I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and I’ve challenged myself to take some sort of fibre or textile class wherever I can. Last week, I was lucky to learn how to weave a traditional Berber carpet from Fatima, a master weaver, who founded the El Wifak Carpet Cooperative in the Ensemble Artisanal.
In Morocco, carpets are beautiful and everywhere! They’re multi-purpose — used as rugs on floors, as wall coverings, stitched into cushion covers, and even used as blankets. I was so excited to learn how they were designed and woven.
I’ve done a little bit of weaving on a rehabbed floor loom. Learning how to weave was really hard — there is so much terminology, so many calculations, and so few online resources. But after spending an afternoon with Fatima and the women in the cooperative, I wish I’d learned to weave the Moroccan way! I found the process much more free, light-hearted, and connected to the raw materials.
The looms are dressed vertically, like a tapestry loom. Bits of wool are hand-knotted between the warp strings, with the fluffy ends facing the front. Unlike a floor loom, there is no beater to press down the weft. Instead, a metal comb is used to beat down each row and cotton weft strings are woven amongst the knots to provide extra stability.
Like almost all needlework projects, the weaving designs are charted on graph paper and then transferred row by row. The cooperative collects traditional carpet designs from all around Morocco, constantly modifying the colors, yarns, and proportions so that each rug is totally unique.
The design is worked across the carpet — row by row — design first, then background filled it. This is very similar to needlepoint, when you stitch the detail bits first and then fill in empty sections with a basketweave background.
Each large carpet takes about two months of handwork to complete. Each woman can weave about 6 inches per day. This is much slower than flat weaving on a floor loom, but the process allows for a lot more improv and creativity along the way. The handwoven carpets are absolutely stunning.
One of the more surprising things I learned is that some of the more complex designs weren’t actually woven, they were embroidered on after the carpet was pulled off the loom. Often, the embroidery threads were of precious fibers like silk and metal. The silver sequins that are iconic on Moroccan wedding blankets are also stitched on after.
After I left the workshop, I was swamped with ideas for embellishing my own plain woven fabric and charting new Moroccan-inspired designs. Can’t wait to get started :)