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Moroccan Wool Rugs

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oroccan wool rugs differ hugely by region and tribe as much as Persian rugs. Tribal weaving is one of Morocco's oldest traditions, and grew from the skills of Morocco's first Berber settlers who moved into the mountains and plains before the arrival of the Phoenicians and Romans.

This was before the Arabs brought Islam to the 'Magrheb' or far West. Berber and Arab tribes still undertake most domestic rural weaving.

Moroccan tribal rugs differ hugely by region and tribe. They can be colorful with fine geometric patterns - large, long, soft hanbel and kilim ; or bold, featuring old symbols and abstract motifs; or elegant and refined in delicate hues like the fine rugs from the warmer parts of southern Morocco.

Authentic rural wool rugs were, and still are, made for personal domestic use, to be used as bedding as well as floor coverings, made by women for their own families. In the cold mountains they were woven with a long pile and flexible weave, in warmer areas they feature a finer weave and shorter pile.

The best tribal rugs are individual and draw on the weaver's own experiences, weaving traditions and life. Irregularities are common and unmatched patterns were often created on purpose. Color, originality, primitive symbols and a sumptuous earthy aura mark out Moroccan tribal rugs from other weavings from around the world. Because old tribal pieces are becoming rarer, co-operatives have sprung up to supply the market with copies of old designs. Due to a recent revival of interest in Berber rugs reproductions now abound. On the whole we feel that although often of a nice quality, these cannot replicate the creativity and originality of an old tribal piece - woven for use by its owner, and created in isolation from external influences.

You may see a few pieces featuring sequins or 'śmouzouns'. Sequins were valued for their quality to reflect the glow of fire by night and bright sunlight by day and are often to be found on celebration or dowry pieces. Given the fragility of these items, it is rare for very old sequins to survive in a good state.

Old bags are desirable as their small size encouraged fine weaving and intricate detail.

Color is important in moroccan tribal weaving and certain tribes favour certain colors. Natural dyes are usually only found in items over 70-80 years old - almond leaves, cochineal, indigo, iron sulphate and cow urine were all used. Both synthetic and natural dyes fade - with older rugs you can be sure that most of the fading has already occurred. Properly used, synthetic dyes can produce just as wonderful results as poorly used natural pigments.

Tribal weaving was almost always undertaken by women, although male master weavers were active in certain tribes.

Textiles were valuable family items, many woven as wedding pieces. In poorer families they were looked after carefully as precious possessions. A good weaving served as a source of pride and brought respect to the weaver. We seek out personal, authentic moroccan tribal weavings.

There are many different types of moroccan tribal rugs - many of which we may simply refer to as a rug or a throw:

What moroccans would refer to as a carpet is typically a pile rug - with the longer pile threads forming the face of the carpet. They can be extremely thick and heavy, although soft (particularly in the mountains), or can be firm and feature a shorter pile or tuft. A whole range of colors and weaving techniques were used to create an amazing range of tribal rugs and often they feature some of the most simple and graphic designs.

Hanbel is usually used to refer to softer and larger blanket-type weavings. These can measure up to 4m and were used on the tent floor on top of basic flooring, as bedding and resting, or as tent dividers. In Morocco the word hanbel may also be used to describe what we would call a kilim.

Kilim is a word that actually refers to the way something is made -the weaving technique. Tapestry weave and flatweave are the closest terms to kilim we have. A kilim is always a weft faced fabric (with the threads forming the underside). Tribes used kilims as rugs to seat guests, tent and cottage hangings, covers on the bedding and luggage piles and on loaded mules. Kilim weaving also has been used for clothing, tent cushions and saddle-bags. Very intricate geometric patterns can be found in Moroccan kilims.

These are Moroccan shawls - woven for warmth and also for special occasions. They can be used as throws, wall hangings or light-use rugs. Beautiful white/cream women's handiras were usually woven for special events, such as weddings or as a gift, and are often decorated with small metal sequins. They are woven in natural un-dyed wool and cotton, with the cotton threads left long on the underside in horizontal sections throughout the shawl. Men's shawls may be woven in darker colors, and sometimes in un-dyed wool from black sheep.

The language of Berber weaving is some of the most complex in the world of textiles. Often when a woman wove a rug it wasn't just for her nor only for daily use. It also served as a means of communication of sorts to be 'read' by her family and neighbors. Well woven rugs occupied a place in village life, and were brought out for special occasions, weddings, fetes and fairs.

Although it is too easy to elevate the symbols and motifs in Moroccan tribal weaving to some falsely mystic level, weavings did give messages and contain important signals, thoughts and ideas. Communication in weaving can be diverse and wide ranging. It can vary from the symbols seen in tightly woven, balanced geometric kilims through to figurative motifs that appear to tell a story to the seemingly abstract asymmetric designs to be found in loose and pliable long-pile rugs. More often than not symbols make reference to the natural world, to fertility, birth and femininity, to rural life and to nature as well as to spirituality and beliefs. Many weavers believed that rugs had powers to ward off evil and used motifs to keep away spirits.


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Additional resources

Just Morocco
Importer of Moroccan rugs and kilims from the Atlass Berber tribes.


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