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Guatemalan Textiles: What is jaspe and how is it made?

by Thomas Tolles for Nim Po't Article published in the Guatemala Weekly, June 14-20, 1997 Contributed by Global Village Import in Portland, Oregon

jaspe fabric

Tie-dyed (jaspe) threads are so common in Guatemala that they are often seen as characteristic of all textiles produced in this country. Though most commonly associated with foot-treadle loom production, that is, for the production of skirts and shawls, it is not uncommon to find jaspe bundles for sale in the market. These are used by women to produce various utility cloths on back-strap looms.

The process is complicated. It involves the gathering of a specified number of threads into large bundles, which are then tied tightly at established intervals so that when immersed in a dye solution the colorant will not penetrate the wrapped threads. Thus it is negative design, or resist technology. Depending on the number of bundles, the resulting designs can range from the simple checked patterns to complicated figures. Simple designs will employ a single bundle (cordel), while more complicated designs may require thirty bundles.

Though it is possible to make jaspe in colors, the traditional combination is a white design on blue or black background. Black is now the most common, as indigo-blue has not been consistently used for over twenty five years. There are also examples of a multicolor base, called jaspe combinado. This process is more time consuming and costly, as it is necessary to submerge each cordel in various dyes.

jaspe fabricAs a general rule only cotton is died in this fashion, though formerly in Momostenango wool was jaspe dyed for the production of blankets, and silk was used in San Pedro Sacatepequez (San Marcos).

While it is more common to find designs on the weft or on the wrap, the weavers of Salcajá have long favored a double-jaspe technique for making skirts, in which both wrap and weft feature jasped designs.

The wrap yarns for a series of skirts are often 70 yards long and must be stretched out for tying and again for the alignment after dying to ensure a regular pattern when woven. Salcajá remains the center of production, although jaspe workshops are also found scattered around the country. Even today in Salcajá it is not unusual to see threads extended along the streets or in the fields surrounding the town.

Jaspe is an artistic production which is alive today, though in the process of evolution. Formerly all the necessary tasks related to production were performed within a single workshop. For example, the dyeing of threads, etc. was undertaken by the same family or extended family. This is no longer the case, as artisans specialize.

Global Village Imports is a company located in Portland, Oregon which deals with ethnic fabrics from Guatemala and Thailand. Check their web page at: http://www.GlobalFabric.com/~gvi/ or write to their e-mail address: sales@GlobalFabric.com

To contact Martine about classes or lectures, write to Housefiber@hotmail.com

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