Middle and South America

Middle and South America

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.

Brazilian dimensional embroidery is a textured surface embroidery. It uses rayon, Z-twisted threads of different weights and amounts of metal twists, as well as a variety of colours, to construct three-dimensional designs that are sewn onto a piece of cloth. Details are embroidered directly onto the cloth.

In the British Museum collection there is a fragment of Chancay open weave darning. The cloth is believed to come from the Chancay culture in Peru and dates from sometime between 900 – 1430 AD. It derives from burial excavations in the Pacasmayo Valley carried out in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The design on this textile consists of alternating, diagonal rows of feline and fish motifs.

Chancay open weave darning is a form of darned embroidery, in which the open weave gauze ground is decorated using both thick and thin white cotton threads. The outlines of the individual motifs are worked into the gauze ground. They are made with a thick thread that is looped and/or worked around the ground mesh intersections using a long stem stitch.

The collection of the Textile Research Centre in Leiden includes a cloth, 70 x 63 cm, which is made of cotton and embroidered with simple scenes taken from daily life. It dates to the 1930's and originates from Surinam in South America.

A concho (pl. conchos) is an oval or round metal disc (bracteate) used to decorate belts, clothes, bridles, saddles etc. The term concho derives from the Spanish concha (‘conch’ or ‘shell’). Conchos are common in Mexico and throughout the American West. 

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses a sampler from Mexico that dates to the late eighteenth century. The ground material is linen and the embroidery is worked in gilt and coloured silks, and with spangles. The sampler measures 12 x 15.25 cm.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses an embroidered panel that originates from pre-Columbian Peru and has been dated to the period 500-100 BC. The embroidery is carried out in wool on a cotton ground, and worked in stem stitch. The fragment measures 11 x 8.5 cm.

The Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin houses a man's shirt from Peru. It dates to the second half of the nineteenth century, or earlier, and was acquired by the German textile merchant and collector, Christian Theodor Wilhelm Gretzer (1847-1936). The fabric is made of cotton. The tunic measures 90 x 72 cm. The embroidery is worked with silk, using cross stitch.

Manta is a Spanish word for cloak. Traditional South American mantas are square or rectangular in shape and draped down the back. They are often woven from local cotton, sheep’s wool or alpaca. In some parts of Peru, men wear embroidered mantas during dances to celebrate local Roman Catholic saints’ days.

A mola is a decorated blouse worn as part of the traditional costume of Kuna (Cuna, Guna, Quna) women in Panama. In Dulegaya (the Kuna language), the word mola means ‘blouse,’ ‘shirt’ or ‘clothing'. By the end of the twentieth century, however, the term mola had become almost synonymous with the decorated panels, on the front and back of the blouse, and hence with the associated technique of reverse appliqué.

An early form of a needlework sample (often classed as a sampler) from Nasca, Peru, is kept in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (USA). The sample dates to the second century BC. It is 105 x 72 cm in size. A sample is a piece of cloth on which motifs and stitches are worked out in a random manner. The aim of this type of textile is to act as a private ‘sketch pad’ to remind the embroiderer of techniques and ideas.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses a sampler from Mexico that is dated to 1860. The ground material is linen and the embroidery is worked in cotton and silk. The embroideress is Rosa Maria Vasconcelos (born 1800). The sampler includes geometric shapes, following Spanish traditions. The sampler measures 40 x 38.1 cm.

The Textile Research Centre in Leiden houses a machine woven waistband from Mexico, 54 cm in diameter, which is embroidered in cross stitch, and further embellished with red and blue tassels. It belongs to the ethnic group of the Huichol, in the west of the country.