01 Tanning colours used for leather, Fez. 02 Embroidery work of the Azemmour region. 03 The dyers’ souk in Marrakech. 04 Carpets dry in the sun, near Marrakech. 05 Flower embroidery worked in brick stitch, Tetouan region.
them – madder for dark/orange red; pomegranate and dried figs for black; tea and henna for red and sepia; and saffron, almond leaves and gordes flowers for yellow. Indigo was used until around 1910 when High Atlas weavers gained access to new chemical dyes first used by producers of city carpets in Rabat and Mediouna. Be it a Berber woman's blanket made for the weaver's own use or a commercially produced rug from a government sponsored urban weaving co-operative, tribal weaving in Morocco is predominantly the realm of women. Given this, it was a surprise to find Kacem at work on a vertical loom in his carpet workshop located near the small village of Sidi Mokhtar, the central market for the Ouled Bou Sbaa tribes. Kacem's Vente des Tapis is set against the arid desert-like landscape which defines the Plains of Marrakech. The area is inhabited by major weaving tribes of Arab descent and their work is incredibly diverse, with Middle Eastern compositions and designs dominant in some areas and completely absent in others. Kacem was twisting, twining, blending and weaving colours as artists would their paints. He is a rare and surprising combination of businessman, philosopher, artist and gardener. Brightly coloured rugs hang from the walls of his workshop in its peaceful garden of beautiful plants and roses. Many of the rugs are produced by local women, weaving at home on flexitime to meet the dual demands of family and worklife. Kacem's own weaving speaks for itself. Ahmed's Workshop in Sidi Mokhtar is a great source of commercial and handspun wool. It is visited by groups from around the world who come to learn from its women weavers. Khadija, Hasna and Rhabha, each skilled in different techniques, remain bemused by the sketchbooks which often appear with their visitors. In a country oblivious to copyright where new ideas spread like wildfire through the city souks, design development is literally in the hands of the country's skilled artisans, thinking rapidly translated in the making. A good weaver, Fatima told me, will brook no exact repetition in design but is free to create kilims and rugs full of movement, colour and detail. I met Fatima in the Middle Atlas village of Ain Leuh, market town for the Beni M'Guild tribe. “I express myself creatively in each textile that I make,” she went on, then paused, adding by way of explanation, “I am, after all, an artist.” And Matisse certainly would have agreed. ••• Ingrid Wagner