Posted on June 01 2015
Hi everyone, exciting news this morning! I am the hugest (I mean hugest) fan of rugs. No room in my pad is complete without at least one, probably closer to five. Rugs enliven a space, soften it, cosify and cocoon you and what’s more they add instant pizazz.
It’s only going to fuel my serious rug addiction, but I am hugely excited to tell you that we are now collaborating with Maroc Tribal! Maroc Tribal have been my go-to rugs source forever. They’ve got a fantastic eye and spend months at a time travelling around Morocco sourcing the most beautiful authentic carpets. Now we’ve teamed up to bring you the most stunning selection ever, (even if I do say so myself).
Berber, Beni and Boucherouite might be interior design buzzwords at the mo, but these carpets have a much deeper history and cultural heritage. They’ve been important to Moroccan tribes for centuries before high street knock-offs starting popping up everywhere! I sat down with Jo, the founder of the Maroc Tribal and picked her brains about the fascinating history behind the trend.
Jo of Maroc Tribal
Hi Jo, firstly you know I’m the most massive fan of Moroccan rugs. What would you say makes them so special?
Moroccan Berber carpets are all unique, and that’s definitely part of their charm. Their special character comes from the history of the different indigenous Berber tribes who weave them. These rural tribes were very isolated until quite recently, so they all developed their own independent styles. Each piece reflects the age-old cultural traditions of that tribe, and even the individual personality of the weaver too!
I think people love their uniqueness and appreciate that this is the complete opposite of the mass-market design approach.
So can you spot the different styles of each tribe?
Yes, definitely! Colours are a big giveaway – some tribes favour exclusively black and white designs, others deep reds and aubergine purples. The tribes in warmer regions near Marrakesh use richer colours like saffron, yellow and tangerine, echoing the earth around them.
Styles vary greatly from tribe to tribe too, from loose, minimalistic designs to complex, structured creations. Post-1970s Beni Ouarain rugs can be very simple, graphic and minimalistic, and some old Azilal rugs are pared back to just a few striking shapes.
But Zaiane and Beni Mguild rugs are much more complex, and are usually full of symbols and patterns. All these patterns and motifs have special meaning too. They might look abstract but they were used as a kind of language.
That’s amazing! How would you “read” a rug then?
Well Berber tribal designs use all sorts of shapes and patterns – lozenges, stars, crosses, chevrons, rectangles, and zigzag patterns. Deciphering these they’ll often talk about fertility, childbirth, the cycle of the natural world, beliefs about bad and good influences… The weaver would often incorporate their own secrets, wishes and fears too. These were incredibly personal pieces, and each carpet tells a story, if you know what to look for!
How would these pieces have been used? Were they meant to be artwork that’s passed down, or were they always used as carpets?
Absolutely – they might be beautiful to look at, but they were always used for practical purposes. Most of the Moroccan tribespeople were semi-nomadic, so they wouldn’t lug anything around with them unless it was useful too! How they were used varied from region to region. The longest thickest carpets were actually used in cold regions as sleeping rugs. They were woven to be long and thin so that they would accommodate the whole family. These were usually woven by one woman on a narrow portable loom. Handy for harsh cold winters!
In the warmer regions, the Rehamna or Chiadma tribes tended to make thinner and silkier blankets and killims. These could be laid on the floor, worn or used as saddle-covers for mules.
The most well dressed mules ever! How were these pieces actually made?
There are a couple of techniques. The woolen carpets are skillfully and carefully woven by hand with fine hand-spun sheep’s wool. Then there’s the colourful ‘boucherouite’ rugs, which are a rag rug technique. These are amazingly inventive – they’re made with scraps of used textiles, rags of old clothes, even plastic and Lurex!
Wool was sometimes scarce or simply too expensive, but the boucherouite are a fun and enjoyable way of still producing something gorgeous. They were layered on top of more expensive carpets while the women worked or cooked, or children played. (Abi note: I have boucherouite rugs in my kitchen, so I’m clearly right on point!)
You always have the most incredible rugs. How do you find your pieces?
Thank you! There’s a lot of work behind it. My husband Mohammed spends two or three months every year in Morocco. He searches the small villages for the loveliest and specialist carpets. It’s a bit of a trek – his usual tour takes him from the Middle Atlas Mountains in the north, then east near the Algerian border, then back down to the Anti-Atlas Mountains in the south.
Mohammed was born and brought up in the mountains, and he speaks the Berber language. So he can talk with the women and families who weave the rugs and buy directly from them. This means they get the best price, our customers get the best price, and we’ve avoided intermediaries and rug dealers. Win-win for everyone!
Why do you go for vintage pieces?
For us, the very finest carpets are the older ones: they have a finesse, skill, aura and creativity we don’t see as much in new pieces. Older pieces are most lovely as women wove carefully, for themselves, and produced carpets meant to last a lifetime and to show off their skills. The carpets echoed their thoughts, beliefs, memories and their tribes’ traditions in their carpets.
The problem is that old pieces are few and far between now, as they weren’t usually passed down in Berber families. We have to work hard to find genuinely vintage pieces! But it’s definitely worth the hunt – these pieces have a patina and authenticity, and I also love to know that the rugs bear the marks of a past life lived with a Berber family. The best rugs are full of history, meaning, life, and energy.
What are your thoughts on the fact that “Berber style” rugs are currently quite trendy and replicated on the high street?
External demand for Moroccan carpets is pretty new – these used to be pieces that were nearly always created just for personal use. The difference is that when a Berber woman is creating a rug to sell, it will of course have less of a personal touch from the weaver, and much more to do with the trendiest patterns or designs that do well in the market. Newer pieces tend to be simpler, but they can still be nice – beautiful and bold. For us, we want to make sure that the women weaving these new pieces retain their skills and get a good price for their work.
Knock-offs are a different matter though! Blatant replicas from, say India and Nepal, really have nothing in common with Moroccan carpets. They are mass-produced on commercial looms, have none of the spontaneity or charm of Berber rugs, can be flat and dull and often use poor quality wool. They also make the livelihoods of the Berber tribeswomen suffer, because obviously they can’t compete on that scale.
Yep, agreed that going for the real thing is best. Is there a hey-day period for vintage Moroccan carpets?
Most of our vintage rugs date from the 50’s to the 80’s, which is definitely our favourite period! We believe the older carpets more strongly reflect age-old Berber cultural traditions, and contain more of those personal stories about fertility, the natural world, protection against evil spirits, etc. The patterns are fascinating, and the rugs are lush, thick, dramatic and well woven – simply beautiful.