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THE ART OF WEAVING OF MOROCCAN BERBER RUGS

 HISTORICAL

 

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Very old, traditional weaving is still in use in many parts of the world. It remains mostly a feminine art performed on a vertical loom (high lice) or horizontal (low lice).

In Morocco, the mountain barrier formed by the High Atlas is not foreign to the identity conservation of villages where the art of weaving is one of the most precious testimonies of the past.

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From the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, the Glaoua tribe dominated an immense territory on both sides of the High Atlas. In Telouet's souk, the most beautiful and precious things were on display, including woolen clothes and fabrics and carpets. The reality of the Glaoua carpet today covers a huge region. At the beginning of the last century, the merchants described as Glaoua all the carpets that came from Telouet and the souks of the different tribes under his control.

The traditional Berber loom is so rudimentary that it has no name; it is called "azetta" (the chain).

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Aït Hadiddou weaving loom (1937-1939)

Nowadays, weaving has retained all its symbolic value even if the synthetic is widely worn. The women, however busy, continue to weave for the house, for the marriage of their daughters and for men. Weaving embodies life, death, virginity and male impotence, but it is above all the mirror of the earth.

A feminine tradition

All the villagers, young or old, wealthy or modest, know the weaving. In the past, the early marriage of girls between the ages of 8 and 13 required an even earlier initiation into domestic tasks.

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Transmission from mother to daughter

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Weaving is a big part of women's lives. However, it is forbidden on certain days like Friday (day of prayer), Eid el Kbir (feast of sacrifice) and the day of the birth of the prophet.

Weaving from shearing to confection

The work of women begins well before the construction of the craft ("mrma") and the making of the fabric. Weaving is considered by women as a demanding duty. All weaving started must be completed shortly.

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The tools of the weavers, combs, cardes, cattails, baskets, are personal and do not lend themselves; they often come from the past and constitute a legacy by embodying filiation by women.

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Cardes, comb and spindle

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In the spring, shearing sheep and buying woolen fleeces belong to men. Simple scissors replace the little billhook ("imgr") and the knife that the Jews of the village made and sold to the peasants in the past. This is the opportunity to ask for the "tiwizi", the collective help that reminds the links of the community. In a stone-lined enclosure, villagers immobilize the animal lying on its side with a strong bond. They sing magic formulas to attract the "baraka" (divine blessing) on the fleece.

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The cycle of weaving, strictly feminine, can begin.

The women sort the wool ("tadut") and rid it roughly of its impurities - twigs, etc. In some areas, they boil it in a saponaire bath to whiten it. Most often they wet it, beat it with a stick before washing it carefully in the river in a wicker basket ("taselite") which lets the water filter. To remove the ooze which permeates it, they use the leaves of a plant, the daphne ("lezzaz") that foam.

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Washing the raw wool and then dry in the sun.


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Freshly washed, placed on the floor, the wool dries in the sun and whitens. In the evening, she is placed in the domestic reserve ("khzin"). It is left for several days because the washed wool can grow.

At the end of the winter, stored wool breathes fresh air from outside. It's time to build the loom.

Women sitting on the floor carding to work the weft yarn that must be durable. They work the shortest and most curly fibers with two wooden planks studded with nails ("imchdn") called "cardes" which they hold by the handle and which they animate in an energetic movement of back and forth .

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Long fibers for the warp of the fabric are combed. To form it, they face two combs ("imchdn n tzrzt") which vigorously separate the wool held captive from their metal teeth. They pull foamy bands from the comb that they wedge with their feet.

 

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The spinner knows perfectly the wool she shapes as she pleases. A male garment that needs to be waterproof requires a very fine weave. A blanket is content with a thicker thread. The spinning is done at all times of the day and year. They quickly rotate with a hand a tapered wooden spindle ("izdi") in the manner of a spinning top under which they connect with the other hand a wick obtained thanks to a stopper that they roll between the thumb and the index.

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                  Spinners Aït Hadiddou (1937-1939)
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They pull in small shakes to form the outline of a thread. The stopper is motionless while the spindle turns the mass of wool into a solid thread.
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Washing the spun wool

 

The construction of the loom takes time (over an hour), skill and patience. It makes it possible to evenly tighten the warp threads constituting the width of the fabric. The first stage of warping is achieved in two ways. It consists in making the separated chain into two even and odd son plies thanks to the formation of the encroix. In a wall, the weaver plants four stakes around which she winds the threads of the chain at regular intervals in a determined order. This method allows the villager to proceed alone but is unusual in the High Atlas.Warping, like shearing sheep, is an opportunity to recall village cohesion through mutual aid.Sitting at the feet of the stakes that they stuck in the ground, distant of ten meters, the two villagers roll up and tie the thread that runs a third woman by forming a vertical chain along the stakes.

 

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Agricultural work and warping of the loom at the Aït Hadiddou (1937-1939)

It thus forms an encroix in the center and makes as many trips and returns between the stakes that they can contain rows.

 

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When the chaining is completed, the stakes are removed from the wall or the ground and replaced by reeds ("ighanimen") themselves later replaced by wooden sleepers pierced with holes at regular intervals to secure firmly the chain using a link.

 

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Once the chain is completed, it is rolled up on the upper beam and the trade is carried to the one who will watch over the completion of the work begun.

 

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Two horizontal wooden beams are supported by two vertical uprights ("timundwin"). From one to three reeds are slipped near the upper beam into the encroix. These are the large sticks that keep the warp threads parallel.

 

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Around the top beam, the entire reserve of the chain on the stakes was transferred. This unwinding beam is called "taghwsa" ("being rectilinear"). The bottom beam is winding. It contains the actual weaving. Three reeds ("ighanimn") tied together and attached to the chain at the height of the shoulders of the weaver seated at her work act as lists. They allow the alternative crossing of the two layers of son.

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The weaver sits on the back side of her future fabric. 

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With the left hand, she passes the weft thread between the two tablecloths. With the right hand she pulls the weft and so on. Above the lices are one or more reeds. By raising or lowering them, the step and the opposite step are alternately opened for the return and return of the thread or weft thread (the pick). When the reed is up, the even threads are pulled back by the bar and odd threads that remain vertical are in front.

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When the reed is lowered, it exerts pressure on the sheet of odd threads which curves while the sheet of even threads passes forward. As soon as 15-20 picks have been passed, we lightly cup them with the heavy metal comb that the villager holds by the wooden handle.

 

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 Women forge their value by the strength of their work and the skill of their hands. The wool is alive, inhabited by invisible forces. You have to touch it, feel it, understand it. The weaving is a reflection of the girl. The chain of the work, clear or tangled, is in the image of the spirit of the one who uses it. 

 Beliefs related to the loom and weaving

The loom is very personified and is not an object like the others. He is a familiar being who requires a lot of attention and respect. The villagers greet him every morning. We do not hang anything on the uprights and it is forbidden to sit on the lower beam. With the weft, we feed the chain and the frame of the trade, we give grain. "He is a living being who does not speak, who has no blood but who has a soul". The soul ("rruh") is at the intersection of the two layers of weft threads in which is slipped a reed ("aghanim") at the time of warping.

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When the latter comes out, it is considered that "the loom is dead and it must be redone".

 Weaving embodies both virginity and male impotence as well as death and birth. The reeds used with the loom are also used in marriage, birth and circumcision but are also used to set the size of a shroud. The reed protects the one who uses it best. The husband can enjoy his favors as he can be a victim when women use him against him like a magic wand. It is also associated with fertility and birth. Villagers sometimes throw her in the water to find out if they are expecting a child. As soon as the job is dismantled, the pregnant woman can seize one of the reeds and run to the front door. She will give birth to a girl if she meets a woman and a boy if his eyes are on a man.

When spinning, it is said that the spindle is a magic tool that turns a mass of wool into a solid thread of religious beliefs; it hangs on the neck of cows that have calved and are the prey of the invisible.

There is a lot of mystery and strange virtues in wool. From a fleece, she becomes a thread and a thread she becomes a garment; it is white, auspicious color; she participates in the "baraka" of the sheep and the ram. A wool flake passed through the cap is sufficient to protect the spinner. A piece of wool is tied to the paw of the mule, the mare, or the tail of the cow just bought to draw the blessing on them. At the Aït Hadiddou, on the morning of the wedding, a woolen thread is wrapped around the bride's fingers. The husband will run it at night.

During warping, one can not hinder the assembly of the craft without offending the geniuses that protect it. The space of the warping is sacred, to cross it would be to flout it. In these threads there are so many fatalities that are knotted together if the Devil interferes. It's usually an old woman who runs it and goes back and forth with the ball. "Old woman, worse than Satan," puts him to flight.

Standing vertically, the loom must not leave its place under any circumstances. A weaving in progress can not enter a house without seriously threatening the lives of its inhabitants. But in case of absolute necessity propitiatory rites can ward off bad luck provided that the unfinished work avoids the threshold and enters the terrace or the window. It must not affect the pace of the front door.

The comb has magical virtues; it is used especially to know the thoughts of the one who has been absent for a long time.

The loom must be handled with care. If passing a hand through one of the tablecloths, someone will die. When the weavers work in pairs, one introduces the thread on one side and the other on the other; if the threads, too short, leave a space between them, it is "a shroud". Once the craft is trained, the girl sneaks in the presence of his mother in the passage left by the warp and the amounts. Thus the villager appropriates the virginity of the child who will have to make the opposite way on the eve of his wedding to break the spell. The narrow passage of the loom should not be soiled. The little boy who borrows it must make the opposite course or the curse could hit him helpless if evil words were to be pronounced at the same time.

The forbidden must be respected. Children are sometimes reminded of the story of this imprudent donkey that was thrown by his mistress into a precipice after hitting the warp. A rooster or chicken that would cross this sacred space would be slaughtered and eaten on the field "so that the owner of the weaving does not die".

When a dying man has been in agony for a long time, it is because his soul has trouble detaching himself. He is then passed over the body a beam with his warp cut for him "facilitate death".

The end of weaving is always a pain "because it's like a human being"; "It is tied to the heart and when cut it is like killing it".

The weaving, sacred, is strictly personal. Offending him may bring misfortune to his addressee. There is a story that says that a stranger from afar abused the trust of a family. After taking advantage of the hospitality offered to him, he seized the burnous that the hostess had woven for her son, of whom he called himself the friend. The flight of the burnous caused a lot of excitement within the group. The woven garment is the double of its owner and embodies the memory. Often inherited from his father, he is part of his treasure, stored in the reserve. The weaving in progress grows in the light but it is in strict intimacy, safe from men's eyes that women separate him from his frame: "We are afraid that they will die if they see his finishing"; "they may die by iron".

At the end of her work, the villager puts water in a bowl, soaks the comb ("taska") several times and strikes one last time over the entire length of the last two weft threads that she has passed together. Then for the sake of protection, to remove the geniuses who hate it, it breaks a block of salt at both ends of the beam of the sky. At the same time, she chants the blessing formula of the "qabla" (traditional birth attendant) before physically separating the mother from the child as if the breakage of the threads of the fabric recalled that of the umbilical cord. With the knife she has sharpened on a stone, she cuts the warp threads so as to form 3, 6 or 7 openings which are the "doors of Paradise". Then she completely separates the fabric from its upper support, which keeps the fringes loaded with a strong baraka. She places the wrapped work on the ground and dismantles the rest of the work by cutting the links that hold together the pieces that compose it (horizontal beams, vertical uprights). The sacred water left in the bowl is the life of the carpet. We then drink the plants that absorb his soul.

The links between weaving and the earth

The weaving is the testimony of the material wealth, it is therefore the mirror of the reserve, embodying the size of the herd or the money necessary for the purchase of the wool. The carpets, blankets and woolen clothes are neatly arranged in the most visited room to be always ready to unfold in honor of the guests. The woven pieces testify to the quality of the girl and her ardor to the task.

But the prestige brought by the weaving is not the only reason for its maintenance. Women, custodians of customs, perpetuate it according to oral tradition: "The daughter of the Prophet invented the first loom in the region". Thus the loom is "of divine essence and its golden tools are descended from the sky." The cloth, which the Prophet's daughter had begun before her death, is still placed at her home in Mecca. damage, there would be no more baraka in the weaving ".

Weaving brings together local beliefs deeply rooted in the environment and its link to the land is strong. It is the laborers who have learned and passed on to women the necessary patience. Weaving embodies the family and the common fruit of the efforts like the field. In the domestic space, it reflects the feminine masculine family cohesion from outside. "Two plows in the same field and two looms under one roof bring misfortune into a family". A housewife can not tolerate such a thing without putting her life in danger. Indeed, "if two looms are in the same house, we are afraid that the hostess will die and a second woman will replace her".

 

Author:  J.Rodi

 

 

 

 


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