What exactly is the Ikat/Jaspe textile technique?

What exactly is the Ikat/Jaspe textile technique?

What exactly is the Ikat/Jaspe textile technique?

 Browse the Handmade by Friendship Bridge® store, and you’ll find many product descriptions that mention “Ikat” (ee-kaht or ai-kaht), known as “Jaspe” (hah-spay) in Spanish. But what does it mean?

Found in Santos’ Sunset Stripes Tote, Candelaria’s Tzoloj Ya' Huipil, Erika’s Handmade Travel Bags, Elena’s Rainbow Ikat Scarf, and many more Handmade items, Ikat is an age-old elaborate technique well known among the Indigenous Maya as a method for creating patterns on textiles.


Patterns in the Rainbow Ikat Scarf (left) and Sunset Stripes Tote (right) 
are examples of the Ikat technique.


While Ikat is known and created among textile communities around the world, Guatemala’s specific technique is thought to be one of the more complicated, according to textile experts, but it nonetheless is a signature style throughout the Central American country. In the department of Sololá, it is a defining element in both men's and women’s clothing. It is also commonly found in the fabric used for corté—traditional Guatemalan women’s skirts.

The Tzoloj Ya’ huipil features Ikat/Jaspe technique in the bodice of the blouse.


The Ikat process

To create Ikat patterns, yarn used for weaving is first wrapped tightly and tied with thread before it is dyed and woven into fabric. It’s similar to tie-dying a T-shirt using rubber bands, only much more complicated. The process begins with taking the yarn from the skein and winding it around a bobbin that holds the yarn neatly so it can be “warped” (strung vertically over the loom).

Santos prepares yarn for tying. 

Next, the yarn is stretched out to the length that the finished fabric will be. Then, strands of yarn are counted, tied and knotted together in bundles before dyeing. Threads can be bundled in different thicknesses and knotted at varying distances to create a vast range of unique designs. 

Then, the yarns are dyed. After the dyed yarn dries, the threads are untied and unbundled. The dye won’t have penetrated the places in which the bundles are tied—this is where the patterns form. After the untying process, the yarn is placed on the loom very carefully so that the design remains intact, and is woven into fabric.

The book Traditional Weavers of Guatemala by Deborah Chandler and Teresa Cordón depicts the Ikat process. Photography by Joe Coca.

Ikat Weavers in Guatemala

In many Guatemalan families who are skilled in Ikat techniques, different family members might specialize in different parts of the process. Some might prepare the yarn for tying while others know just how to position the knots and ties to achieve specific patterns. 

Santos runs her textile business in Chuacruz, Sololá.

Using multiple colors of yarn to begin with will yield more color in the Ikat designs after the yarn is dyed, but there is also a newer, more efficient way that some weavers add color: After the yarn is tied, they might inject different colors of dye underneath the tied sections using a syringe. These tightly wrapped sections won’t be penetrated by the dyeing process afterward.


An artisan injects dye with a syringe underneath a tied section of yarn (upper right). 
Photography by Joe Coca, Traditional Weavers of Guatemala.

In Santos’ family, one of our artisans who is skilled in the Ikat technique, her mother began teaching her to weave when she was seven years old. Today, four generations of women—her grandmother, mother, Santos herself, and her daughter—all work together in support of her textile business. Her daughter Sandra hopes to take over the business someday, so that the art of the Ikat technique and traditional Guatemalan textile production can continue. 

Santos displays a completed Ikat textile. 


Help ensure that this ancient Indigenous technique is not lost by shopping for Jaspe or Ikat products in our online store!