Above: Berber Kilim Rug, Zemmour tribe, 1930-1940. Wool and cotton; 5’2” x 9’4”. Linear geometric designs set in horizontal bands are distinctive motifs of the Zemmour weavers. Dominating patterns of diagonal lines form zigzags and diamonds.
Below: Berber Kilim Carpet, Azrou tribe, mid-20th century. Wool and cotton; 5’2″ x 10’10”. Skip plain weaving produced this flat-weave rug used as a blanket, with underlying thick padding. It was woven to a specific size determined by the number of people who were to sleep beneath it. Courtesy of Architectural Digest May 1982.
Geometric Designs from North Africa (Continued) The practical and symbolic worlds of the hundreds of Berber tribes scattered about Morocco are touched to an extraordinary degree by the products of their looms. Eligibility for marriage is determined in part by the ability to weave beautifully, and wedding ceremonies are held upon rugs infused with the palette of wild sorrel, madder, indigo and the shells of the cochineal.
Social status can depend on the quality of these weavings, and the wool from which they are fashioned even provides a talisman considered powerful against demons and evil spells.The not just object of status and good fortune, the rugs and weavings of the Berber serve at once as the finishings of their tent and village residences and as the principal means of artistic expression in their lives.
The thick pile rugs that provide bedding for the Zaiane, and the boldly patterned flat-woven handle rugs that warm the Zemmour, do more than easing the severity of winter, they represent the continuity of ancestral decorative tradition and the highly individual creative identities of their weavers.
Geometric gypsum designs arrayed in simple rectilinear bands, or crisscrossing hatchworks filled with stylized animals, are among the many motifs worked by rural weavers in subtle earth tones or brilliant hues of crimson, beryl, ochre and saffron.
Precise centers and well-developed frames or borders may or may not be present in these often rather free and personal creations. By contrast, in the great weaving cities of Rabat and Medina designs of a more formal nature are favored, bearing a resemblance to rugs originating in Asia Minor.
It is said that these elegant urban rugs first appeared in Morocco when a stork, returning to its nest on the ramparts of the Oudaias, circled the Kasbah and dropped a fragment of carpet from its large beak. A weaver retrieved it, and, believing it to be an omen, vowed to reproduce its hitherto unknown patterns. In fact, these rugs, introduced by the Turks in the eighteenth century, soon became known as “king’s rugs,” and ever since have graced the royal apartments and rulers of Morocco.
A land of vast deserts and emerald cases shaded by ancient palms, of jagged mountains and of broad valleys blanketed by drifts of narcissus, Morocco stirs the soul, and her poetry has not been lost to those who bring life to her looms.
Whether in the rugs they create to lie beneath turquoise arches and inlaid ceilings, or in those they fashion to warm black goat-hair tents on wintry slopes, the weavers of Morocco have captured in their work the song of her gardens and the breath of her spring. – John A. Cuadrado