Creating Beauty - The Making of Your Moroccan Tribal Rug

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

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.

Women spinning wool into yarn, using simple wooden tools. Photos (left to right) : Bertrand Publishers, John Mack. Harper & Row Publishers, National Geographic

Women spinning wool into yarn, using simple wooden tools. Photos (left to right) : Bertrand Publishers, John Mack. Harper & Row Publishers, National Geographic

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

A Maroc Tribal vintage carpet

A Maroc Tribal vintage carpet

Women or their families might eventually decide to sell their carpets, yet we try never to forget the work and care that went into creating them. As far as we can, we try to buy direct from these women, and we pay them what they ask.