Amazigh Textiles in Morocco
Weaving Technique


Introduction
Background
Weaving Technique
Imagery and Motifs
Female Context
References

 


Colors
The colors of Berber weavings are typically bright in contrast to the dark interiors that characterize the regional Moroccan architecture (Jereb 44). Red is often the dominant color, but designs often incorporate tan, brown, black, purple, white, blue, green, and yellow. The five colors of red, green, yellow, white, and black/purple are used throughout Amazigh textiles and are associated with the natural life cycle and fertility (Becker 37). Until the nineteenth century, when synthetic dyes became more readily available, the deeply saturated colors came from natural sources (Briggs, et al.). Vegetables and minerals provided the materials for the dying process. “Indigo was used for blues and greens, madder root for red, pomegranate skins for black, saffron and almond leaves for yellow, and tea, henna and a variety of indigenous plants for red-brown earth tones” (Jereb 48). Some weavers also use a tie-dying technique, weaving cotton strips into their woolen articles that don’t absorb the dyes. Black, red, brown, and yellow colors predominate in these headscarves and belts (Gillow 138). Today, most Imaghizen obtain their chemical-based dyes at local markets.

Some garments have specific color patterns, such as the white woolen headcloths worn by Berber women in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. These white garments are adorned with patches of henna brown that provide spiritual protection, in the same way as their strategically placed tattoos (Gillow 119). White wool is often used for men wishing to emphasize their piety, virtue, and honesty. This is why white is the traditional color of those performing Friday prayers at the mosque (Becker 41-42).

Adrar woman's headcloth, Ida ou Nadif, central Anti-Atlas
Adrar woman’s headcloth, Ida ou Nadif, central Anti-Atlas
(Source: Gillow 119)

Materials
The primary weaving material is always sheep’s wool; though often times other fibers will be added in small amounts, such as goat hair, cotton, silk, and rayon (increasingly in modern times). Weavers sometimes embellish their work with sequins, shells, or glass beads (Jereb 52). This emphasis on sheep’s wool is because of its ready availability; the Berber economy is focused largely on sheep herding. Camel wool may also be incorporated. The livestock provides meat, milk, and wool, the basis of self-sufficiency (Becker 17). Animal wool requires a lot of pretreatment before it can be woven. First, it must be washed, then carded, then spun, and then finally dyed before it can be placed on the loom (Becker 20-22). The process of placing the warp threads onto the loom takes three or four women in itself.

Process
The loom used broadly throughout the Maghrib by Berbers is referred to as a vertical single-heddle loom. It is composed of two vertical posts, which are set into the ground, with cross bars joined at top and bottom. Men generally perform the assembly of the loom, but once constructed it is fairly portable and efficiently small (Gillow 113). The warp threads are wound around the vertical posts and a heddle rod is attached. No shuttle is used typically; the weft is passed by hand. Constant combing creates a weft-faced fabric (Gillow 113). There is a distinct front and back to each side, with knots covering the back face (Jereb 52). Some knotting and weaving techniques have come from the Middle East, while some styles are completely unique to a handful of Amazigh tribes. Various textures are often used in the same piece by using knotted pile and flatweave techniques (Briggs, et al.). Knotted pile (as in the saddle rug below) has an impressive textured effect, but uses much more wool; the wool of nine sheep would go into a single yard of the fabric.

Saddle Rug, Ait Tamassine, Ait Ouaouzguite (Berber) peoples, 1930s
Saddle Rug, Ait Tamassine, Ait Ouaouzguite (Berber) peoples, 1930s
(Source: Briggs, et al. http://www.nmafa.si.edu/exhibits/fabric/1998-82.html)

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