Wild Beauty - Finding the original and the authentic

We (of course!) love Moroccan carpets and textiles, with their intuitive design, beautiful use of colour, and intriguing motifs and symbols

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, connecting with Berber families, as we do

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

 A vintage Beni Ouarain rug in the Frank Lloyd-Wright designed house at Fallingwater, USA

A vintage Beni Ouarain rug in the Frank Lloyd-Wright designed house at Fallingwater, USA

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. 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 some of these rugs on our website

However, many people pass these off as old, or they are forgeries that have been worked to look old with antique washes or bleached to look white. Pricing should give you a clue as to the real quality

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. The best carpet will 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

 Even the most simple vintage rugs can have a lovely asymmetry 

Even the most simple vintage rugs can have a lovely asymmetry 

Wool, cotton, Lurex …

Up in the cold northern regions, rugs were almost always woven entirely in pure wool – the pile as well as the base. They rarely had cotton bases, and cotton is used in new rugs to save money. However, in the warmer south women would  use cotton in the base, while the knots were wool. However, boucherouite rag rugs, created with scraps of re purposed textiles were woven with anything and everything! It’s not unusual to find plastic and Lurex hiding in these good looking rugs

Thick cream and charcoal rugs may have wide colour variations in the wool tones, from areas of butterscotch and dark cream through to cool ivory. This arises from the weaver using small batches of wool

A past life

There’s no getting away from it. A genuinely old carpet will have some wear, probably some marks, and maybe other signs of its past life (henna marks, candle wax). We should treasure these as a sign it is genuine. We often make restorations, and of course 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 the genuine from the reproduction

 This very old Maroc Tribal Beni Ouarain rug had a henna mark yet it brought this room in a Notting Hill, London, house to life (the henna mark is under the table!)

This very old Maroc Tribal Beni Ouarain rug had a henna mark yet it brought this room in a Notting Hill, London, house to life (the henna mark is under the table!)

Carpets piled high

You might see photos of Moroccan carpet souks in the main tourist cities 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 factory like conditions. Many of these carpets are passed off as vintage or as individually created family pieces. It’s unlikely that they are. So take care to ask more questions and find out how and where 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 original 1980s Moroccan Beni Ourain carpet at renowned designer Abigail Ahern's London home

An original 1980s Moroccan Beni Ourain carpet at renowned designer Abigail Ahern's London home

Interviewed by Design Addict

We've been showcasing our carpets on Design Addict - a meeting place for 20th century design - for a few years now.  Recently they interviewed Mo for their "personalities" blog  to discover more about Maroc Tribal and our interests!

 On a sourcing trip, in Morocco's mountains

On a sourcing trip, in Morocco's mountains

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 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

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 this rare and beautiful piece dating back to the late 1950s

 An exceptionally rare and beautiful piece dating back to the late 1950s, on our  Rare Carpets  page

An exceptionally rare and beautiful piece dating back to the late 1950s, on our Rare Carpets page

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, and we're based in London, and I love the free movement of design, people, ideas and objects across many borders

 A Maroc Tribal vintage boucherouite rug, with  Camomile London 's stylish nursery and children's bedding

A Maroc Tribal vintage boucherouite rug, with Camomile London's stylish nursery and children's bedding

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 bespoke Beni Ouarain carpet from Maroc Tribal. Photo and interior by Douglas Mackie

A bespoke Beni Ouarain carpet from Maroc Tribal. Photo and interior by Douglas Mackie

What is your favourite material?

It’s got to be wool!

Visit Design Addict for lots more information about 20th century design

 

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.

Vintage Moroccan Kilims

Moroccan rugs are still making a splash in global interior trends.  Cosy high pile fluffy rugs, created with thick knots of pure wool, have taken centre stage, especially minimalist beni ourain. Yet, Moroccan Berber tribes also created an astonishing array of different types of rugs using 'flat weave' techniques – kilims (knows as 'hanbals' in Morocco), blankets, woven floor coverings that don't have a thick knotted pile - and these are some the most stunning pieces you can find. With distinctive designs that arise from the way they were woven,  and which are often based on ordered geometric shapes or simple harmonious bands of colour, these rugs can bring inherent sense of modernity and drama to a room

 Left, a Maroc Tribal kilim that was woven as a grain bag. We opened it up to make a rug. Right, another grain bag that has been opened and is for sale 

Left, a Maroc Tribal kilim that was woven as a grain bag. We opened it up to make a rug. Right, another grain bag that has been opened and is for sale 

Moroccan Berber pastoralists and peasant farmers had a large part of their economy based around sheep breeding, and these lovely textiles, woven by women on upright looms, reflected the importance of wool for every aspect of life. This included important stages in people’s life such as wedding capes; thick shaggy shawls (known as 'handiras'); flat floor coverings for tents or homes; warm blankets; and big grain sacks that were carried on a mule, and which we now open 

 You can use handiras - shaggy wool and cotton shawls on the floor as well as on beds. They exhibit some of the finest weavin g work you can find in Morocco

You can use handiras - shaggy wool and cotton shawls on the floor as well as on beds. They exhibit some of the finest weavin g work you can find in Morocco

As with thick pile rugs, different Moroccan tribes had different vibrant weaving traditions. Some used natural dyes and dyed with henna, others used bold red,  magenta, mauve, rose, tangerine and brown. Regional differences abound, for example kilims woven in the warm south of Moroccan make abundant use of sunny yellow and saffron colours, hues not seen so much in the north. Motifs and symbols differ by region, too

 Brooklyn home of author Julia Chaplin Photo from One Kings Lane. This kilim uses warm yellow and orange alongside natural undyed dark brown 

Brooklyn home of author Julia Chaplin Photo from One Kings Lane. This kilim uses warm yellow and orange alongside natural undyed dark brown 

While many Berber flat weaves are minimal and very dramatic, others make use colour, texture and pattern in a bold and eye catching ways 

 A deep pastel kilim with a riot of motifs and weaving techniques.  Riad El Fenn in Morocco. Photo from The Lane 

A deep pastel kilim with a riot of motifs and weaving techniques.  Riad El Fenn in Morocco. Photo from The Lane 

Due to the particular weaving techniques used, strong bands of colour and bold geometric designs feature strongly, often combined with white or cream cotton to mark out the motifs. These energetic designs and colours look great with a muted interior palette 

 A Zaiane kilim used in a modern Oslo apartment with floating steel staircase. Photo from Design Hunter

A Zaiane kilim used in a modern Oslo apartment with floating steel staircase. Photo from Design Hunter

 Muted simplicty at hotel San Giorgio. Photo Stil Inspiration

Muted simplicty at hotel San Giorgio. Photo Stil Inspiration

Some of our kilims and blankets date back to the 1960s,  and all were found by us in Berber villages and markets - take a look here 

Boucherouite Rugs

Morocco is well known for beautiful and original hand woven wool rugs, made mostly by Berber tribes, with the weaving reflecting their creative independence and age-old traditions and beliefs. Since the middle the 20th century a new type of rug started to become better known, when Berber women started to make a variety of practical domestic carpets using a wider range of non wool materials, and began to use new non traditional styles for these pieces. Now it is found in some of the hippest homes. 

This is the Boucherouite rug, (pronounced boo-shay-REET), a word meaning in Arabic ‘a piece torn from used clothing’, or a ‘scrap’. Wonderfully extravagant in colour, these rugs make use of rag strips and yarns from recycled clothes, wool, cotton and even Lurex, sheets of plastic cut from grain-transport bags or packing materials, and nylon. Where original vegetable dyes were on the whole subtle and soft, the dyes in these scraps are much brighter and bolder. The rugs can feature asymmetrical patterning and free-form shapes based on the tribal symbols and motifs used in wool carpets, such as lozenge, small square and chevron shapes. 

 Lozenges, a classical female Berber symbol, are widely used in all types of Boucherouite rugs

Lozenges, a classical female Berber symbol, are widely used in all types of Boucherouite rugs

However, unlike vintage wool pile carpets, there is little regional variation in the style of Boucherouite rugs, and on the whole they are made in a similar way and with the same range of styles all over the country.

 Checkerboard motifs are commonly used in Boucherouites throughout Morocco, combined to create a huge variety of different designs

Checkerboard motifs are commonly used in Boucherouites throughout Morocco, combined to create a huge variety of different designs

They were made as very practical household items, and were often used to cover more expensive hand-made wool rugs, when families were sitting on the floor, preparing food, or for babies to play on. Like so many beautiful tribal carpets, they combine practicality with an irresistible exuberance and sense of fun and happiness. They were also created to sit on when travelling by mule or horse, and are frequently still seen as saddle covers. They are rarely very large, more commonly woven for simple every day use, yet still display a great creative vitality.

 Boucherouites are cheerfully practical items, woven as simple and bright seating rugs

Boucherouites are cheerfully practical items, woven as simple and bright seating rugs

Maroc Tribal sources handmade vintage Moroccan Boucherouite rugs, buying the best authentic pieces during expeditions into Berber villages. These lovely rugs were a beautiful and resourceful way to recycle, originally produced with little thought to sell or trade them.

Autumn Expedition - Finding Vintage Rugs

We’re on one of our big buying trips into the mountains in the north and down to the edges of the desert in the south. As usual, it is Mo who leads these lengthy expeditions, and it is he who has the best eye for the painstaking originality that is at the heart of a handmade tribal carpet’s desirability. Both Arabic and the ancient Berber language are mother tongue for him, and he speaks with weavers and their families to understand the history of each carpet he buys and to learn about the weaver and the tribe she belonged to. You’ll know that it is our style to buy Berber carpets in a very personal way, with long trips into the country, avoiding cities that are thick with carpet sharks. It also means we can pay families directly and fairly.

 A Berber friend leads us into a small village in the snow capped mounatains

A Berber friend leads us into a small village in the snow capped mounatains

What are we looking for? As poor-quality copies continue to invade the market, we are looking for the earthy evocation of true creative spirt and the finest weaving skills showcased in traditional Berber carpets. With each year that passes, this becomes harder to find. We visit different regions, where each tribe weaves a different style according to the Berber cultural traditions of that area and the weaver's own creativity. You can see this huge variation in the wide range of carpets and textiles we bring to our website. We particularly desire rugs that have been produced exclusively for personal use.

 The carpets we find are slowly brought down from the villages, along long and bumpy roads

The carpets we find are slowly brought down from the villages, along long and bumpy roads

Often, a trip means travel on a mule; at other times, we walk for hours to reach isolated Berber villages. Berber families are unfailingly welcoming and generous with what they have, always offering tea and bread and usually food and a bed for the night. Some traditional Berber homes are built with wood and mud, and with a lit stove, they are the cosiest places to spend the night.

 Carpet are repared, and some are trimmed to ensure the pile is soft and silky

Carpet are repared, and some are trimmed to ensure the pile is soft and silky

We travel back slowly from these trips, and then each carpet is carefully hand washed in water and dried in the sun. Then, the carpet undergoes any restoration that is required. Of course, it is likely that original vintage carpets that have been well-loved family items may have some damage,  little drops of wax from candles, or henna spots from where women have sat to paint their hands and feet. We repair what we can, but leave the rest as a sign of a well lived life.

 Vintage carpets are packed and then begin their journey to Maroc Tribal's base in the UK

Vintage carpets are packed and then begin their journey to Maroc Tribal's base in the UK

It can take days before we’re ready to pack each carpet and send them on to the next stage in their long lives – their journey here to London – following which they are shipped worldwide to their new owners.

 A 1950s Ait Seghrouchen tribal carpet in an Essex barn conversion

A 1950s Ait Seghrouchen tribal carpet in an Essex barn conversion