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Review: A Stitch in Time, by LUMA Creations at St George’s Hall

LUMA Creations is a socially focussed arts organisation, bringing diverse communities together. It’s what they’ve always done, and this year they’re doing it a lot, lot, louder.

Their current exhibition is inspired by Chilean arpilleras, offering women from across Merseyside a chance to collaborate with textile artist Elizabeth Shelbourne, to create fascinating tapestries.

While the exhibition is about exploring the process and materials of arpilleras, the history of the tapestries adds incredibly rich context and feels at home in the hands of LUMA Creations. It’s impossible to explore the history of arpilleras briefly, but I’ll try my best:
Arpilleras translates literally as burlap, referencing the simple materials, and resourcefulness of the women who created them.

The tapestries have been a popular way to present societal struggles from the perspective of women in Chile since 1973, and offer a rich history of time spent living in the country under a military dictatorship until the country returned to democratic rule in 1990.

In the late 1970s, the practice became so popular that the women became known almost formally as arpilleristas. And their stories became folklore while they worked. Those stories are typically of being left without fathers, husbands or sons, in a country where they provided the major slice of household income.

While they feel, on the surface, like a creative pursuit, these artworks are probably more similar to independent journalism – sharing stories with others, and earning money for social gain. There were strict rules to their creation. The women who ran the collective of makers decided on how many figures could be permitted, the types of fibres, and even the colours and subjects at certain times.

They were editorially controlled so they could have a greater collective impact. And the women who made them? They were untrained, unskilled, and therefore able to engage in making arpilleras on behalf of the collective. They kept 90% of their sale and donated 10% from each piece back to the collective.

It was, despite the military control of the country, socialism at work in the very roots of a country reeling from its downfall.

In this exhibition at St George’s Hall, very little of that history is repeated or referenced, and most of the tapestries are, instead, dedicated to memorialising cherished memories.

What does come across, and feels infinitely relevant in 2024 Britain, is the affordability of materials, which enable artists of all backgrounds, all wealth, all abilities, to work together without preference or bias.

A Stitch in Time is an incredible celebration craft. If you can make it to St George’s Hall before it closes, you’ll be glad you did.

A Stitch in Time is open at St George’s Hall until 2nd April 2024
Words, Kathryn Wainwright