By: Miguel González

What is Jaspe (Ikat) ?

Small and equidistant ties and tiny knots made of yarn fibers hide a universe of shapes and figures. These give life, color and cultural expression to thousands of Guatemalan communities that safeguard their textile heritage. This is Jaspe (Ikat), which is a long process weaving technique, elaborated by prodigious hands that use mathematical calculation, geometric figures and shapes that seem to come out of the Mayan cosmogony.

Jaspe is the art of working with threads, knots and dyeing. The process for the weavers begins with the preparation of the cotton thread, the work continues with the weaving, winding, warping, tying and knotting of strands to form the patterns; then follows the dyeing in hot water, drying, matching of designs or patterns, counting of marbled thread to join them with the flat warp, placing the warp on the foot loom and finally the weaving work.

It is easy to describe this process, but it is a meticulous work that takes weeks to obtain the warp. The warp is the basis for the weaving of these fabrics that are used to make the cortes (garments or long skirts) worn by native women. This diverse world of textiles from various Guatemalan regions constitutes the raw material of our textiles. Our workshops are run by artisans who ensure this handmade process.

María Pocón, an artisan from San Pedro Sacatepéquez, located in the central zone of Guatemala, assures that her textile knowledge is a great treasure that she keeps in her mind. "Our grandparents taught us to weave to perpetuate this cultural heritage, and I hope that my children will continue with this beautiful art," says the artisan, who places her hope in her daughter Maribel Granados so that her weavings will not be lost in time. From the magic hands of many women and men come cuts, güipiles, belts, embroideries and diverse products.

Primitive spinning system

Although Jaspe (Ikat) work has some foreign incorporations, the truth is that Guatemalan weavers maintain the original system of spinning cotton, dyeing threads with natural dyes and designing figures from local nature, a textile technique inherited from the pre-classic Mayan period, according to archaeological graphic documents.

"We use original materials and natural dyes, as taught by ancestral tradition; this is one of the qualities of our fabrics," says Maribel Granados.

These fabrics are recyclable, sustainable and as green as the countryside, where most weavers combine their textile work with agriculture.

"For our fabrics we use cotton thread and substances that are harmless to nature. By consuming typical costumes made from synthetic threads, we take work away from our community." says Maribel Granados.

Tying, dyeing, drying and untying

The Jaspe design is created during the tying and knotting of threads as a part of the warp. Watching the artisans immersed in their creative work is a unique experience that brings together mind, heart, creativity and dexterity in the hands. They have the ability to make equidistant knots and at the same time dimensional calculations in each thread, which after dyeing, drying and unknotting results in linear figures in the warp and later uniform figures in the woven canvases.

The knotting of threads needs to remain firm to prevent the dye from penetrating into the knotted part during dyeing. When the threads dry and the knotted part of the threads are unknotted, the original color is revealed, displaying the figures designed with knots. This is the secret of tying, dyeing and untying yarn.

When the dyeing of the Jaspe-bearing yarns is finished, they are joined to the warp backing, which is placed on the loom by means of a rake. In the end, the woven design looks like a painting on canvas with abstract figures or it can also show defined figures that may look like branches, arrows, wings or whimsical shapes.

Loom and complementary tools

Jaspe weaving looms are simple, made of wood and quadrangular in shape; the fundamental parts are the opening, the comb, the pedals and the shuttle.

Warper: large wooden rotating tool used to form the warp, interweave the threads and give it the extension required by the weave.

Thread barrel: object made of wood where the thread barrels or cones are placed to wind the thread in the warping machine.

Winder and spinning wheel: rotating tools used to make skeins and wind thread for warp and weft.

Rake: it has several divisions to place the warp in ten, fifteen, twenty or more threads.

Shuttle: wooden device where the yarn reeds are placed for the transverse weft of the warp.

Types of Jaspe

One color jaspe projects require less time for the tying process, while grafted Jaspe take several colors and more time for knotting and dyeing, as it is a repetitive process of tying and dyeing, depending on the number of colors.

Generally, Jaspe has an average of two thousand strands, but the amount varies according to the width of the fabric; an artisan weaves an average of six yards per day.

"My great-great-grandparents started this art of weaving many decades ago; in the beginning, they sold threads in the town squares and were transported on horses," says Maribel Granados.

Protect our Textiles

María and her daughter Maribel warn about the risk that ancestral weavings run in the face of other forms of work that aspire to replace the artisans; however, they are fierce defenders of this handmade work process. Their technique quality is evident in the firm colors, exclusive designs, freshness, comfort and durability of the typical authentic garments.

They are multifunctional artisans, as they can weave on a footloom, backstrap loom and embroidery. They also exchange their knowledge and techniques with communities in other regions of the country, which is very positive for diversifying their work and products.

"Our work is maintained thanks to this company who buys our fabrics; they promote our handicrafts because they know that we use natural and handmade materials," concludes Maribel.