A family of skilled japse weavers in San Juan la Laguna
The Mendoza-Quic family is one that embodies both innovation and tradition, as they have balanced preserving their culture, incorporating new techniques, and making both traditional and modern products. They unconditionally display such warmth, patience, and openness in teaching the jaspe process to visitors who undoubtedly leave with the utmost appreciation for the product itself, as well as its symbolism and what producing it meant to each of the family member. Their love for preserving their cultural heritage through weaving is apparent and has impacted and inspired many.
They are a family of skilled japse weavers in San Juan la Laguna who all work together carrying out a different part of process to make elaborate products. Many women in the town are weavers who learn how to do so on the backstrap loom from a young age, in doing so, preserving one of the most culturally layered elements of the Maya Tz’utujil people. However, this family adds an extra intricate step called jaspe, which literally means “ancient tye dying,” to distinguish their products from traditional weavings that don’t include this step. In the jaspe process, the family ties knots in the thread that they carefully design and calculate so that intricate images will appear at the time the thread is dyed and subsequently woven into the final product.
This is a process worth understanding to truly appreciate their work and talent!
Step 1: Warping
Veronica warps the thread on the warping board, keeping count as she goes, to determine the length of the product.
Step 2: Grouping
Madgalena then counts and divides the threads into groupings , essentially “folding” the thread to prepare for the japse step. She starts on her left hand side and goes out and back. How far to the right she goes determines the width of the image and how many times determines the final width of the product.
Step 3: Japse Knot-Tying
The threads that Madgalena grouped and “folded” are then placed on this instrument where Pedro and Bartolome transmit patterns (now often done by memory) onto the thread by tying the knots. This precisely is jaspe. Because Magdalena “folded” the thread in the prior step, Pedro and Bartolome are only creating half the image with their knot-tying that will symmetrically “unfold” when later woven. These images are inspired by the culture and landscape around them, whether it be a corn field, flowers, or a woman carrying a tinaja (water jug).
Step 4: Naturally Dyeing
Clara then takes the groupings of knotted thread to be dyed, using all natural dyes made from leaves, vegetables, and barks primarily found at Lake Atitlán. Depending on the substance chosen, it sometimes requires peeling, cutting, or possibly grinding the selected substance to extract the color. The dye is prepared by boiling the water, adding some banana trunk which aids in fixing the color, and of course the leaves/vegetable/bark used for coloring. How bold and bright they want the thread to be will determine for how long they soak the thread. The freshly dyed thread is then laid out in the sun to dry.
Step 5: Backstrap Weaving
Angelica then uses the backstrap weaving loom where she weaves together the groupings of thread that were warped, divided, knotted, and then dyed. As she creates the weft, the images that were tied with knots become more and more apparent until the final product is created with its intricate representations of the culture and beauty that originally inspired the Mendoza-Quic family.
Step 6: The final product
To do this entire process takes weeks, but groups typically spend an hour seeing each step demonstrated by a family member themselves. They can all do each step of the jaspe weaving, but for harmony and efficiency, they each typically stick to mastering one step. By the end, every product has literally passed through their hands somewhere along the way to its final creation. To make the experience interactive, groups get the chance to jump in to get a taste of each step of the process.
Inspired by the jaspe weaving process as one of many forms of artisanry and tradition among the Maya Tz’utujil community, we created the Atitlán Artisanry Immersion Trip. Of course, the Mendoza-Quic family is a highlight of the itinerary.