Basket weavings ancient artform is continued in Morocco
Basket weaving is an ancient art form - the infant Moses was found in a basket on the river Nile. Baskets were originally used by those near water to assist when fishing, or those inland for collecting their harvest, carrying and storing.
In Morocco, there are three main countryside areas for basket weaving; the Atlas Mountains, the region around Fez and the coastal region near Essaouria. Each area has a distinctive weaving style, with reed or palm leaves used to create the baskets.
Some of BasketBasket baskets are woven in the Atlas Mountains - the weaving is done by men, in addition to farming the land around their homes in remote hamlets. During the winter months, the tracks to the farms are impassable to most vehicles. Donkeys are used throughout the year for carrying people and produce. The families are self sufficient, keeping a couple of cows and some goats, sheep and chickens. They grow wheat for flour and cocoa beans to sell.
Dwarf palm plants flourish naturally in the area, they are not cultivated, and only the young stalks are picked to use for weaving. They are laid out on the ground to dry in the hot sun during the summer months. The dried leaves are woven into long strips which are then sewn together to make the basket - starting at the base centre and sewn in numerous rounds depending on the basket size. The rim has a slight dip in the weave where it is attached to the final round.
It takes 3-6 hours to weave each basket in the weavers’ home - the more complex and larger the style, the longer time required. Rope handles are woven and sewn on if required, otherwise the baskets are collected and taken to another workshop or storage unit.
If any embroidery or cotton lining is required in the style, the baskets are taken to different areas where local seamstresses complete the necessary work.
The leather handles and trims are either goat or cow hide - the end product once the meat has been taken for food. The leather is either left plain, or darkened using cooking oil, or painted. The dark, round leather handles on a number of our basket styles, are created by using sisal and then oiled leather wrapped around. The strong twine is rubbed in bee’s wax to ensure smooth stitches can be made through the leather and palm or reed baskets.
The leather work on our baskets is sewn on by a family of four sisters and a mother-in-law who all live in the village where the baskets are stored. The ladies work at home, enabling them to earn money while caring for their families.
Life in the Moroccan countryside is hard. Weaving skills have been handed down through many generations but there is concern for the future as the young opt to leave the countryside for towns and cities where tourism or other work offers an easier lifestyle.
Happily, increasing demand for baskets as a stylish and environmentally friendly alternative to plastic bags in western countries is sustaining the skilled artisans who make our baskets and helping to ensure that their craft survives to provide work for the next generation of Moroccan weavers.