Richly coloured, beautifully woven, infinite in variety, Moroccan textiles are famous for good reason. From tough camel hair rugs and tent walls on the desert steppe to filmy organza draped romantically over an ironwork bed, these fabrics beg to be touched – and definitely photographed.
One of the first and most striking observations a traveller to Morocco makes is the number of colourful rugs that jockey for position as they’re displayed for sale outdoors, in the streets and in the markets. Hung out in the brilliant sun, the colours glow and decorate the mud walls of villages and cliff sides.
Rugs aren’t the only textile to be found in the medina. Shop windows and souks in Marrakech proudly display brilliant bright clothing, tassels, scarves, and other soft goods from leather pencil cases to babouches (genie slippers) to poufs.
Out in the desert, we’re amazed to see that Berbers continue to use their tough, thick, brown rugs (handwoven from dromedary hair, on simple home-built looms) as tent walls and roofs.
More wool blankets cover the sand floor, and in the corner, there’s a hand-built loom, on which the lady of the family – when she has “time off” from cooking, cleaning, and goat herding, can settle down to work on another weaving for her nomadic household.
Dhars and Riads, converted to small hotels, never ceased to amaze us with their beautiful displays of textiles. In the guest rooms or out on the terraces where we enjoyed morning coffee, dreamy gauzy fabrics draped around the furniture and pergolas made us feel like we’re in a magazine picture.
These guest houses also scatter berber rugs everywhere – on the cool tiled floors of every room and hallway, or on the stucco walls. They soften our steps, dampen noise and create puddles of beauty and warmth.
Such a variety of textures and colours and styles, reflecting the warmth and vivacity of the culture from whence they’re made, Morocco is all the richer for them.
Post Script: I am not sure how a traveller could leave Morocco without a suitcase full of textile souvenirs. I can’t imagine resisting their charms! If you’re reading this looking for practical tips for finding higher quality hand-made fabric items that aren’t found in the medina, I’ve a couple of suggestions for a couple of fixed-price shops that are worth visiting if you’ve got a bit more room on your credit card and in your suitcase. First, there is an artisan’s cooperative for physically disabled women that operates in the medina of Marrakech, very near the Café Arabe in rue Mouassine. They have beautiful quality table linens, linen or cotton shirts, and children’s wear, all hand-made and tastefully embroidered and finished. The artisan women themselves (most of whom are wheelchair-bound) are there working and will greet you with warm smiles. We felt absolutely no pressure to buy, and the place was a peaceful break from the noise and intensity of the busy souks outside its walls. My husband, who usually hates shopping, bought two lovely linen shirts for himself here. If you want to bring home something of quality and know that your money is actually going to the person who made the item you’re buying, we recommend this cooperative. In the coastal city of Essaouira, tucked into a little alley just inside one of the main entry gates to the medina, is a stylish little upscale shop called Histoire de Filles (facebook.com/histoiredefilles). Frankly, it’s gorgeous. This shop carries elegant and original Moroccan and French designed mens’ and women’s clothing, accessories, blankets, linens, purses, children’s wear, and toys. They also sell many fine products from Moroccan and Tunisian women’s artisan cooperatives at fair trade prices. You won’t find anything here that you usually see in the medinas all over Morocco. Everything in Histoire de Filles has that bit of extra flare and originality. You’ll definitely find a quality souvenir here that won’t look faded and kitschy after a few years. Expect to pay fixed fair trade prices here, and there is no pressure to buy. We browsed and tried on things, then returned the next day to make a couple of purchases. Highly recommended.
What makes these two shops different from most Moroccan retail experiences is that they are run and staffed by women. Women who do not push you to make purchases. It’s peaceful and there’s no pressure! An actual relaxing retail experience in Morocco is rare, and if you want one, you might try out one of these places.