Our guest blogger shares what she learned on her travels about rugs in Morocco.
Meet our pal Brandy O, an intrepid decorator who naturally focused on rugs in Morocco because she sews pillows, bedding, window treatments, and does macho headboard upholstery as well. Brandy has a penchant for French antiques, ice cream, and travel. She lives in Texas with her family and four “fuzzballs” (one conveniently happens to match the color of her floor!)
For my birthday this year my sweet husband whisked me away for two romantic weeks in Morocco. To say I was excited was an understatement. I was ecstatic about journeying to a country famous for the vibrant, handmade rugs I was so eager to learn about like the kilims hanging in the souk at Fez [top].
We hired a local and well-educated Berber man to be our tour guide for four days. He was to pick us up in the exotic city of Marrakesh and transport us through the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert, where we would ride camels over the sand dunes and sleep in tents. Later, he would take us north to the cultural epicenter and royal city of Fez. As luck would have it, this Berber guide was a carpet dealer in his former life. Four days traversing Morocco in a SUV, with a chatty stranger, was my fortuitous opportunity to tap into his rug knowledge.
Rugs are typically made by women in rural Morocco and they communicate some of the most complex messages in the world of textiles. Just look at the complexity of the gorgeous Rabati rug in the Dar Batha museum at Fez (above). The women are expected to make them at various points in their lives. For example, one would be created specifically for a dowry, with an infusion of the weaver’s personality into the brilliant colors and patterns and symbols expressing hope for health and married life. She could also illustrate stories about fertility and birth, rural life, nature, spirituality, and her other beliefs.
Rugs serve as a means of communication to be translated by her family and tribal neighbors. The very best handiwork often occupies a place in village life and is extolled for special occasions. The pale rose background on an antique Rabati rug in a Merzouga museum feels very feminine.
I noticed and learned that most of these rugs have fringe at one end only. This is a demonstration by the weaver that her “life’s story” is not complete. To finish off both ends would be superstitiously foreboding.
Many weavers believe that rugs have powers of protection for themselves and their families. Almost all of the rugs I saw had a prominently placed motif for the purpose of warding off the envious “Evil Eye.” Common in Islamic tradition, the “Hand of Fatima,” is a protective symbol which, in rug language, is often depicted by crosses, right angles, diagonals, triangles, or diamond-like shapes.
Color is important because various tribes prefer certain hues. Natural dyes are usually found in textiles which are 70 years and older. Iron sulphate (black) was used, as well as indigo (dark blue), henna, cochineal (red), almond leaves, and cow urine (dark yellow). However, most of the rugs that I found hanging in the souqs were not dyed naturally but rather by artificial means. Notice the small cushion with a cover made from kilims.
These carpets were hanging ouside the kasbah of Ait Benhaddou. The colors are so vivid, even against the terracotta wall.
I experienced firsthand the importance of these rugs when we traveled to the Sahara Desert. This is me on a camel saddle made of rugs on the dunes of Erg Chebbi. In this landscape of nomadic tribes who move their limited personal affects frequently and expeditiously, rugs were more like heavy, woven blankets made from camel hair. The rugs were layered to create saddles on our camels and provided welcome padding as we forged our bumpy way to the tents where we would sleep. I was amused to later realize that our sweaty saddles would be converted into our bedding in authentic nomad-fashion. As the temperatures dipped below freezing that night, I was surprisingly warm and grateful for my camel hair.
Some of the rugs were double-sided. One face, with its short pile and fine weave, could be used for the summer. The other, with a long pile and flexible weave, could be used for the snowy winter. These rugs often looked like shag carpets to me. They could be placed over the shoulders and had lengths of yarn, like a sparse fringe, woven along the sides. The yarn could be used to tie the carpet together and keep it from shrugging off your body. These rugs were incredibly heavy but very warm.
Aside from personal comfort, the rugs served many other domestic purposes as well – bedding, floor coverings, tent cushions, saddle blankets and saddle bags, tent dividers and flooring to keep sand out of the traditional Berber tent that were put together for us. Even the tents were draped in a camel hair weave. If it should rain out in the desert, the camel hair would swell and make the interior waterproof. During the winter the rugs are used as a floor covering and draped on the walls in one continuous piece to keep out drafts. During the scorching summers, the “walls” could be rolled up and tied to allow air circulation.
I was so impressed with those camel hair rug-blankets out in the Sahara Desert that when I got back to “civilization,” I haggled for one to take home. I picked a caramel-colored beauty with a small embellishment of indigo and henna in the center motif; it seemed to encapsulate my experience perfectly. Now back at home in Texas, snuggling in my camel hair, I am kept warm by happy memories of a distant land full of vibrant beauty and culture.
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