Cecilia Jones – Independent Researcher, Montevideo Uruguay
Virginia D’Alto – University of The Republic, Uruguay, Social Sciences School
Hersilia Fonseca – Independent Researcher, Montevideo Uruguay
Paula Larghero – Independent Researcher, Montevideo Uruguay
Traperas blankets were first made by European immigrants settling in the Americas. Using limited available resources women sewed these simple quilted blankets to keep their families warm. The Uruguayan tradition of Traperas shares similarities with the “quilts” of North America, the “boro futon” of Japan, the Australian “waggas” and the “almazuelas” of La Rioja, Spain. However, Traperas blankets have not reached the social or artistic status of North American quilts. At the present time, in Uruguay, the tradition is kept alive by elderly women in rural areas and is endangered by commercial products of imported origin and industrial make. This research documented the Traperas and the stories of those who create them. A series of sewing workshops held in towns throughout the country involved women young and old creating opportunities to pass on the Traperas tradition to new generations.
Traperas are quilted patchwork blankets made from layers of old clothing or other textile material that have been sewn by women in Uruguay since the early European immigration. From the XIX century and up to the middle of the XX century Uruguay received a large influx of immigrants originating mainly from Spain and Italy and, to a lesser extent, from other parts of Europe. The name Trapera derives from word “trapo” that means rag or old clothing in Spanish. Traperas have similar roots to the “quilts” of North America, the “boro futon” of Japan, the Australian “waggas”, the Italian “trapunto” and the “almazuelas” of La Rioja, Spain. However, Traperas blankets have not reached the social or artistic status of North American quilts and remain more utilitarian than aesthetic objects. The making of Traperas today has been reduced due to the influx of industrial textile products. Today the tradition is kept alive by elderly women in the Uruguayan countryside. The purpose of this research is to document the contemporary practice of creating Traperas and to promote hands-on workshops that teach the skills and methods of this tradition.
Materials and methods
The project involved in-depth ethnographic and participatory research in rural and urban areas of Uruguay. Due to the personal nature of the Traperas and their place as household items, word of mouth was the main source of information for the location of different Traperas and the ladies that make them.
Seven trips were organized during 2010 and 2011 to cover different regions of the country. During these trips interviews were arranged with local organizations or people in order to collect information about techniques and traditions surrounding the Traperas craft.
Following the systematization of the interviews and the publication of the book “Mantas Traperas, tradición textil en manos de mujeres the researchers organized workshops in three locations to teach the techniques for making Traperas uncovered during the first stage of this work. The workshops were performed during 2012 in Aiguá, Department of Maldonado, Castillos, Department of Rocha, and Jardines de Pando Department of Canelones. The researchers provided sewing machines, fabric, unused clothing items, and guidance to make Traperas blankets.
The tradition of how to make Traperas has been passed from generation to generation of women in sewing groups and homes. The research identified and recorded different ways of making Traperas as well as the histories of the women who make them.
Three ways of making the exterior lining were observed. The most commonly used technique is to take apart used clothing and cut panels of fabric that are later sewn together to build the top and backing of the blanket.
Another technique involves using knitted garments. They are either sewn together, as is, to make the top of the blanket or they are un-knitted. The wool is then washed and knitted again in the shape of the blanket.
The third variation is more rustic and involves sewing the garments, as is, in layers.
The blanket filling also showed variations according to the available resources. In various instances the blankets are filled with layers of garments or warm fabric sewn together. The clothing is cut to fit the desired size or shape of the Trapera.
Older Traperas were also found to be filled with wool fleece that is secured by stitching or knotting.
In some cases old blankets were used as filling for larger pieces of fabric. In addition, the interviews uncovered the use of burlap as a filling. For many years Burlap was the material used to transport wool to the market after shearing. This material is not as warm and today it is not as easy to come by since the wool industry has shifted to other materials for the transportation of bales of wool fleece.
The most common technique to put together the Trapera is to build a sleeve with the front and the backing and slide the filling layer inside. Later the three layers are stitched together with long stiches.
The three workshops organized to promote the making of Traperas were attended by a varied audience. Young and old, boys and girls put together simple blankets with the resources provided. The renewed interest in the making of Traperas provides an opportunity to revive the tradition.
The making of Traperas consists of simple techniques that favour the utilitarian rather than the aesthetic aspect of the blankets. The research identified and recorded different techniques that have been passed from generation to generation and are still used today.
The hands-on workshops to make Traperas were well received in the three towns where they were held and they created opportunities for new generations sewing and making the blankets. This work played a crucial role in the continuing attempts to preserve and propagate the heritage Uruguayan Traperas.
Fondos Concursables para la Cultura edición 2010 and 2012 of the Ministerio de Educación y Cultura of Uruguay financed the two stages of this project.
A long list of ladies from different sewing groups, towns and counties of Uruguay generously offered their wisdom and stories to make this research possible.
*Corresponding author: firstname.lastname@example.org