women’s textiles from the moroccan anti-atlas

There is a tribal territory located in the central Anti-Atlas of southern Morocco. This region, filled with remote villages, was so isolated that until 2001 it could only be reached by truck. There, a small number of Berber women are still creating a form of textile design which, until now, has been virtually overlooked.

These textiles are weavings painted with natural dyestuff like henna and other tinctorial plants. Many of them were worn as wraps or headscarves part of the traditional women’s attire, and given to them as a wedding gift.The designs, pieces, clothes and fabrics are breathtakingly beautiful and powerfully expressive. Their motifs have an evidently magical and talismanic meaning.

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Traditional veil from the Feija tribe
Traditional veil from the Ida ou Zeddoute tribe

the different stages of production

From fleece to fabric

The sheep shearing takes place between March and April. The weavers wash, card and spin the wool to transform it into a nice thread, used for warp and weft on the weaving loom. Then the magic happens, an entirely handwoven textile appears thanks to their skilled hands.

Natural dyes for the design

The Feija and the Ida ou Zeddoute tribes use tinctorial plants for the design. They either directly draw patterns on the fabric with henna paste or dye the textiles using minimalist pleats techniques. Madder roots, walnut barks and pomegranate skins are some of the natural products used and found by the women in their surroundings.

in the footsteps of henna : the decoration & the symbols

The Anti-Atlas region of Morocco seems to be one of the few regions of the world where henna is not only used to adorn the skin or as a hair dye, but also to decorate wool textiles. The plant is cultivated in the desert oasis of southern Morocco and it is considered as the herb of paradise.

Magic signs, number combinations, squares, and ceremonial formulas rooted in holistic traditions of healing the mind, body and soul are used as ritualistic symbols in the design.

the future of women weavers

Sometimes several dye baths are necessary to obtain the desired color. Weavers needed a plentiful water supply to ensure good results. Currently, sumano is working on  introducing a new process which only requires one dye bath which saves water for the region while also respecting the intuitive nature of the process and requiring a scientific protocol.

Techniques using dyes and henna on textiles long abandoned are being revived in these remote villages. Now, women can contribute actively and improve the family’s financial position while weaving at home they can still fulfill their traditional role as guardians of family life.

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