Two 50-minute class periods

Stitching Truth: The Arpilleristas in Pinochet's Chile


In this lesson, students interpret tapestries woven by Chilean women in order to learn about protest, human rights, and civil society.



Warm Up
In the main activity of this lesson, small groups of students will be responsible for using historical documents to help interpret several arpilleras. Before students begin this work, establish a basic context about this period in Chilean history. You might ask students to identify Chile's location on a map and to volunteer any information they know about Chile. You could also give students a basic overview of the case study by presenting a brief lecture or by asking students to review the Abridged Timeline of Chile's Recent History. Note: Our study guide Stitching Truth: Women's Protest Art in Pinochet's Chile includes a more detailed timeline.

Before beginning the main activity, students should be able to answer the questions:

  • Who is Augusto Pinochet?
  • What did he do in 1973?
  • What is an arpillera?
  • Who are the arpilleristas?

Another way to introduce students to the case study is through analyzing one of the arpilleras together from Arpilleras from Stitching Truth. In doing so, you can model what students will do in their small group work. Additionally, analyzing one arpillera as a class is a way to help students become familiar with this time period in Chile. This basic familiarity will help students make sense of the documents they will be working with in the small group activity. Arpillera 6 is appropriate for this introductory activity because of its simple imagery and its relationship to various moments in the timeline. Here are some steps you might follow to help students analyze this arpillera as they are introduced to the key ideas in this case study. You might also review the Sample Analysis of Aprillera 6 for guidance.

  1. First ask students to describe what they see on this tapestry, prompting students to pay attention to objects, colors, composition, lines, and shapes. They could record their observations in their journals or notebooks. This is an appropriate time to introduce students to the Spanish word for tapestry, arpillera, and to explain that the weavers are called arpilleristas.
  2. After closely observing Arpillera 6, ask students the following questions: (Students could answer these questions individually or with partners.
    • What story is the weaver, Gala Torres, trying to tell?
    • What do you think is the meaning of this tapestry?
    • What questions do you have about the weaving?
  3. Pass out the Abridged Timeline of Chile's Recent History. Equipped with this historical information, ask students to expand on their initial interpretation of the arpillera. You might provide students with guiding questions such as: Why are the women dancing without men? Why do they have those images on their shirts? Why do you think Gala Torres decided to weave this piece?
  4. You can add to students' analysis of the weaving with your own insights, modeling how to make inferences based on historical information gathered from the timeline. At the end of the analysis, students should suggest a Spanish or English title for this arpillera.
  5. A short debriefing of this exercise might ask students to reflect on how learning more about the history of Chile changed their interpretation of Arpillera 6. Students could also brainstorm additional information they would like to know about Chile that might help them better understand the meaning of Arpillera 6. After completing the main activity of this lesson, students should have the information they need to answer many of their questions.

Note: Spanish words, such as arpillera, appear throughout the case study and the primary documents. Many of the arpilleras included in the case study have Spanish words woven into the tapestry. This case study provides an excellent opportunity for Spanish-speaking students to use their language skills not only to facilitate their understanding of the material but also to help their non-Spanish-speaking peers understand the material as well.

Main Activity

  1.  Divide the class into three groups. Each group is responsible for presenting the story of two or three arpilleras from Arpilleras from Stitching Truth. If your class is large, you might want to divide the class into six groups. In this case, you could assign one arpillera to each group. Refer to the Suggested Group Reading Assignments handout for ideas about which arpilleras, case study excerpts, supporting documents to assign to each group. You do not need to assign all of these readings. Based on your students' reading levels and the time you have for these lessons, you might decide to use fewer readings or excerpts of these readings. Readings could also be assigned for homework. 
  2. The case study itself, as well as the primary documents included in the case study, provide information that will help students interpret the meaning of the arpilleras. As students reveal their understanding of the arpilleras, they will be answering questions about civil society raised by these tapestries located. 
  3. There are many ways you could structure students' group work. Students could be assigned documents, including excerpts of the case study, to read on their own or with a partner. Then they could use the information gathered from their assigned documents to interpret the arpilleras. Or, the group, especially if it is small, could read all of the documents together. We have included supporting worksheets with this lesson that can be used to help students organize and synthesize information. The Document Analysis Template can help students keep track of evidence gathered from supporting documents. The Arpilleras Presentation Preparation Worksheet has been designed to help students synthesize information from the supporting documents in order to analyze their groups' arpilleras and to answer specific questions about civil society.

Follow Through
Each group should tell the story of its arpillera(s) to the class. As they do so, students should provide evidence they gathered to support their interpretation and they should address their group's key questions about civil society. The Arpilleras Presentation Graphic Organizer can help students take notes during the presentations. If you have access to a computer and a large screen, you might want to project the images of the arpilleras during the presentations.


Students could turn in an analysis of an arpillera based on their understanding of the social and political context in Chile. You could also ask students to explain what the arpillera reveals about civil society.


The popular musician Sting wrote the song "They Dance Alone / Ellas Danzan Solas" after he saw a news story about Chilean women dancing in the streets of Chile in protest of Pinochet's oppressive regime. As depicted in Arpillera 6, the women danced with pictures of their missing fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers pinned to their clothes. He performed the song in both English and Spanish, and he even sent a copy of this song to Pinochet. The following links lead you to the lyrics in English and in Spanish:

English version

Spanish version

Listening to this song and reading the lyrics provides students with another entry point to the history of Pinochet's Chile and the Chilean women's resistance movement. Sting's song "They Dance Alone" highlights the role of the artist as a participant in civil society and encourages students to consider the roles of art, music, dance, and drama in protest and resistance.

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