The Evolving Ikat Tradition in Guatemala

Creating new ikat and tying techniques

 

[Editor's note: this article was co-written with Olga Reiche.]

Ikat, a Malaysian word meaning  'to knot,' is an ancient weaving technique that has been practiced in many countries for thousands of years, as far back as the 10th century in Yemen. 

Weavers in Indonesia, Thailand, Uzbekistan (Samarkand and Bukhara were important centers), Japan, and in Gujarat, India, still create intricate ikat cloth as well as in isolated places in Ecuador and Peru.  Ikat was even in vogue in 18th century France. Guatemala is one of the few areas in the world where this  intricate textile art is still being enthusiastically practiced. Here it is referred to as “jaspé.”  Jaspé was first introduced by the Spanish even though there is some evidence that the Mayas did practice a type of resist dye during the classic period, resist dyed textiles were found in the pre-Hispanic Chiptic caves of Chiapas, Mexico.

With the slow evolution of Guatemalan textiles since the late 18th century, ikat has become a real basic of the weaving culture and is used for creating both the warp (single ikat) and the weft threads (double ikat) in a design to produce the women's skirt lengths which are called “córtes.” Like many textiles in Guatemala the ikat skirts have a specific pattern, color, and size depending upon their place of origin, and a unique way of binding the threads.  These particular artisans from Santiago Atitlán are from the Tzutujíl ethnic group that is primarily known for the beautiful colored embroidered birds in their huipiles as well as in the men's traditional pants.This village, like others, has developed its own special ikat and tying tradition, and the men of the village primarily do the dyeing of the threads. 

The technique involves binding and knotting the threads to achieve a desired pattern by resisting certain colors when in the dye bath, rinsing the thread, and then un-tying the threads and “matching” the pattern of the threads with design of the envisioned end result before assembling the loom to weave the final fabric.

In 1978 an American designer Candis Krummel arrived in Santiago Atitlan to establish her home. She became involved in the  traditional way of weaving there, and she and Antonio Ramirez Sosof, a native Atitecan, founded Cojolyá, a women’s association that now involves 60 Maya Tzutujíl weavers. Candis and her family still reside in Santiago Atitlan.

The new ikat weaving designs that have been introduced into Cojolya's product line are still woven on the traditional back strap loom, and are primarily made to be sold in outside markets as a way of not only preserving the weaving tradition but to also of providing a sustainable income to the association members and their families. Beautiful ikat bags, shawls and scarves recreate these ikat motifs with a new twist and a new color palette and have helped the weavers to increase their sales and to help maintain the very special weaving tradition itself. 

To view the designs and product line, please visit, www.Cojolya.org; they are also available in the Association's Museum Store in Santiago Atitlan on the shores of Lake Atitlan, and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cojolya.

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