Guatemalan Weaving To Dye For

warp-faced jaspé cloth  
This warp-faced jaspé cloth shows local plants,
people or dolls, and mountains, all important aspects
of the local culture. Photo by Joe Coca.

When Deborah Chandler first showed me pieces of fabric with jaspé designs, my mind was more than a little bit blown. The Guatemalan version of resist dyeing generally called ikat is worked not only in the warp but also in the weft—in some cases on the same piece of fabric.


The iconography of Guatemalan jaspé includes corn and palm plants, birds, water jugs, and people, along with geometric designs. At first, the warp-faced fabric seemed more straightforward; once the threads are arranged in the simple backstrap loom, the motif just takes shape as the fabric is woven. But as Deb explained to me, the process of dyeing the pattern threads and then rearranging them before warping the loom is a process so intricate that it took her years to understand completely. (Since Deb is an expert weaver—she literally wrote the book on it—I suspect it will take me a while to begin to understand.)

  Winding the yarn for jaspe
  As the yarn is wound, it travels
from the first position to the last
position on the reel, then back
again.  Photo by Linda Ligon.

In this issue of Colorways, Deborah explains the process of creating jaspé designs in the weft of a cloth. How, I wondered, could dyed thread wound up in bobbin form ever form a predictable pattern when passed back and forth across a loom? With careful planning and a little fudging. The yarns for the weft are wound back and forth onto a reel of a specific diameter, then tied with resists and dyed, often more than once. The warp is sett to a width a bit less than the circumference of the reel, and when the weft crosses it, the bobbin unrolls in the preplanned pattern.

Because the tension can’t be precisely the same in an entire weft (one long enough to make a useful piece of cloth), the weavers do make adjustments to keep the designs lined up, leaving little loops of weft at the edges to be tucked in or cut off later on.

Deborah explains the process in much more detail in her article, which includes illustrations and images as well as animations to help you envision how this painstaking process works. Her article is just one of the pieces on resist dyeing in this issue of Colorways, which also includes profiles of two remarkable weavers, natural dyes from unusual sources, and amazing ideas for coloring your cloth. Download the new issue of Colorways today and enrich your own explorations in color.


Anne Merrow

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