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Weaving Through Morocco

It was a bit of a bribe. My mother had been asking me to travel with her for about a year and for a variety of reasons it had not happened. Then she suggested a weaving tour of Morocco. Nobody knows you like your mother.

Interestingly, the weaving was the least interesting element of the trip. I know how to weave, I know how to small-batch dye, I know how yarn is carded, spun and plied. What I found fascinating was what a communal activity weaving is in Morocco, and I am going to guess, many other cultures not my own.

In the West, weaving is a largely solitary endeavor. We may take a class or belong to a guild where we are weaving with others, but we wind our warps solo and while we may enlist a friend to help us beam on, we sit alone at our looms. In Morocco we spent two days with the women of the Anzal Weaving Association and the experience could not have been more different.

The carding, spinning and plying of the wool all happens in a group, sort of as an assembly line (or, in this case, an assembly circle) with a tremendous amount of ceremony, singing and smartphones (both theirs and ours!). 


Two Moroccan women talk and laugh while winding yarn in preparation for weaving


Winding a warp takes three people and not much equipment. No fancy warping boards or warping mills here! Two metal stakes driven into the ground spaced the length of the warp did the trick. The white bits at the base of the first stake are from a sugar cube that is placed atop the first stake and broken with the first strike of the mallet, to infuse ‘sweetness'  into the weaving.


A group of Moroccan community members work together to wind a warp for weaving around metal stakes in the ground.


From there, the warp is lashed on to broad planks of wood and, in one part mysticism, one part testing for tension, a wooden dowel is rolled down the warp. If it rolls quickly, it is a good warp and will weave quickly. If it rolls slowly it will weave slowly and be problematic.


A Moroccan woman kneels on the ground to test out the quality of a warp in preparation for a new weaving. A woman rolls a wooden dowel across a prepared warp to test its quality.


The “loom” in the Association building consists of large metal uprights and clamps (secured with a shoe!) to hold the boards in place.


Three Moroccan work together to prepare a loom for weaving.
 A shoe is used to secure clamps to wooden planks constructing a loom.


We arrived when the ladies were working on a large hand-knotted rya rug. Pieces this large and this intricate require many weavers working in unison and counting warp threads correctly to make sure the desired color is knotted in the right spot. This particular rug required six women on the bench, all weaving in harmony.


Community members and visitors work together at the loom to weave a hand knotted rug.


For these women, weaving is not about the equipment but about the community — and for incredibly practical reasons. They sell their work and are often the primary earner in the household. While we certainly witnessed moments of “many bosses” in the room, they are quite cognizant that they prosper more collectively. The association or cooperative model is standard for Moroccan artisans, where resources are pooled and while each weaver is paid when her work sells, a portion of each sale is returned to the organization to pay for more materials and cover overhead that would be too costly for any single weaver.


A group of women and community members stand together laughing and smiling.


This all got me thinking, while we may not physically weave together, we are connected, through the threads of our shared interest, if nothing else. You are Gist’s community. Shukran, as they say in Morocco. Thank you. In a season of thanks and gratitude, thank you for visiting our site, supporting our business and keeping this wonderful craft alive.


About Christine Jablonski

Christine is Gist Yarn's Director of Content and Customer Experience. Through wit, relentless enthusiasm and enough knowledge to be dangerous, Christine seeks to introduce the wonders of weaving to every person possible. Put another way, she is responsible for nurturing Gist's relationships with our current designers and finding new ones to bring you engaging content and patterns that are fun to both learn and weave. She is also our resident weaving whisperer, who is happy to help demystify any pattern and answer any loom or equipment questions you might have. In addition to her duties at Gist Yarn, she is an exhibiting artist whose work has been shown in New England galleries and is held in private collections across the country. She is a contributor to Little Looms and Handwoven magazines, and the author of SoulSpace Notes, a monthly column on weaving, art and life.


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