Arpilleras are South American works of art that are both easy and inexpensive to make with kids. They became a popular form of political protest during Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile (1973-1990), but more contemporary arpilleras often depict rural life. These crafts are also a great way to honor Hispanic Heritage Month, the annual U.S. celebration that runs from September 15-October 15.
(This post, originally published on 10/5/2015, has been updated.)
Each spring my First Graders dive into our Perú theme, focusing on culture and language at the same time. My favorite part (and theirs!) is making our own, 7-year-old friendly arpilleras. Inspired by those made in Chile and Perú, my students brainstorm elements they want to include — mountains, the sun, hills, rivers, trees and shrubs, vegetables, flowers, houses and, of course, people and animals.
We make the arpilleras using two steps. First, we make the background using construction paper. Then, each student makes one 3-D animal and one 3-D person to add to the image. And, there’s no sewing is involved! (A materials list follows the instructions.)
Each student begins with a piece of blue construction paper. This forms the basic background upon which they layer the rest of their elements. Mountains, hills, lakes, trees, houses, vegetable gardens, etc. are cut out of colored construction paper. Then, they are simply glued, in layers, onto the blue paper. I encourage them to include lots of detail, just like the arpilleras we explore in my classroom, which are usually full to the brim with objects.
I also show them an example that I’ve made. Some of those layers are only partially glued on to give them a sense of how they can create their layers. The idea is to mimic the cloth layers used for real arpilleras, which usually make use of fabric.
Once the background is finished, we set it aside. Now, on to the three-dimensional animals and people!
Each kiddo gets to make one animal (due to limited class time) of their choice: a sheep, a llama, or a donkey. In preparation, I copy the designs onto stiff drawing paper using our school copier and then cut them out. The shapes are a bit challenging for little hands to cut, so doing this part ahead of time really helps.
Once they choose an animal, I put their names on the back, and they color the front. Then, they choose a yarn. I offer a variety of all-natural yarns in browns, grays, black, and white. The yarn is wrapped around the animal bellies to their “poofiness preference.” I then place a dab of glue on the back, attach the end of the yarn to it, and let it dry. Super cute!
Each kiddo also makes a person (again due to limited class time): either a girl or a boy. In preparation, I create the bodies out of pipe cleaners, attach a head, and add hair using alpaca wool given to me by a friend. If no alpaca wool is available, sheep wool roving is just as great! You can buy it at most yarn stores now as it is used for needle felting. Alternatively, you might know someone who spins wool or has fiber animals who is willing to donate some for your class.
I also cut out small rectangles of fabric in a variety of colors for skirts and pants legs (2 identical pieces). Narrower rectangles with a small slit cut lengthwise at the halfway point serve as shirts. When placed over the head, the body is covered on both the back and the front! Each kiddo chooses their clothing items, and then we construct the people. See the photo collage below for step-by-step instructions.
Before kiddos take their finished projects home, I use safety pins to attach their animals and people to a large arpillera background I made many years ago. This is then hung in the hallway outside my classroom. It is a fun and amazing display for the whole school to enjoy!
- construction paper in a variety of colors
- pipe cleaners — both multicultural colors for the bodies and various colors to use as belts
- multicultural wooden beads for the heads — available in many craft stores
- wool in grays, browns, and black
- yarn in grays, browns, black, and white
- fabric scraps of various colors
- stiff white drawing paper
- crayons, glue
This post is part of our new series Global Learning for Kids. Each month we’ll feature a country and host a link party to collect various posts that help teach kids about that country — crafts, books, lessons, recipes, etc. It will create a one-stop place full of information about the country. This month we are learning all about Perú!
We are also so excited for our FOURTH annual Hispanic Heritage Month series with lots of great resources for sharing Hispanic Heritage Month with kids (September 15 – October 15). Be sure to visit our main page for a full schedule of the articles in this series.
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