Evaristo Borboa Casas is an 89 year old weaver from Tenancingo de Degollado in the Estado de Mexico (state of Mexico). I met him on Saturday during a whirlwind visit to four rebozo makers, most of whom work on the flying shuttle loom. Except for Evaristo! He said when he was a six-year old boy learning to weave there were over 240 back-strap loom weavers in the village. Now there are only two or three.
Evaristo is a Grand Master of Mexico Folk Art. His work is recognized and collected throughout the world. Most consider him the best and the last of the traditional jaspe weavers in Mexico. Jaspe, or ikat, is a laborious process that requires a month of yarn tying and dyeing preparation before it can be put on the loom. Putting it on the loom takes another week. Then, it can take a month or two to weave the rebozo.An intricate rebozo can sell for 12,000 to 20,000 pesos. When you convert that to dollars, a top-notch weaver might make $900 at today’s current exchange rate for the finest handmade shawl. The best rebozo weavers in Tenancingo use fine cotton thread made and dyed in Puebla, Mexico.
Evaristo does this for love, for culture and for commitment to the cloth as do the other weavers we met on our first day traveling with Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico: Fermin Escobar, Fito Garcia Diaz and Jesus Zarate.
Process to Make Ikat in Tenancingo
Evaristo tells us there are fourteen steps he uses to making a fine rebozo. I’m not sure I captured all that he explained, but I will do my best here. First he mounts the thread on a warping board and decides the length and width of the piece of cloth. Then, he separates the threads, called pepinado, with his fingers, tying each section.
Maestro Evaristo then soaks them in atole de masa (corn paste) so the threads dry to a secure hardness. He then draws the ikat (jaspe) design he wants to use on the thread. He ties and dyes the threads at the markings. With a smooth stone, he beats the threads in water to rinse out the atole paste. As each section loosens he dunks it in water 30 times.
Then, he unties the knots with a special knife and removes them from the cloth. He ties knots on the back strap loom to keep the loom threads even so they don’t move. This keeps the pattern registered, even. When on the loom, he fist makes the base and then starts the field design.
Evaristo uses 5,400 threads for the width of the rebozo. They are very fine! This is the highest number I heard during our visits to the four masters on the first day. It takes him five weeks to weave one rebozo.
Then, the cloth goes to the puntadora who ties the elaborates fringes. The more costly the cloth, the longer and finer quality the punta (fringe). Making the fringe can take two to four more months of work. A punta represents about 30% of the cost of the rebozo.
Los Amigos board member John Waddell organized this study trip. Members propose their travel idea to the board who approves the plan and a budget. The members organize trips as a membership benefit. Travelers fund their own cost to get to the destination, most meals, lodging and incidentals. The fee to LADAP includes a donation to help support Mexico’s folk artisans and special in-country projects.