A skein is one long thread

embroidered 'transporting wheat' tapestry

For four decades, the embroiderers of Ninhue, Chile, have been stitching scenes of rural life. Their work stands today among the most evocative of Chilean arts.

Amid the political upheaval of 1971, stitchery expert Carmen Benavente returned to her native Santiago to find much of her family’s farmland expropriated and resentment fomenting against former landowners. “Death to Benavente” she saw painted on one wall as she drove the streets.

Despite her family’s fear for her safety, Carmen was determined to bridge alienation, to reach out to the families she’d grown up among. Going door to door on foot, she offered to teach the women of Ninhue wool embroidery, a nontraditional art.

In Carmen Benavente’s poignant telling, the Embroiderers of Ninhue map a social, economic, and artistic journey inspiring to artisans, aficionados, curators, historians, and economists.

On 30 May 1971, while visiting Chile, I proposed to a group of women in the village of Ninhue that we get together to share my enthusiasm for embroidery with wool yarns instead of the usual cotton floss. It was a spontaneous invitation that was aimed at fulfilling my deep-rooted need to work with Chilean artisans.

Their response was enthusiastic and our work together in the weeks and months that followed planted the seeds of a craft that developed its own unique style while at the same time offering those practicing it additional income, a new sense of purpose and self worth, and great enjoyment.

This is the story of how the Ninhue embroidery groups came to be.

~ Carmen Benavente


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