What is Ikat (Jaspe)?


Jaspe is like tie-dye on adrenaline

Example of indigo dyed ikat or jaspe panels on an in-process backstrap loom weaving
The three parallel navy blue panels with white figures are jaspe panels.  Each panel runs the length of the weaving and was created at the same time. The visible figures are: pine tree, fish, cactus, turtle


Short Answer:  

Jaspe (HAS - peh) is a resist dyeing technique applied to the threads prior to weaving in order to create precise patterns in the finished weaving. Tie-dye and batik on the other hand, are applied to a finished cloth or garment.  Jaspe is also known as ikat in other parts of the world.

ikat (or jaspe) design recently wrapped before dying. design is of the quetzal, Guatemala's national bird
If you tilt your head down and to the right you will see the tied pattern of a quetzal bird



Long Answer:

First some San Juan history....

Prior to 1993, if a woman wanted to incorporate jaspe designs in her weaving she would have to acquire the dyed jaspe panels from an amarrado (literally "the person who ties") in the neighboring state of Quiché. Twenty-three years ago, Esteban Mendoza decided that he would learn the technique and bring it to San Juan. Since that time the men of the Mendoza family make nearly all the jaspe panels in all the weavings from San Juan. The Mendoza men informed me that the art of making jaspe is mostly done by males because it requires a lot of strength to make the ties tight enough to withstand the dyes. However, in the last few years there have been several intrepid San Juan women who decided to cross the gender barrier and are now practicing jaspe as well. 

Esteban Mendoza at his ikat studio in front of wrapped labores wearing indigo stained clothing
Esteban Mendoza the (so far) undisputed King of Jaspe


1. To begin, thread is wound onto the warping board to the length of the intended weaving and the width of the wanted jaspe panel. Each bundle of thread, which is actually one continuous loop, will create one panel of jaspe and is called a labor

winding the white cotton warp threads onto the urdidor in preparation for tying ikat (or jaspe)
Winding the thread onto the warping board


 2.  The labor is then carefully lifted off the warping board and stretched between two poles. Next the looped ends of the labor are placed, in sequence, onto the tines of a jaspe "rake" according to how many threads will be included for each section of the design. In the photo of the wrapped quetzal design there are 9 sections that were separated by the rake.

board with a row of nails used to section the labores before tying the ikat designs
Simple jaspe rake or comb used to section the threads before tying


3.  Steps 1 and 2 are repeated until the desired number of labores have been sectioned onto the rake. The labores are kept separate from each other by means of a brightly colored thread which will facilitate regrouping into the original panel after dyeing. The number of labores depends on the number of panels used in the weaving.  

example of a green fading to blue shawl with eight identical parallel panels of ikat (jaspe)
Shawl woven with 8 identical jaspe panels or labores


Somewhere around 16 labores of the width of jaspe shown above can be prepared at one time. Labores may be very wide or very narrow as in the photo below. 

Examples of different sizes of ikat designs on backstrap loom woven textiles shirt and shawls
Marvin Mendoza modeling a shirt with very narrow jaspe panels in front of a display of jaspe shawls with various panel widths.


4.  Once all the labores have had their threads sectioned onto the rake the tying begins and the rake is removed. Individual bundles of thread are very tightly wrapped along the length of the labores to create the designs. In San Juan these patterns include diamonds, fish, trees, butterflies, nopales, birds, people, or abstract geometric designs among others.

Oscar Mendoza seated between stretched out labores tightly wrapping ikat (or jaspe) designs
Oscar Mendoza, the amarrado, binding the threads to create the jaspe design


A tightly wrapped ikat / jaspe design of a diamond
Tied jaspe diamond design


5.  When all the designs have been wrapped along the entire length of the labores, the whole set of threads are removed from the posts and set into the dye bath. The most common jaspe dye in San Juan is from the indigo plant creating shades of blue ranging from nearly black purple to light blue. 

Esteban Mendoza leaning on a stick in his indigo ikat dying area open fire with large pots
Esteban Mendoza dyeing the jaspe panels in indigo - another complex and lengthy process


6. At the completion of the dyeing process, the labores are hung out to dry. Once dry the bindings are removed and the labores repositioned to their original bundle, thus creating several sets of identical jaspe panels ready to be woven. At this point, a weaver will come pick up her jaspe panels from the Mendozas and then carefully place them on the warping board in the correct order for creating her particular weaving. Each thread of the labor must be carefully positioned for the woven design to appear without errors or blurriness. 

Hands inserting a finished jaspe (ikat) labore onto the warping board within the other warp threads
Cristina inserting a jaspe panel on the warping board