Creating Beauty - Weaving Moroccan Tribal Rugs

Moroccan Tribal carpets

Moroccan rural carpets have remained remarkable and authentic expressions of a dynamic tradition. While we marvel at their beauty, the  array of symbols and the use of colour, we can also take time to ponder on the complex and time consuming manner in which they were made - with such skill and hard work, using no more than pure wool from the family sheep, a simple loom, and a creative spirit, 

The Berbers were Morocco’s original inhabitants, and for thousands of years, they were isolated from external influence. The Arabs then swept into Morocco at end of the seventh century, bringing Islam to the far west of North Africa. Although we tend to think of the Berber tribes as the principal weavers of rural carpets, both the Arabs and Berbers wove carpets extensively and intermarried and mixed with each other. Only where there was great isolation did the tribes remain pretty much of Berber descent only. Strict adherence to custom gave the Berber people a strong sense of unity and has protected their culture. Wool was at the heart of most of communities, and every part of the weaving process was carried out by hand

Weaving on a very simple and small loom laid on the ground. Photo : SOAS Brunei Gallery

Weaving on a very simple and small loom laid on the ground. Photo : SOAS Brunei Gallery

Berber Traditions

Culture and traditions within each Berber community are very tribal and will differ from region to region. That’s why rugs can have such different styles, colour palettes, and weaving techniques, depending on the tribe. Livestock provided tribal peoples with wool, which they used to weave almost everything they needed – carpets for sleeping mats, clothes, tents, tent dividers, blankets, saddle bags, and mule covers. Women worked on every aspect of the process – carding and spinning the wool, dying it, and then weaving it into a carpet that radiated an enthusiastic vitality. In the last 40 years, women have increasingly bought hand-spun wool at small markets.

Sorting coloured wool. Copright National Geographic

Sorting coloured wool. Copright National Geographic

ancient weaving techniques

These rural rugs were woven on simple looms: vertical or horizontal and laid on the ground; and these wooden looms were made to be dismantled and carried from place to place. The size of the loom tended to restrict the width of the carpet to about 2 m – just about the right width for a family to sleep on. It’s very rare to find a very old carpet that’s not long and relatively narrow. 

Working outside on a vertical loom. Photo : Reuters photographer Youssef Boudla

Working outside on a vertical loom. Photo : Reuters photographer Youssef Boudla

Although Berber weaving went beyond purely practical concerns to beautiful creations, made to be treasured and admired, a harsh rural lifestyle, where textiles were used and then discarded, is not usually incompatible with carpet longevity. So if a carpet is dated as vintage and has neither wear nor damage, even henna marks and candle wax, be sceptical! We rarely come across carpets that are, say, 70 to 80 years old and are in not a fragile state and need repair. 

However, even when vintage means wear, the loveliest Berber carpets retain their deep colours and bold personalities

The search for the original and authentic Moroccan Rug

Of course we love Moroccan carpets and textiles, with their intuitive design, beautiful use of colour, and intriguing motifs and symbols!

However, the availability of genuinely old rugs is naturally limited and because there’s been such a great demand for these carpets, there are less available now than ever. Good pieces are hard to come by and finding them requires spending lots of time out in the remote villages and connecting with Berber families and knowledgeabl locals

So, what should you look for if you’re after something genuinely old, authentic and totally gorgeous?

One of our rugs in a gorgeous mid century modern style home

One of our rugs in a gorgeous mid century modern style home

size matters

In the Middle Atlas Mountains and the cold northern regions of Morocco, such as where Beni Ouarain rugs were created, carpets were woven as sleeping mats so tend to be long and narrow as well as thick and heavy. Carpets were woven both by women for everyday use and also by master weavers for wealthy families. The latter could sometimes be up to 10 meters long

In the lower regions and the milder climates, carpets were generally used as seating mats or coverings so they are lighter and the sizes are different, with long blankets as well as smaller rugs

The large western room-size formats are almost always newer carpets. If woven with care and a personal touch, and with great quality wool, these can be beautiful. We often have these rugs on our website. What matters here is that they are great quality hand spun local wool and carefully woven by skilled weavers

In addition many news rugs are passed these off as old, having been worked and washed with antique treatments to look old or washed with bleaches to make them look white. Pricing should give you a clue as to the real quality 

The best carpet will also communicate the thoughts, fears, hopes and individual expressions of the weaver, with powerful images combined in a creative harmony, often with surprises and points of interest. Just by looking at different rugs, you can often get a sense of genuine 'one-off' creativity compared to standard formats that have been copied. An old rug might be very simple, such as some cream and brown Beni Ouarain pieces, however that simplicity will be original and inspired

a past life

There’s no getting away from it. A genuinely old carpet sourced from a Berber family will have wear, probably some marks, and other signs of its past life (henna marks, candle wax). These can be signs that it is genuine. We often make restorations, and our carpets will have been washed, often more than once.  Some carpets will have been cared for very carefully and will be in better condition, others will be wonderfully worn. Search for these signs – they are one way you’ll be able to tell vintage from more contemporary

Getting ready to explore a small Berber village in the mountains

Getting ready to explore a small Berber village in the mountains

carpets piled high

You might see photos of Moroccan carpet souks in the main tourist cities such as Marrakesh, with shops piled high with carpet upon carpet. One of the reasons this is possible is because there is a thriving commercial weaving industry, with large outlets employing women to produce carpet after carpet, working in production like conditions. Many of these carpets are passed off as vintage or as individually created family pieces. It’s unlikely that they are. So just take care to ask more questions and find out how and where and how your rug was woven

Authentic Moroccan rugs and textiles are beautiful and increasingly rare. We try to ensure that the families who sell them are rewarded and recognized for their treasures. And we hope that your original rug will give you a life time of pleasure

Don't settle for anything less

An old and original pure wool rug from our current collection

An old and original pure wool rug from our current collection

Rich Red Zaiane Carpets

This is quite a personal piece, as it’s all about the carpets I knew as a boy in Morocco. Khenifra is a city in northern central Morocco, surrounded by the Middle Atlas Mountains and located on the Oum Er-Rbia River. It’s my city.

Around this region, the Zaiane Berber tribes (a confederation that consists of a dozen or more tribes) wove distinctive thick knotted pile carpets that were created to be warm and cosy. Dominated by the use of bold and blood red wool, and occasionally dark blue and brown, these were the carpets I grew up with. This also explains why our collection contains a lot of these lovely and exquisitely crafted carpets!

Two original vintage Zaiane carpets in our collection; one with a complex, overflowing design the other with undulating shades of red and small diamond moitfs

Two original vintage Zaiane carpets in our collection; one with a complex, overflowing design the other with undulating shades of red and small diamond moitfs

These lovely carpets were made to be used as bedding as well as floor coverings, which accounts for their relatively square dimensions. They are unique in that artistically the weavers saw the pile (woolly) side of the carpet as the back of the carpet, and the flat side as the front. You can see glorious and complex designs and narratives by turning the carpet over. And the pile side will often be wonderfully shaggy, slightly obscuring the composition. This is a very special design approach that I mostly only see in carpets from the Zaiane tribes.

My mum still turns her carpets over on the summer, so she can sit on the cooler, flat side when the weather is warm!

Bold red pile carpets seen in Architectural Digest (left), in Amanda Chantal Bacon's home in Venice Beach California (centre) and the Los Angeles Home OF designer Liseanne Frankfurt. Photo credits to the owners

Bold red pile carpets seen in Architectural Digest (left), in Amanda Chantal Bacon's home in Venice Beach California (centre) and the Los Angeles Home OF designer Liseanne Frankfurt. Photo credits to the owners

Originally these carpets were made for personal and domestic use by the different ethnic groups most of whom were semi-nomadic. Now most tribes are settled, yet bold graphic Zaiane rugs can still be seen in Berber homes – the pile side facing upwards in the winter for warmth.

Vintage Zaiane rugs in a Ashe + Leandro interior

Vintage Zaiane rugs in a Ashe + Leandro interior

What’s so distinct and beautiful about these red rugs is they often contain large diamond motifs, frequently with smaller and half diamonds embedded within the design. They also often feature lovely rectangular designs as the border, or have thick black or dark brown selvedges, ensuring the carpets would last many lifetimes.

A soft and glossy Zaiane rug in the Maroc Tribal collection, with an unusal unstructred design

A soft and glossy Zaiane rug in the Maroc Tribal collection, with an unusal unstructred design

I'm so proud of our collection of vintage Zaiane rugs - it feels like its a part of my own history.

Mo

Musings on Moroccan Carpets

A little while ago I was delighted to be able to showcase our carpets on the design portal; Design Addict - a meeting place for 20th century design.  At the time they interviewed me for their "personalities" blog  to discover more about Maroc Tribal, how we source carpets and about our interests!

This carpet sourcing trip starting with a bit of 'luxury!' Breakfast by my tent before the day gets going

This carpet sourcing trip starting with a bit of 'luxury!' Breakfast by my tent before the day gets going

What brought you to vintage design?

I started Maroc Tribal 10 years ago when I was travelling in Berber villages in Morocco. I’m Moroccan and I'm Berber, and I was exploring Berber culture. Since then we’ve built a reputation for our personal sourcing of hand woven vintage Moroccan carpets, rugs, tent cushions and textiles, buying direct from families: getting hold of unusual pieces. Classical modern architects such as Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto or Marcel Breuer started to appreciate Moroccan Berber carpets in about the 1920s and 30s, attracted to their minimalist, bold and abstract forms. They were displayed in the homes of collectors and design enthusiasts across Europe and North America, often championed by French collectors. I think that I was initially attracted to them for some of those same reasons, such as a rejection of figurative representation, bold colours and shapes, and an authentic spirituality

Alvar Aalto's house, with Moroccan Beni Ouarain carpts

Alvar Aalto's house, with Moroccan Beni Ouarain carpts

If you could only save one item from your personal collection, which one would it be?

I collect carpets and textiles from the Ait Bou Ichaouen tribe. These rugs were made in the east side of the Atlas mountains, over near the border with Algeria. This tribe lived in isolated lands, which had few natural resources and thus the Ait Bou Ichaouen rarely wove for the market and their isolation became their biggest strength; leading to unique creativity. So for me it would be a rare and beautiful piece from this tribe, dating back to the late 1950s

A rare Maroc Tribal Ait Bou Ichaouen carpet

A rare Maroc Tribal Ait Bou Ichaouen carpet

What's been the best decision you've made in your life so far?

To learn different languages. I spoke Arabic and Berber from childhood, received my education in French and learnt Spanish, Italian and English living in in those countries. That’s connected me to an interesting European-wide as well as global community of designers and collectors, and helped me to understand different people and perspectives. Most of our clients are based in Europe,  the US or Canada, and we're based in London, and I love the free movement of design, people, ideas and objects across many borders

Is there an item that you regret having sold, that you would have wanted to keep?

Yes, lots. When I first started Maroc Tribal, during those first years I managed to find a number of very big, very old Beni Ouarain rugs - the distinctive large white-ground pile Berber carpets with black or brown designs. Beni Ouarain weavers produced rugs and other textiles for protection against harsh winters in the highland areas. I wish I still had those pieces, as I now find it hard to get hold of original pre 1950s ‘Beni Ouarains.’ There are a lot of copies, passed off as vintage. I do source contemporary and bespoke Beni Ouarain rugs but make sure I describe them accurately. Recently I’ve been sourcing bigger, new Beni Ouarain carpets as there’s a lot of demand for them from clients who have big modern spaces to fill

A vintage Maroc Tribal Beni Ouarain carpet

A vintage Maroc Tribal Beni Ouarain carpet

In the Middle of Nowhere

There’s a word in Arabic – ‘bled’ - that very roughly can mean 'the middle of nowhere'. When I think about finding our rugs and textiles, for me that sums up where I like go!

I’ve been in the Middle Atlas mountains, working my way up towards the eastern stretches of Morocco. It’s in these mountain areas that I like to look for old, authentic Moroccan Berber rugs. Most importantly, to find artistically demanding rugs from the more remote regions

I feel lucky that I speak not only Arabic but also the Berber language. These are two very different languages! I learnt Berber when I was a teenager living in rural Morocco. I also feel lucky that I enjoy the rough travel involved in getting out into the hills and forests. During this trip I’ve slept in a hut, in my car, under a tree and in a tent. And, it has been cold. However, the kind and unlimited hospitality that Berber families show me always makes these expeditions a deep  pleasure

hut.JPG

Rising demand means that each year it gets harder to find the best pieces.  The availability is limited, particularly the gorgeous, characteristic thick creamy Beni Ouarain rugs. This year I’ve also widened our collection to include more coloured rugs – pink, aubergine, mauve, tangerine, red, brown – and  I hope you’ll love what I’ve found

We wash and repair the rugs, and usually we can let them dry in the mountain air. This takes time, but this suits me just fine as I can sit and drink a tea and eat a tagine in the shade of the trees. Nothing beats a tagine cooked slowly on smoldering embers!

It seems to me that it's a bit of a magical journey, from the Berber villages to your homes. Bringing such an independent style and depth of colour, tradition and design. I'll keep on going back to the 'bled', and I hope that what I find can in turn find a lovely second home

Some new pieces should be on the site in February! I'll keep you posted.

Design lovers delight - Azilal rugs

A special tribal carpet that was almost unknown to buyers outside of Morocco until a couple of decades ago is increasingly captivating rug buyers. Azilal carpets, which come exclusively from the area that runs from the northern stretches of the High Atlas to the southern foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains, are lustrous, almost cloth-like textiles with strong graphics and eye catching symbols, and those woven in the last twenty or so years have featured clear, bold and bright colours (earlier Azilal rugs tended to use only natural cream, brown and ash-grey colours, or other natural tints).

A colourful vintage Azilal rug from Maroc Tribal

A colourful vintage Azilal rug from Maroc Tribal

We are not sure how long ago the Berber peoples started weaving these gorgeous rugs, as so little about them has been studied or recorded. Until a few years ago, they were they woven exclusively for personal use. Compared to big, thick and finely woven statement wool carpets that were made by women to be seen by guests in communal areas, Azilal rugs were often more relaxed and carefree, and were usually reserved for family and private spaces in the home.

They are woven with fine – often silky – hand-spun wool from the region, and more recently, women have added synthetics, cotton textiles and other recycled yarns to the weave. Many are woven on a cotton or textile base, and most have an ivory or cream pure wool background on which their weavers enact their creative licence: Azilal rugs are full of carefully crafted Berber motifs, and display playful and spirited approaches to rug creation. They have a loose structure, and are pliant and flexible; however this also means that not so many really old examples of these more delicate rugs exist.

Bright Azilal rug in artist Cindy Sherman's home. Photo credit and rights Architectural Digest

Bright Azilal rug in artist Cindy Sherman's home. Photo credit and rights Architectural Digest

These rugs have attracted a great deal of attention in recent years. Their vibrant character suits contemporary homes, and they add a burst of colour, spontaneity and personality to a room. We will be introducing some more Azilals to the site over the coming weeks!

The Fascinating Symbols in Moroccan Berber Carpets

Moroccan Berber carpets are coveted for several reasons: their unique earthy character and lack of symmetry; their abstract impact; their soft hand-spun woollen pile; the creativity of their weavers; and their stunning motifs and symbols, combined to create complex messages and stories rooted in Berber rural life.

The motifs and their meanings are part of a tradition that has remained mostly independent, as Berber tribes preferred to remain isolated in their settled or semi nomadic communities.

But what do these beautiful designs signify, and how should we understand them?

Typically, designs relate to fertility, sexuality, survival, protection, and the natural world. For example, the main female symbols in Berber carpets are the lozenge, the chevron, and the X-shape. While a large single diamond could be a watchful guardian warding off evil, it could also be used to represent female attributes and fertility. An X could also be seen as a body with arms and legs spread out.

'Male' symbols in Berber rugs are usually straight and sharp, such as these twig-like motifs (left). The lozenge is a typical and much-used 'feminine' symbol (right)

'Male' symbols in Berber rugs are usually straight and sharp, such as these twig-like motifs (left). The lozenge is a typical and much-used 'feminine' symbol (right)

Male motifs tend to be straight lines, sticks, ribbons, or twig-and-ladder like symbols. These male motifs rarely appear in carpets alone, and interestingly, can often be seen on the outer edges of the carpets, with female motifs within these edges.

Meandering typically 'female' symbols fill the centre of this vintage Azilal rug, while straight and square symbols create the surrounding border

Meandering typically 'female' symbols fill the centre of this vintage Azilal rug, while straight and square symbols create the surrounding border

The meaning of many symbols has been lost over time, and although mothers and grandmothers have passed specific motifs and designs down through generations, weavers might say they simply weave what they learnt and can’t express what it means. Berber designs, even when reflecting certain tribal traditions and beliefs, were intensely personal, and to that end, they must be interpreted with care, as we simply don’t know what certain designs were intended for or how to translate them. And to do so, we would also need to understand the songs, cultures and legends of different tribes.

Berber motifs and symbols were also used in face and body tattoos

Berber motifs and symbols were also used in face and body tattoos

It’s amazing to know that some of the simple basic shapes used in Berber carpets – the lozenge, chevron, X-shape, straight line with hatching, and so on – can also be found as abstract signs in European cave art and in horn or bone, dating from 30,000 to 10,000 BC.

(There's very little quality information about the origin of the symbols used in Berber carpets, but we always turn to Berber Arts for real connoisseurship, and we loved reading Bruno Barbatti's tome 'Berber Carpets of Morocco')

 

Buying Trip to Source Original Berber Carpets

 

Mohammed (one half of Maroc Tribal) has been in Morocco since February, journeying into the Middle and High Atlas mountains to talk with villagers and family weavers, to buy the best and most beautiful vintage rural Berber carpets he can find. While he has been away (and we have a hoard of treasures to bring back!) we've been considering how hard it is to find truly original old carpets, those made just for personal and domestic use by the different ethnic groups, mainly Berber, most of whom were semi-nomadic. Berber carpets have an ancient history, and they have remained authentic expressions of a creative tradition until recently. However, with the growth of global attention on Moroccan carpets, many low quality reproductions now abound, produced for sale and export, and many shops and dealers in Morocco, particularly in the tourist centres of Marrakech, Essaouira and Tangiers, promote these new carpets as 'vintage'. 

Buying a bright carpet from a women in the Middle Atlas mountains

Buying a bright carpet from a women in the Middle Atlas mountains

As original carpets were not traded or collected in Europe in earlier periods, until the 1950s they were mostly only known and used in the places they were woven. Old pieces that no longer fulfilled their function were rarely preserved, so in reality there is a limited supply of original old pieces in Morocco, and many of the museum quality pieces are now in private or public collections. There are not many excellent examples from before the 1940s.

A clandestine 'factory' producing and aging new carpets so they can be sold as old. Harsh chemicals harm the wool

A clandestine 'factory' producing and aging new carpets so they can be sold as old. Harsh chemicals harm the wool

This makes our job both exciting and challenging! We champion genuine rural Moroccan carpets; those which have retained their authenticity. Mohammed, who speaks the Berber language as well as Arabic, spends two to three months a year deep in Berber territory, buying direct from weavers and at little markets. He travels all through the different regions to buy fine examples from different tribes. Originally the way in which these carpets were woven made them easily adaptable to any climate: in the mountain climates, they are woven with a high pile and are more loosely knotted and give protection against the cold, whereas in warmer places a lower pile and a finer weave is used as carpets are mainly for sitting and floor coverings. Working this way he can also buy direct from the women who wove the carpets, or their families, and pay them the very best price; making sure it goes direct to them and does not pass through an intermediary, who pay these families very little.

Boucherouite rugs hanging out to air. We often see a lovely carpet in someone's garden!

Boucherouite rugs hanging out to air. We often see a lovely carpet in someone's garden!

During this trip we’ve been able to find some gorgeous carpets, klims and textiles. We’ve even been able to source some very large ‘master woven’ carpets, some up to 5 meters long: these were often made for wealthy families and were regarded as extremely prestigious and served as examples and source of inspiration for other weavers. We have a super collection of cream and brown Beni Ouarain carpets, some very old, some more contemporary, and some graphic and bold, seemingly abstract carpets from the Azilal region.

Women coming to a market in the High Atlas mountains, wearing handowven shawls

Women coming to a market in the High Atlas mountains, wearing handowven shawls

We will be unveiling the new collection on the website later on in April, and we will be in touch when the new pieces are online.

Moroccan Carpets & Modernism

The appeal of oriental carpets has never been lost on artists and architects, whose imaginations have often been caught by these gorgeous weavings. However, Moroccan Berber rugs in particular maintain a special place in early & mid twentieth century Western design.

These distinctive textiles and rugs are hand crafted by various tribes of Moroccan Berber and Arab nomads and settled peoples. Berber pile, knotted, or flat-woven carpets started to attract a great deal of exposure and attention in the 1920s and 30s. They were displayed in the homes of collectors and design enthusiasts across Europe and North America, often championed by French collectors. Until that time, there was little or no demand for Moroccan carpets internationally, and they had for centuries been woven principally for personal use or local trade.

Two original mid-century Moroccan carpets from Maroc Tribal

Two original mid-century Moroccan carpets from Maroc Tribal

The rural weavings deployed a decades-old approach which was in keeping with the tenets of modern design, namely minimalist and abstract forms, bold colours and shapes, and an authentic spirituality. It was for this reason, among others, that they so successfully captured the attention of artists and architects at the beginning of the twentieth century. The rejection of figurative representation, a preference for abstraction, a spontaneous and bold character, even a lack of technical perfection: all these characteristics chimed with modernism’s pursuit of new forms of art. The energy and innovation seen in Moroccan Berber carpets, with their allusions to human life and to society, made them attractive companions and references for modernist architecture and design

Renowned designer Le Corbusier brought these carpets to the attention of others in the early twentieth century, using deep and boldly-coloured Berber rugs and flat weaves extensively in Villa La Roche in Paris (1924-25). He also showed Berber carpets in the rooms of the Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau (1925), explaining, ‘Do as the Berber do: marry imagination to the most recognisable geometry, but define the imagination’, and included these rugs in the handful of powerful decorations he used in his rooms.  Marcel Breuer is believed to have made the Bauhaus aware of Berber textiles, perhaps attracted to the visual dominance and powerful compositions of the carpets.

A contemporay shot of Alvar Aalto's Villa Mairea  

A contemporay shot of Alvar Aalto's Villa Mairea

 

In 1939, when Alvar Aalto designed Villa Mairea for the parents of Finnish architect Kristian Gullischen, it was furnished with simple yet lush cream and charcoal coloured Beni Ouarain carpets, featuring large and powerful lozenges. Famously, Frank Lloyd Wright employed giant creamy-coloured Beni Ouarain carpets in furnishing his Fallingwater house, built for the Kaufmann family at Bear Run in Pennsylvania (1939). Mid-century photos also show Charles and Ray Eames opting to use intricate geometric red, rust and orange-hued Moroccan flat-woven rugs in their Pacific Palisades, CA, home.

Charles and Ray Eames' home, with a Moroccan carpet in the foreground

Charles and Ray Eames' home, with a Moroccan carpet in the foreground

In the last 20 years, Moroccan carpets have once again attracted the attention of the international design world. Their creative use of colour and abstraction, their powerfully independent style, their small irregularities and their authentic expression of culture and beliefs continue to enrich contemporary and 20th century interiors.

Special thanks go to Jürgen Adam's Moroccan Carpets and Modern Art, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, which presents an insightful commentary on the links between modern art genres and North African textile design.

Berber pillows - little works of art

The renowned Moroccan tribal tradition of weaving has produced carpets for warmth and decoration, blankets and shawls as clothing, and kilims (knows as ‘hanbels’) for seating and as floor coverings – and it also extends to decorative and beautifully crafted tent pillows and cushions.

These little works of art were traditionally created for sleeping, lounging, and adding a little more comfort for guests, and they made a tent or Berber house cosy, warm, and gorgeously decorated. Many Berber families traditionally sat on the floor, propped up by cushions; so these woven gems were a vital part of home life.

Because of the tent cushion’s small size when compared to wide, long carpets, a weaver needed to be very skilled to create a dazzling little cushion. And since they were seen by guests, a weaver would take a lot of time to create a special work of art which showcased her craft and skills. We also often come across ‘practice cushions’ woven by young girls honing their skills – these pieces are charming and so individual.

Left, Berber cushions look striking in an industrial interior. Right, hung as works of art (from Bohemian Home)

Reflecting the design traditions and beliefs of each tribe, vintage pillows and cushions vary enormously in style and appearance – from fine and intricate geometric weavings, to soft and unusual pieces that mix patterns woven in knotted pile with a flat weave.

The cushions were normally woven as one entire piece. Halfway through her work, the weaver would change the pattern to create the design on the other side; and when her work was finished, she’d fold the weave in half and stitch it up on three sides, having created two pleasing and different designs for the front and back. If you’re thinking of buying an original Moroccan tribal tent cushion, look for a piece created in one continuous weave.

The nicest cushions were finished on the three sides with a fine knotted plait, often made of silk. Interestingly, it was men’s work to make these plaits, and most souks or village markets would have had a tradesman selling his plaited edgings. One of the oldest features of these cushions really is these finely plaited strands of silk delicately sewn onto the edges

Maroc Tribal Berber tent pillows

Weavers would fill these exquisite cushions with a variety of things – sheep’s wool, hay, and dried plants. They would be firmly stuffed and ready to decorate homes, providing snug and comfortable furniture.

Not many original tent pillows and cushions survive these days. They were well used in Berber homes and the oldest would have perhaps seen more damage than a carpet – little drops of wax or cooking oil, frayed corners, and marks. However, those that do survive are irreplaceably lovely items, full of life, charm and beauty, each telling its own tale about its creator.

We've been collecting rare and vintage Berber pillows and cushions, and now we have started to make some of these treasures available here on our website

Hunting down the original Beni Ouarain

A very special rug has been a glorious objet d’art in the decorating world for decades – and more recently, the Moroccan Beni Ouarain carpet has filtered into the mainstream as a totally chic decorative addition. These incredibly plush, large rugs bring a creative spirit, a bold and powerful design, and a spontaneous and archaic character to modern interiors.

A large Beni Ouarain carpet with lozenges in a house designed by modernist architect Alvar Aalto

A large Beni Ouarain carpet with lozenges in a house designed by modernist architect Alvar Aalto

However, ‘Beni Ouarain’ is often now used as a byword for all Moroccan black and white rugs; although, they are not the same. Sadly their growing popularity has resulted in vintage fakes, which bear few links to the tribes who first created such distinct and unique carpets – bringing little benefit to the Berber peoples of Morocco.

Beni Ouarain carpets were first woven by the Berbers of Morocco’s north-eastern Middle Atlas Mountains, and other neighbouring tribes. The 'Beni Ouarain' are in fact a confederation of seventeen Berber tribes, who are believed to have been living in the region since as far back as the 9th century. They produced these textiles for protection against the cold winters, and used carpets not as floor covers, but rather as beds and cosy sleeping mats. That is why these rugs are long, loose, thick and flexible, and relatively narrow. They are comfortable enough to wrap around one’s body for warmth during the harsh wintery nights.  

A classic Beni Ouarain carpet design usually uses different combinations of diamonds or lozenges on natural cream base with often powerfully simple graphics. However, the oldest Beni Ouarain carpets had more rich designs and were far more decorative; as time has gone by the designs have become less complex.

These carpets began to attract a great deal of attention in the 1920s and 30s – Le Corbusier, Alva Alto, and Frank Lloyd Wright used Beni Ouarain carpets. For decades, many of the oldest, the best, and the rarest examples of carpet designs have been sought out and snapped up. It’s now very difficult to find the old, original Beni Ouarains, and those which remain are rightly valuable and treasured. Other tribes in the Atlas Mountains also weave cream and black carpets, and these are often mistakenly called Beni Ouarain.

So today, factories have begun producing fakes, which can be sold at low prices. Carpets, woven by women who are usually paid very little and who use poor quality wool and dyes, are washed and artificially aged with chemicals. Sometimes the wool is dyed a bright white, damaging it in the process. 

So, how do you know if you’re buying a lovely authentic Beni Ouarain? An old and original piece will usually be long, sometimes over 4m, and relatively narrow. Also, very few vintage tribal carpets will be in perfect condition, so look out for this as a sign of authenticity. If the carpet has really been used in a Berber home it will have signs of its past life – areas of low pile, marks, restoration, little patches where candle wax has dripped, or where women have dropped a little henna dye – these are all natural and welcome signs of authenticity. Beni Ouarain weavers mainly used wool from a particular breed of sheep, and also used a specific knotting technique, which are further signs of an old original carpet.  An old piece is likely to have a spontaneous and archaic lozenge-based design, often featuring irregularities and special design touches added by the weaver just for her carpet. A carpet woven by a woman for her own use would have been crafted with care and pride, using the best wool she could afford.

Seek out the original and the authentic. It's worth the journey.

 

More is More - The Return of Colour

there are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another
— Edouard Manet

Light, creamy-hued Beni Ouarain rugs have been cropping up in hip homes, and with their simple and plain geometric patterns and colours, they suit any kind of decor. However, Moroccan tribal carpets offer so many more opportunities to ramp up the style with splashes of rich colour

Certain Moroccan Berber tribes have long preferred certain colours, usually based on nature’s inspiration, age-old traditions, and the practical needs of tribal life. In the deep central Middle Atlas mountains, for example, the Zaiane tribes weave in red, from maroon to light blood red, reflecting the colours of the deep red soil.

A bold blood red Maroc Tribal Zaiane carpet in a home in Provence. Photo Douglas Mackie

A bold blood red Maroc Tribal Zaiane carpet in a home in Provence. Photo Douglas Mackie

Deep red, soft aubergine, bold mauve and earthy brown feature gloriously in carpets from the cold central and western Middle Atlas mountain zones, available from Maroc Tribal

Deep red, soft aubergine, bold mauve and earthy brown feature gloriously in carpets from the cold central and western Middle Atlas mountain zones, available from Maroc Tribal

A dramatic splash of red in JK Place Roma hotel, Italy

A dramatic splash of red in JK Place Roma hotel, Italy

Further south we see yellows and lighter tangerines, the dyes that were easier to get hold of nearer to the coast, and echoing the lighter-hued, sun-filled environment. Over to the east, at the Saharan foothills, the Ait Bou Ichaouen peoples create rugs with a wide range of deep, bright and clear colours, as their sheep gave clean white wool able to take jewel-bright dyes. The Ait Bou Ichaouen weavers believed orange to represent gold and is included for that reason!

A moody-hued Ait Bou Ichaouen rug from Maroc Tribal in designer Abigail Ahern's house. Photo from Rue Magazine

A moody-hued Ait Bou Ichaouen rug from Maroc Tribal in designer Abigail Ahern's house. Photo from Rue Magazine

Although an uncommon colour for Berber tribes, when blue is used it is deployed dramatically, and in strong colour statements, and originally some blue dyes would have come from grinding a particular stone to a paste

Two rare Beni Mguild carpets and a lively Azilal rug with asymmetrical Berber designs

Two rare Beni Mguild carpets and a lively Azilal rug with asymmetrical Berber designs

Picture of Athena Calderon's Brooklyn Apartment. Photo Athena Calderon for Harper's BAZAAR

Picture of Athena Calderon's Brooklyn Apartment. Photo Athena Calderon for Harper's BAZAAR

Colour in Moroccan rugs, like their tribal designs, plays an important role in communicating messages, and women weaving for themselves and their families would have taken time to choose and dye harmonious, clear and gorgeous colours, weaving them with skill and an eye for beauty.  In rugs woven for the market, this charisma often disappears, as weavers use colours customers prefer, and take less time to find or create beautiful hues and meaningful colour palattes and combinations

In colour, as in everything, authenticity is all

 

 

 

Big Beautiful Beni Ouarains

You can’t open an interior design book or magazine these days without seeing glorious, creamy Beni Ouarain (or Ourain) rugs. Maybe that’s because they really do look good in nearly any context, and particularly suit mid-century and modernist interiors.  But what’s the back story to these wonderful carpets, and what’s really authentic in a market increasingly flooded with copies?

The ‘Beni Ouarain’ are a confederation of seventeen Moroccan Berber tribes, from the most north easterly part of the Middle Atlas mountains. Here you can still find the breed of sheep whose excellent wool is responsible for the quality of authentic Beni Ouarain rugs and textiles. These tribes wove for protection against winter cold in the mountains, and carpets served as thick and cosy sleeping mats, often measuring more than 6m to accommodate the whole family.

The classic Beni Ouarain carpet design has a network of diamonds or lozenges made up of relatively fine charcoal or brown lines on a white or cream background.  Borders are uncommon. The oldest documented rugs have very rich designs; richer than the more simple designs we see today.  The Beni Ouarain also produced exceptional flat weaves, where weavers were able to display all their skill in the making of women's shawls and blankets, some of the finest and technically demanding of Moroccan textiles.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto and Arne Jacobsen used these rugs in their interiors.  Le Corbusier perceived them as an enrichment of his architecture. Their combination of simplicity and creative inventiveness works well with modernism’s aesthetics, also balancing its austerity with some softness.

Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto, living room with Beni Ouarain carpets. Photo Maija Holma, Alvar Aalto Museum

Since the late 1990s weavers started to produce Beni Ouarain carpets adapted to European and American market demands, with sizes suitable to modern houses and with more marketable designs. But these designs often lack the spirit and personality of authentic tribal carpets of the past.  More recently copies have sprung up woven in India and Turkey. And even in Morocco, "antique finish" washing prepares new carpets to be sold as being old. However, only an authentic vintage Beni Ouarain carpet will display a deep earthy creativeness and special richness of design. They are now hard to find.

An original old Beni Ouarain carpet, from Maroc Tribal, with a classic 'split' design and a Berber woven word in the corner

An original old Beni Ouarain carpet, from Maroc Tribal, with a classic 'split' design and a Berber woven word in the corner

Maroc Tribal hunts down original old Beni Ouarain carpets, making direct contact with families and tribes, trying ensure we pass the maximum amount of money we can to the weavers’ families.  We have just started to commission three Berber weavers to produce carpets working to more unusual ancient designs, and we pay them directly and generously. Much more needs to be done to ensure that these designs are preserved so that the culture and lives of the artisans who make them can thrive.

Maroc Tribal - a passion for authenticity

We’re thrilled to update our collection with this new website!  Our new site also gives us a chance to share what is at the heart of Maroc Tribal’s philosophy – authenticity and originality.

Maroc Tribal has been finding original old Moroccan Berber carpets for a decade, sourcing personally from tribes in the Atlas mountains and on the wide hot plains of Morocco,   Our collection features an array of authentic Berber rugs, carpets and textiles, with a particular focus on western, central and eastern Middle Atlas carpets, white and cream Beni Ourain (or Ouarain) carpets, bold Azilal rugs and boucherouite 'rag' rugs.

Moroccan Berber carpets started to attract wider world attention in the 1920s, when Exhibitions of Moroccan art at the time attracted lovers of art deco. But it was Le Corbusier who really sparked interest: he loved the big lozenges typical of Berber carpets, and he used these carpets in a number of his buildings. In the 1930s Alvar Alto used simple cream and brown Beni Ourain carpets in his buildings in Finland; Frank Lloyd Wright used them in his iconic Fallingwater house in the USA 

Alvar Aalto's Villa Mairea, built in the 1930s

Le Courbusier's La Villa La Roche, with a Moroccan Berber carpet

The minimalist and abstract forms seen in rural Berber weavings, and their bold character, sit beautifully in modernist and mid century interiors. Moroccan carpets were always been woven mainly for personal needs or to sell locally, however, with so much interest from Europe and the USA, copies and imitations increasingly flood the market. New weaves from cooperative are worked and sold as vintage. Slowly but surely fine, natural and very personal carpets and textiles are harder and harder to find : there simply aren't enough authentic vintage pieces left

We spend two to three months each year journeying deep into Morocco, meeting with Berber families, talking to women weavers, and buying the most authentic, the best quality and the most magical vintage carpets we can find, those displaying all the uninfluenced creativity of the best Moroccan tribal carpets 

One of our friends helping to carry an old carpet down the side of the mountain in the Middle Atlas

One of our friends helping to carry an old carpet down the side of the mountain in the Middle Atlas

Here at Maroc Tribal we are happy to offer these genuine and gorgeous pieces to clients worldwide