.
I started with a sketch. My life.. Here I am .. 75. I guess I’ll do a reflective view of my life, since I wouldn’t consider that it’s a dream piece. Sure I had an idyllic life, from whatever angle you look, born in 1944, to parents in the country who had a cow, a pig, chickens, and a huge garden. Mom sewed, cooked, and managed all the activities of the household. Seven kids .. always something happening. Father who worked long hours to support this big family.
My early family life, my school, my church, my friends, my husband, my own family and community. Where was, or is, my voice? How did, or do, I make a difference? What passions drove (or drive) me? I see a pattern. My early life really did influence me. I start with a tree, which is a symbol for all of life, and find that the roots feed into the other elements of time in my life.
Ok, now to the fabric, Ceci. Yes, I see lots of green, blues and textures. Need more inspiration. I went to church (before it was locked down) where there’s a supply of donated material that is made into relief comforters that are sent all over the world. I found a piece that has printing on it .. yes, inspiration indeed. Grace and Honour, Love, Home & Family, Abundance, Plenty, Good Health, Celebration & Joy, Peace, Affection. Are you kidding me? Who makes anything out of cloth like this? So, here I start, with a tree, gardens, blue sky, flowers. This “wordy” cloth is the grass on which my family is standing. Oh, a metaphor .. the very grounding of our family life.
My friends who are fibre artists help with few more bits of inspiration .. cloth that has music on it, people, and more colors. Even found a small checked piece that I can make to look like my scrabble board.
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I’m to use the blanket stitch to adhere. I go to google and learn how to do it. My mom was an embroiderer. I am sad that I didn’t take the time to sit with her and learn her stitches. The thread gets caught, and I get frustrated with this sewing. Keep patiently sewing, and getting the hang of it. I swear one day to get up at dawn and burn this darn thing. I cheat. I’m starting to use a bit of glue. Oh well, this piece is for me, isn’t it?
I finally get to each corner, and it’s wonky as anything! It’s on a piece of burlap, for goodness sake. My husband comes to the rescue and we stretch it on a piece of a shelf he found, and wrap it with rope. Done.
And so I reflect on –
Childhood. My wonderful family, big tree, the birds, sunshine, rainbow for hope, plentiful garden, with flowers and fruits and vegetables, a sandbox, playing rugby, learning to sew, playing baseball, mom’s apple orchard, few clouds, the river, the railroad bridge, our house, and a balloon to represent good humour and whimsy.
Growing up. School, alphabet, crayons, questions, music, learning to drive, friends, and book.
Church. Community, friends, music
Own family. Grey hair represents me, with family consuming my mind and life, symbols of helpfulness, encouragement, teaching, friendship, and guidance, with husband’s construction building, and the B&B inn I ran for 22 years, with food, coffee, and bed. My grandchildren. Oops – didn’t include visual of son & daughter in law, both very special to me.
My hobbies. Golf, art, marbles quilt I designed (on Health Valley Trail, St Jacobs), cooking, friendships and treasurers, playing cards and scrabble.
Meaningful interests. MEDA (teach them to fish, instead of just giving them fish), donating money to good causes, knotting comforters for relief, living peaceably, and guarding my voice.
So .. thanks, Isabel and Ceci, and (gulp) COVID19.
I am a local actor and the Artistic Director of Puppet & Shadows Theatre collective. I’m also a really big sewing and knitting geek. I quilt, knit, sew puppets, and create things for my house. I will get lost for hours in fabric stores. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to make an Arpillera.
I’ve always struggled with social media. I’m in a generation that’s supposed to be comfortable using it, but it terrifies me. At the beginning of the pandemic, when it became clear that social media was going to be a main lifeline to the world, I had to use it more. I’m still not very good at it , but I’m working on it.
Social Media feels like a series of tiny little windows into my life and work. I imagine people looking through those windows and playing a game of “guess what the complete person looks like”. I’m never sure I’m opening the right windows, so I don’t know what people are piecing together and what that version of me will look like when the game is finished.
My Arpillera is about my struggles connecting through social media. You can see people’s hands, heads, and torsos reaching out from behind social media platforms,
struggling to be heard, but you never see a whole person. The woman on the bed has a tight frame around her face and that’s all anyone can see of her. There’s so much going on around her that never gets posted.