The arpilleras' journey

The arpilleras have their origin in Chile, where during the 70’s they became an essential tool for the social struggle. By means of the first stitches, they denounced some of the experiences of the country under the government of Augusto Pinochet. The use of textile sometimes helped to express what could not be publicly said. The arpilleras were made, mainly, by groups of women, who could thus express themselves politically, something that otherwise was very difficult to do. It was also a way for women’s groups to share other experiences and concerns.

For the artists of the Fundació Ateneu Sant Roc, the arpilleras have also meant many things. What began as just another activity of the Ateneu has become one of the distinctive traits of the Foundation, establishing a permanent group of stitchers who have collaborated in various projects. The vision of these women is the one that is captured in this collection of sketches, each one accompanied by the story that the artist has wanted to convey.

Suitcase, cloth, arpillera: the journey begins

Maleta, farçell, arpillera, (Suitcase, cloth, arpillera) is an account of different migratory experiences both from the interior of the country, during the decade of the 60s, as well as more recent ones from around the world.

This collection was presented as an exhibition in 2012, and since then it has been taken to various places in Catalonia.

With the creation of these arpilleras, the artists have had the opportunity to relive forsaken childhood memories, painful feelings, the nostalgia caused by missing one’s homeland, or the first feelings of excitement when settling into their new home.

This arpillera explains when my parents, my siblings, and I arrived in Barcelona. We came from Almeria and the first thing I remember is the France Station (Estació de França), big and beautiful. Then what you can see on the arpillera: the mountain of Montjuïc and on the top the castle and many shacks.

My shack was made of wood, the roof was made of leather. We lacked everything, we had no light or water. We had to get it from the fountain, and it was far away.

My brothers, who were little, played with a ball made of cloth. My mother went down the mountain every day to go work as a housemaid and my sister too. I, who was 8 years old, took care of my brothers and my house, which was the only thing we had.

Those were difficult years for those who had to leave their homeland.

When I see what is happening now, I remember my first years and it makes me angry that everything is still almost the same.

In the countryside of Cáceres where I grew up, first the green olives are harvested with great care and then the black ones are shucked. It is necessary to go up to the olive trees with ladders and bags to take the green olives carefully, so that they are not crushed. When they are all black, they are brought to the ground with the canes, to remove the oil. We had oil for the whole year at home, the supply of the house we had it there, besides the olive trees we had other harvests and animals.

When the olives were shucked, it was my brothers and I who, sometimes, collected all the olives from that estate, which was not ours. The masters of the estate provided the land, and we did the work.

There we lived off what we sowed, there was no salary.

What we harvested, we took it to the masters in the village, it was all split, it was a job done by my family and theirs.

The memory of this time is difficult because I had friends who went to the village while I had to stay working in the fields.

When I was 27 years old, my husband told me that we would find a better life in Barcelona. He came alone the first time and in December of 1962 we both, with our son, got on the train to Barcelona. Saying goodbye was hard, my mother didn’t want me to travel so far away with such a small child.

In this arpillera I’ve sawn the house of my hometown, my parents’ home, where I grew up and where I lived until I got married and moved to my mother-in-law’s house. When I had to pack my things because I was coming to Barcelona, my mother came two or three days to my in-laws’ house to help me prepare the things and leave everything in its place.

This is the highest peak of Granada, which is always snowy, even in the summer there is snow. Here is the tree that used to be on the corner of the house, an acacia, and that is the path that goes down to the lower slope where I, together with my husband and my son, walked to take the train. It took us 26 or 28 hours to get to Barcelona, then the train was full of people who emigrated from all parts of Andalusia.

When we arrived at one o’clock in the morning it was snowing, that Christmas it had snowed a lot.

When I remember my homeland I get very emotional, I remember my family, my sisters, my parents who are no longer alive. My husband and his parents are buried in Barcelona, waiting for me.

This is the story of when I came from Tangier, I was 21 years old and I had already had my daughter. My parents lived in Tangier because they emigrated from La Linea when they were young. I have lived my youth and childhood with great enthusiasm. Later, when the Arabs wanted independence in 1957, things changed. The Spaniards preferred to leave rather than go through misery. My husband and I had the idea of staying and adapting to the circumstances, but my parents were old and did not want to die there, they wanted to come to Spain because they had nothing. That’s why we all decided to come to Spain with them.

This is what I saw when I came to Spain on the boat. I saw the mosque, the church and the school. The churches and mosques were very beautiful, emblematic buildings of many styles. Nowadays everything is more deteriorated because there is no money, there is misery, it is no longer as it was.

In my representation of the boat, I tell how I was going to cross the strait with my daughter, who I was holding, as she was about 7 months old. I have also stitched some men that are drowning or dying, to show the situation of some Arabs who nowadays cross the strait, sometimes losing their lives.

The first time I arrived here, when I left the France Station, I saw the sky so dark and gray that I was very shocked, that is why here I have sewn a very vivid sky, as I remember it from Tangier and with the beautiful sea there.

I have flown by plane three times. The first time I was with my mother, my brothers and my sisters. We came from Pakistan to Barcelona in 2007. We were all there, except for my father who had already been living here 5 or 6 years before us.

The second time I flew with the plane was to go to Pakistan to get married a year ago. I was driven to the airport and then flew alone. The plane was full of Pakistani families. I stayed for six months and I returned a month ago.

When I came back to Barcelona, I also flew alone. I was a bit worried but the hostess helped me a lot, all the people were sleeping.

I really like Barcelona and I want to stay here to live. My husband will come to stay and live with me, now we have a lot of paperwork to deal with.

In Morocco I went to school until I was thirteen years old. After that I stayed at home working, that’s life…

I would have liked to study, my mother and my father suffered when I left school. I’m the only one of my siblings who didn’t study because when I was little I didn’t want to, and now I’m paying for it. I would like to learn to read and write well, that’s the most important thing for me.

I have sawn a class, where foreign women from all over the world come to learn to read and write. And not only for that, but also to meet people and pass the time.

It is important. I always have problems, for example, when I want to go somewhere to handle some paperwork and I can’t speak well. I always take the papers home for my husband to fill in. I also have problems with the doctor, when he doesn’t understand me I suffer, but if I explain slowly, he understands what I want to say. That’s why I like to come here to learn to read and write, I really like the computer, we use it to write words.

This is my house in Pakistan in Gujarat, in the Punjab area. There the houses are big, two families can live together. It has up to three floors.

When I was single I lived with my brothers and my mother, but when I got married, when I was 15 years old, I moved to my husband’s parents’ house, with his family. I helped my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law to do the housework. I have been living in Badalona for four years and here the houses are smaller. The children in Pakistan have space to play every day with their bikes and kites, not here.

In my country, in March, when spring and the sunshine arrive, parents and children go out to play with the kites. We go to the patio at the top of the house, we dance and eat. I prepare a lot of food, a big pot for everyone, we have a good party to celebrate the beginning of spring.

This is my house in Guadix, with the geraniums and carnations on the façades. When I came to Barcelona I often remembered this house that I left in the village.

I came with the train that was there at that time, with my sister and her daughter who also came to Barcelona. The trip was very long, we travelled with many people who also came to find better lives here. I came single, and with enthusiasm, I was happy. Later, even more, because I met my husband and got married. Now I am here with my daughters and their children, my husband passed away.

Here there is a mosque, which is very important for my religion, and there are also mountains, butterflies, birds, trees, and flowers, because I really like the countryside and nature.

In my city there are many mountains, maybe that’s why I’ve always liked the countryside more than the beach. But in the countryside there are no schools, there is nothing, that’s the problem, I like the city just to go to school, because I want to learn a lot. I like to speak Spanish.

I like life with flowers, I like freedom. I don’t want to be stuck at home, I want to go out, shop, work and earn money to help my family. Freedom.

In Morocco I lived in a village and I couldn’t do anything, I didn’t go to school, I didn’t work, nothing. Now my siblings are better, they all went to school.

I like my country very much, but I want to stay in Europe with my husband, always happy.

We have sewn a typical Pakistani party dress that women wear, a shirt, a pair of trousers and a headscarf, in nice colors.

It is a very comfortable garment that we always wear, it is wide and big. Some Spanish women also dress like this, they like this type of clothes very much, but they don’t wear the headscarf, that’s only for Muslims.

Men also wear this kind of clothes, there is little difference only that the shirt has a collar.

I make my own clothes, sometimes I buy the cloths in Pakistan because they are cheaper than here, and I sew them at home. Other times I buy the clothes already made.

In my country the embroidery is also very important. I have handmade a lot of bed linen, the bed sheets, the pillows, a lot of things.

These are my hands of henna, full of bracelets as I like them. At the top there is a mirror with less, fringes in urdu.

My hands have worked hard. I wake up at 7 o’clock, I make lunch for me and my children with tea or chocolate, I take the little children to school at 8.30 a.m. and some days I go to Group Laila at 9.30 a.m. to learn Spanish and other things.

I have been married for 22 years and have raised my five children, all of them boys.

In Pakistan I have worked sewing from home. With the machine I sewed the bed linen, but here I only work at home. My hands know how to sew, embroider, cook, clean, brush, write and much more.

Les meves mans han treballat molt. Em llevo a les 7, faig l’esmorzar per a mi i els meus fills amb un te o xocolata, porto els nens petits a l’escola a les 8.30 i alguns dies vinc a les 9.30 al Grup Laila, per aprendre castellà i altres coses.

Fa uns 22 anys que estic casada i he criat els meus cinc fills, tots són nois.

Al Pakistan he treballat cosint des de casa. Amb la màquina cosia la roba per al llit, però aquí només treball a casa. Les meves mans saben cosir, brodar, cuinar, netejar, pentinar, escriure i molt més.

Refugees: the train

These arpilleras took inspiration from the exhibition “After the waves” that took place in November 2016 at Ateneu Sant Roc. The artists wanted to pay tribute to the work of the Open Arms Badalona group. With the knowledge of some of the stories that had appeared in the news, the stitchers captured some events such as those that can be seen in the following arpilleres.

Collective memory. In 1939, at the end of the Spanish Civil War, thousands of republicans fled to France in the hope of being taken in.

This arpillera represents the escape and the harsh conditions in the refugee camp of Algiers, where they suffered extremely cold temperatures, famine, overpopulation, diseases, rape, death…

This was the first collective experience of the Fundació Ateneu Sant Roc Group.

In his early years, and after losing everything, his family, his home and maybe his country, he wanders alone in the desert. Only with his cat and in spite of everything he does not abandon him, with him he shares his hunger and his loneliness.

The two of them are starved and carrying what little they have, when they think everything is lost, in the horizon, they discover a bit of life, and with it… hope!

Saharawi refugees in the desert of Algeria. They live in tents, very hot during the day and very cold at night.

They live in austere conditions and most of them see no end to their exile. They depend on international aid and with the economic crisis they have suffered many setbacks. UNICEF, with all its means, is trying to consolidate vaccination campaigns, create family centers, distribute school supplies, improve teacher training…

With this arpillera I wanted to remind the public of the living conditions of these people in refugee camps and the role of aid workers.

Everyone’s help is needed, let’s not forget it!

Land mistreated by nature, covered with canvasses and old cloths in the shape of huts to protect themselves from the cold and the sun. How much history there must be under these huts that will never be known, lives destroyed, lost hopes, without finding a future.

How many people are left stranded along the roads until they find these refugee camps! That is what I felt when I saw this picture.

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people are so full of doubts.”

Bertrand Russell

When they flee from the war, they not only carry whatever belongings they can, they also carry the pain, the rage, the injustices….

They carry their children and their elders in the hope of giving them a dignified life, and along the way, they also carry difficulties and doubts, not knowing where they will be welcomed.

Reflecting on the refugee camps, I think that these people are fleeing from these evil wars, from hunger and from all kinds of needs.

After taking many turns along different roads, crossing mountains and disoriented, they arrive at a border. They think that the worst is over, but it is not so. They find themselves with these wires who forbid them to pass. And some of these men, women and children are sent to refugee camps and there they also find themselves with the same hunger and needs.

But there are also groups of volunteers who try to make their daily lives less difficult. They help them within their possibilities and above all they listen to them. They try to give them some hope.

To flee from your home, from your town, from your country, to leave your family, your friends, your job behind. To run away looking for a better but uncertain future. What courage those who do it and go through hostile and unknown hardships have. And with all this in my mind I started to make this arpillera, simple and flat in which each stitch was a touch of reality. The beach of Lesbos, the boats full of people, the rescue, and the arrival to the beach.

On the cloth there are three little worlds: the children who play despite everything, the Open Arms rescuers who give everything to save lives and a doctor taking care of an infant who has managed to arrive alive. What a bad heart and how much reality, how necessary it is not to forget…

My arpillera is a denunciation of the treatment that some refugees received at the border between Serbia and Hungary, who were running looking for their freedom and some journalists who were covering a report for television, one of them made a Serbian man who was carrying his son in his arms trip over. This man was fleeing from the police with the intention of crossing the border and getting a better life.

In my sackcloth I explain the great work that the guys of Badalona do. I chose this theme as a tribute to them, for the great job they do saving lives and risking their own. We all should be more humane and help more.

Sant Roc: the arrival point

Stitch by stitch, the women of Sant Roc have wanted to show their neighborhood, the diversity of its people, the different cultures that live there and the esteem they feel for its streets, its festivities… in short, its people.

Through these arpilleres we can get to know a little better the nearly 50 years of history of this district of Badalona.

Set of 12 arpilleras made with small stitches that reflect the reality of the fifty years of history of the neighborhood, made in 2016 from the personal perspective of each stitcher.

Each arpillera shows a different story of this neighborhood that lives behind experiences from around the world, but sewn with hope for a better world.


I have been selling roses since I was 12 years old. The day before Sant Jordi I go to the market to buy all the roses to prepare everything in advance. I like this day very much and it makes me very excited to go to sell roses because it is the only day of the year that I have a job. I’m always the one in charge of everything, although my husband accompanies me at the stall. At the stall I sell the roses with the parasol and the table during the whole day of April 23rd.

We wanted to represent how we would like the neighborhood to change, since it is very deteriorated. We would like it to be known as a clean neighborhood where there is good coexistence and closeness with the neighbors. This is our dream, although we don’t know if we will see it come true.

I wanted to reflect the Craft Fair that we organize during the festivities of May in the neighborhood of Sant Roc. The associations prepare stalls with their work. There is a bit of everything: confectionery, crochet handicrafts… There is everything and for all tastes, and a lot of people come, buy, sell, and we have a great time.

When I was a little girl I helped to take care of my brothers, I am the older one and I had to be with them because my parents were going to sell and we could not go to school. When I was little I didn’t know how to read or write and now that I am at the Ateneu I learn a little. I take my son to school so he won’t be like me tomorrow. We are all learning together, Moroccan women and gypsy women. We learn from each other, we learn from them and they learn from us.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on telegram
Share on whatsapp
Share on email