As the taxi wound through the valley, the steep hills rise up on both sides, as if they were peering over my shoulder. Abruptly, we come upon the workshop of Jose Jimenez, who is the lead artisan at one of only a few remaining ikat workshops in all of Ecuador. Ikat is an ancient, traditional dying and weaving technique done completely by hand, but is now in danger of being lost completely.
Jose shows his obvious expertise as he walks us through each step of the ikat process- organizing the threads, blocking off sections in preparation for dying, mixing natural dyes, setting up of the backstrap loom, the weaving, and finally tying a complex series of knots which make up the fringe. He learned everything he knows from his parents and grandparents, who learned it from their parents before them, and their parents before them, stretching all the way back to the time before the arrival of Columbus.
What makes ikat unique is that the pattern is actually created before dying; achieved by tying a natural fiber from the agave plant around small sections of the yarn. The spacing and placement of the ties are incredibly precise, but the artisan works from memory following family-specific patterns. After dying, the fibers are removed leaving a small uncolored space on the thread, although they will often go through the entire process of tying and dying again to create beautiful-multicolored, wearable works of art.
As Jose sets up the dyed threads on the loom – what originally appeared to me just a random confusion of tie-dyed colors – suddenly, almost magically, appears an intricate pattern, with time-honored images of the Ecuadorian people. Each chall, the traditional shawl worn by the local indigenous people, takes about 3 days to create- an incredible investment of time, but full incredible attention to detail deserving of the effort.
The Andean Collection is proud to be supporting local artisans, like Jose, in the perseveration of traditional arts and culture. By providing access to larger markets, Jose’s children after him will have a means to continue practising the proud tradition of ikat.