The Needle as the Pen. Part 6: The Unravelling: Starving Mouths

A guest post by Andrea Liu

Economic Crisis: Praying for Manna, Peru // Chile

Women stood in zig-zag queues with their empty bag in hand. The lines of their faces grow sharper, deeper as they wait for their turn to shop for food. Those who finally get a turn buy meagre amounts. Above, high in the clouds, flour, sugar, rice, corn and oil float.

The prices are sky-high
‘Los precios están en las nubes / Prices are sky high’ by LCC, Mujeres Creativas workshop, Peru, 2008. © Conflict Textiles collection. Provenance Rebecca Dudley, USA/ New Zealand. Photo: Colin Peck.

Los precios están por las nubes / Prices are sky high is an arpillera made in 1985 in a Mujeres Creativas workshop, a group based in Lima who support women who have been displaced as a result of the war in Peru (Bacic, 2015a: 2). The arpillera depicts poverty experienced in Peru, where women struggled with prices of basic commodities that are out of reach. The Spanish phrase “Los precios están por las nubes” literally translates “the prices are in the clouds”, or “prices are sky high” (Bacic, 2015a: 1). Its colourful façade hides the extreme difficulties faced in the late 1980s due to unmanageable foreign debt and high inflation. It is the poor who endure the consequences of state policies, actions and inactions. According to Bacic:

“The war between the government and two insurgent groups (Shining Path in rural areas and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) in Lima) in addition to a series of natural disasters and a drop in the world price of Peru’s major export commodities created a severe economic crisis. Inflation for consumer products increased by 52% from 1981 to 1983, further worsening the already difficult lives of those experiencing the daily grind of poverty.” (Bacic, 2015a: 2)

‘Olla común en una población / Soup kitchen in a barrio’, Anonymous, Chile, 1982. © Conflict Textiles collection. Provenance Kinderhilfe arpillera collection, Chile/Bonn. Photo: Martin Melaugh.

Traveling south of Peru, Chile is in a similar economic climate in the 1980s. Fifteen women sit at a long table with spoons lying before them like cadavers. Their faces long and expressionless, staring at the empty table. Two women serve bowls of soup. One server walks to the table with a full bowl of soup. The other stands in the kitchen that is beside a chapel. Two large pots sit on the kitchen table, one filled with sopa (soup) and the other with leche (milk). The large pot of soup is tipped to the side. The woman looks down at the bowl she is trying to fill. Her frown reveals they are running short. Two children nearby, peek in.

The Pinochet dictatorship created hunger and poverty; thus, forcing the poor to seek food from church charities. Soup kitchens emerged as a life line for the impoverished. Bacic explains, “church charities such as the Vicaría de la Solidaridad and later the Fundación Solidaridad, were in the forefront in setting them up” (Bacic, 2015f: 2). Olla común en una población / Soup Kitchen in a barrio is an arpillera made in 1982 that accurately represents one of the soup kitchens in Chile (Bacic, 2015f: 2). María Madariaga, whose husband was unemployed and wondered how she could provide food for her children, recalls:

“There was an age limit to abide by…of my three children at the time, only one was able to eat…We thought it was better that one eats than none…” (Agosin cited in Bacic, 2015f: 2).

Bacic also reveals, the need was so great that difficult choices had to be made, both within the family and in the organisation (Bacic, 2015f: 2).

Economic crisis is measured by bodily dimensions (Sutton, 2007: 147). The body exists in relation to the economy. The two are not abstract to each other. Sutton explains this relationship between the economy and the body:

“Whether our bodies are overworked, malnourished, scarred by untreated diseases, altered by cosmetic surgery, or dressed in expensive clothing is often contingent on economic conditions. In a word, structures of inequality, including economic disparities, are embodied.” (Sutton, 2007: 147)

Hence, the lower quality of work, food and health care produce bodies that are “more fatigued, stressed, overworked and malnourished, as well as sick” (Sutton, 2007: 167).

To be continued…

About Andrea Liu

Born in Orange County, California, Andrea Liu is a writer, researcher and designer.  Graduating from Central St. Martin’s in 2018, she specialises in woven textile design and has honed her skills in material research and off-loom woven construction.  She endeavours on making sustainable designs, approaching every project with the goal of turning waste into material of value.  Prior to Central St. Martin’s, she worked as an Executive Assistant and ghostwriter for a film producer.  As well, she attained a B.A. (Hons.) in Chinese Studies from The University of Manchester in 2011 and a M.phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin in 2012. Read more about Andrea and her projects on her website.

About “The Needle as the Pen” post series

The series of “The Needle as the Pen” blog post is based on Andrea Liu’s unpublished B.A. dissertation in Textile Design at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, in which she investigated–under the same title–why and how needlework moved from the private sphere to public sphere in context of activism. With Liu Zhuanghuan’s coat in mind, I examine why and how the needle, the cloth and the body actively work together. Blog posts will discuss the needle, the cloth and the body, and explore conflict, resolution and activism experienced by the needle, the cloth and the body when the private and public spheres collide and crash into one another. Examples of arpillerasfrom South America and Conflict textiles from Northern Ireland will be used to illustrate how textiles speak truths about the women’s experiences in pain and healing.


Bacic, R. (2015a). Los precios están por las nubes / Prices are sky high. CONFLICT TEXTILES. Available at: [Accessed 7 Mar. 2018].

Bacic, R. (2015f). Olla común en una población / Soup Kitchen in a barrio. CONFLICT TEXTILES. Available at: [Accessed 5 Apr. 2018].

Sutton, B. (2007). Poner el Cuerpo: Women’s Embodiment and Political Resistance in Argentina. Latin American Politics & Society, [online] 49(3), pp.129-162. Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2017].

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