Falling for boucherouite rugs
On my first morning in Marrakech I explored the twisting paths snaking throughout the Medina only to fall in love at every turn of this ancient market. Hand-hammered copper sinks begged a caress, jewel-toned leather slippers with dainty heels called out to me and balloon-shaped bronze lanterns tugged at my heart. But there was never any real competition for my affection because I’d fallen under the beguiling spell of boucherouite (rag) rugs.
Boucherouites are pile rugs woven from scraps of cloth and came into common use, I was told, as a result of a wool shortage in the 1960s. The wool shortage had to do with changing socio-economic conditions as semi-nomadic Berber shepherds tended fewer sheep. What is startling, and even uplifting, is the way Berber women responded to this shortage to weave rag rugs that possess such unbridled exuberance.
My companions and I had an opportunity to meet boucherouite weavers in the Amizmiz region on the north side of the High Atlas Mountains. To find the weavers, we met Saida Cherkaoui, the leader of their Association at a designated rural crossroad. Driving her motorcycle ahead of us, her long pink djellaba (robe) billowing, we followed on narrow roads to reach the weaver’s stony compound.
Inside the compound a dozen weavers sat on long wooden benches behind several sturdy, wide looms all dressed with white cotton warps. Picking up strands of rags, about 1” x 6”, and with hands flying, they tied knots around pairs of warp threads then grabbed a short bladed knife to slice the strand to the desired length of pile. As soon as a horizontal row of knots was finished, and using longer scraps of rags, they shot a couple rows of plain weave across the warps followed by another row of knotted pile. They seemed to be of one mind for there was no cartoon guiding their placement of color.
We were invited to sit and talk and, following their lead we removed our shoes and entered a long, narrow room to sit upon cushions placed on top of well-used boucherouites. A young woman served hot mint tea and passed trays of warm bread fresh from the oven. Dipping their bread into apricot jam they good-naturedly teased one of their quiet members telling us: “don’t be fooled by her shyness: her rug patterns are wild!”
And right there—what they said about the shy one and her wild patterns—it’s why I love boucherouites. The shy one abandons any sense of artistic inhibition to pursue a vision distinctly her own. Pulling her rugs from the stack we saw designs that were expressive rifts on the use of pattern, color and scale.
Leaning back, I listened to their easy companionship and felt the familiar pull of a like-minded tenderness and knew I’d begun to fall for these women, too.
Mary Anne Wise/ rug hooker/rug weaver/CoFounder, Cultural Cloth. www.culturalcloth.com and CoFounder of the Guatemalan based ngo, Multicolores.
Recommendation: If you go to the Medina in Marrakech be sure to visit the Boucherouite Museum founded by Patrick D. Mailliard and housed in his beautifully restored riad (guest house).