Morocco is famous for its artisan handicrafts and as you wander the streets of any Moroccan medina (old city), you will see stunning examples of local leatherwork, carpets, tasseled baskets, and blankets, soft furnishings, babouche slippers, carved wood and much, much more. Moroccan style, textiles, and handicrafts have influenced major design houses and retail fashion outlets for many years, but these items have gained unprecedented popularity more recently – from the glossy pages of interior magazines and the profiles of Instagram influencers to the floors of houses and apartments across the globe.
A trip to Morocco is the ideal opportunity to source your own Moroccan handicrafts. You might want something for your homes, such as a rug or embroidered bedlinen, or something beautiful to wear, such as a bag or kaftan. The choice can, however, be overwhelming and the prospect of haggling for a good price in the souk where shops are packed floor to ceiling with beautiful items can be daunting for even the most enthusiastic shopper!
We have helped many travelers to Morocco with their purchases of gifts, souvenirs, and stunning artisan items. Here, we share our advice and expertise on buying these items directly from the artisans who produce them, with a highlight on weavers in the village of Tameslouht, in the foothills of the High Atlas mountain range.
Buying crafts from the artisans
Moroccan artisan goods make great souvenirs of your vacation that you will enjoy for many years, and there is no shortage of choice in any of Morocco’s medinas (old cities). However, most of the retail outlets in the medina source their wares from a long chain of middlemen, and the only certainty regarding the income for the original artisans is that it is minimal, once everyone has taken their share of the commission. If you are interested in supporting artisans to continue their crafts and pass them down through the generations as has been the practice for hundreds of years, it is best to go to the source. This means getting out of the cities and into the villages where weavers practice their craft.
If your trip takes you to Marrakech or through the High Atlas, you have a perfect opportunity to visit the village of Tameslouht. More accessible than some of the more remote villages further into the mountains, it is around 25km, less than one hour, from Marrakech city center, making it the perfect day trip. Alternatively, it can be a stop-off point on the route to the sights of the High Atlas Mountains such as Lalla Takerkoust lake, the river, and waterfalls of the Ourika Valley or the village of Imlil, gateway to Mount Toubkal. As well as being accessible, Tameslouht is an incredible microcosm of artisan talent and Moroccan craft heritage.
The Women weavers of Tameslouht
Creation Tameslouht was founded by Sarah, a US Peace Corps Volunteer, and Mustapha, a local man, in Tameslouht in 2012. In 2013, the women weavers with whom they work formed their own association, Creation Tameslouht. They have received support and training to manage their own affairs and develop as entrepreneur-artisans. Today the association comprises around 60 local women, providing them with support to help them reach a wider market.
The women at Creation Tameslouht produce a range of woven, embroidered, and sewn items for the home, such as blankets, cushions, and other soft furnishings. They also make beautiful items to wear and accessories, such as kaftans, jellabas, scarves, and bags. They also have several connections to other associations and cooperatives of artisans, meaning they are able to offer linens embroidered in the traditional Fassi style from the Middle Atlas, Amazigh (or Berber) rugs from surrounding High Atlas villages and much more. If you can’t visit in person, their goods are for sale on Etsy.
Art Tissage Tam – maintaining tradition and livelihoods
Art Tissage Tam is a cooperative, also in Tameslouht, which trains local men and women weavers and embroiderers in traditional handicrafts. Created in 2009, it exists to preserve the knowledge and traditions while developing them for modern tastes and new markets. Many of the artisans have been practicing their craft from a young age.
At Art Tissage Tam, it possible to see men weaving organic cotton, linen, local wools, and vegetable silk (typically made from the prickly pear cactus) on the narrow looms. The team of around 15 men uses a number of techniques to fabricate items ranging from rugs to fabrics for soft furnishings, bags, and scarves. Handwoven rug styles range from flatweaves (in a tapestry weave style, like a kilim) often made with cotton or a cotton mix to woolen pile rugs such as the famous monochrome Beni Ouirane style to hand-knotted rag rugs, known as Boucharouite.
Women at Art Tissage Tam generally undertake embroidery, sewing, and basket weaving, with tassels and pom-poms being popular adornments to homewares. Together, the women and men of Art Tissage Tam make a range of items that are steeped in the local traditions of many centuries while also being suitable for modern homes and tastes. It is possible to purchase these items at their workshop and store in Tameslouht or via their Etsy store.
The community of artisans
Because of commitments to home and family, it is often difficult for women to commute to work outside of the home. Even for men, the costs and logistics of traveling to work in low-skilled or manual work in the over-crowded cities are often less attractive than the chance to learn or develop a skill in their own village. By working from home or in a cooperative, in a network with other artisans, local people can work in a way that suits their lifestyles while benefitting from the collective support for product design, sales, and marketing. For women, weaving and sewing together help create community and a vital support network. Together as an association or cooperative, artisans are also able to offer a broader selection of products, including through e-commerce. The ability to access markets beyond the local middlemen outside of Morocco is an essential way of honoring the traditions and time which go into producing traditional crafts. Where souk salesman may compete on price and when Moroccan shoppers often seek something functional and mass-produced at a cheap price point, the ability of artisans to convey their pride, expertise, and heritage to people willing to value them is essential for their livelihoods.