The story behind El Barrero's
embroiderers starts in the 70s, when this village
was founded at the planes of the hills that are
now known as Huechuraba, outside Santiago. Around
four hundred families settled there, most of them
young marriages coming from different parts of
Santiago. Among them was Carmen Gloria Benitez,
now the president of the Huechuraba Embroiderers
Foundation. "We were living at El Salto when
a friend of my husband told us about a land-taking
and that we could maybe get some land. We came
here with nothing. I put all my things in a truck
and moved here when it was all dust. My husband
built a room and we lived there, all three of
us with our son. All families here became very
close, until now".
Then, in the year 1975, some ladies from the upper
side of Santiago "came here to teach us how
to knit". So the women there began to make
carpets with patterns imported from Brazil. They
got big demand. There started the workshops known
as "Talleres de Conchalí", organized
with different groups of women that grew until
becoming a whole village of workers. They all
learnt how to sew and embroider, and produced
a wide offer of quilts, lingerie, clothes and
girl dresses. They were led by Josefina Errázuriz,
and along with high-class women created an exemplary
industry, based on female work, collaboration
and association. "We had machines, scissors,
patterns, all that we needed. When they traveled
to Spain, France or England, they would bring
us dress patterns. We even made some clothing
for Lady Di´s children".
Nowadays, more than forty different workshops
can be found at El Barrero, most of them inside
the women's houses. Their success may be explained
by how the seed found fertile land. A lot of the
workers already had a family tradition of needles
and threads. "My mother had a high-couture
workshop in Chillán", says Carmen
Gloria. "So since I was a little girl I knew
how to make stitches, put buttons. One could also
learn at the nuns' schools".
During the 80s, most of the women became independent.
A group that stayed together now provides the
store they have at Vitacura (Santiago's uptown).
The Huechuraba Embroiderers Foundation, led by
Carmen Gloria, has 28 regular members; each one
of them works and sells independently. "They
told us that if we got together, we would get
better sales, make some publicity and all that.
Because it's hard if you are on your own. Besides,
the City does not bill us any permission. They
have helped us with classes about how to sell,
deal with the clients. We got a grant with which
we made some bags and publicity brochures".
Though some of them have turned to electrical
embroidery, Carmen Gloria sticks with the handmade.
That is the one preferred by Santiago's uptown
families, who look for an elegant dress for their
girls, or the exporters that have sold their exclusive
designs in countries such as France, Spain, Norway,
Denmark, Argentina or the United States.