It was 6:00 a.m. in Marrakech, and I could hear an adventure calling my name. Birds were already chirping, and while this pre-dawn wake-up call could have been brutally cold in February, it was actually quite pleasant here. I had a car ride with the founders of the Moroccan rug label Babakech ahead of me. We were driving out into the Atlas Mountains to meet the women who weave traditionally handcrafted rugs and to see the washing and drying process that takes place before each piece is shipped off to its new owner's home.
We set out on our road trip to see how it all comes together firsthand. We arrived in Ouirgane after the sun had finally risen. It was a tiny village in the Atlas Mountains' foothills. It is the location of several Berber villages in the region. The weaving workshop is located in this location, across the street from a small school. Babakech now collaborates with a diverse group of local women weavers from across the Atlas Mountains who have dedicated themselves to preserving the tradition while also making a profit.
The weaving workshop was quiet except for the whispers of the smiling women and the hammering sound of metal combs used to push down and secure each row of knots tied on the loom. There were four looms, each with two to three women seated in front of it. I took a seat next to a woman wearing a traditional tunic and matching hijab on one of the wooden benches. You could tell she was focused on her work by the look on her face. A certain flow begins when her fingers begin to work.
It's worth noting that the woman and her fellow weavers create the rug entirely from their imaginations. Their knowledge of where the lines and shapes begin and end is solely instinctual, a skill passed down from their Berber mothers and grandmothers. One rug was deep black and ivory, with traditional diamond patterns that were imperfect. Another was a bright red weaved like a painting. The yarn is all hand-dyed and hand-spun from premium raw wool. Following the yarn survey, they began to measure the halfway finished rugs on the looms—most were precise. The women weavers continued to measure and ensure that the black was dark enough for one client while checking the remaining looms in the area.
The sun was setting as we arrived at a nearby river valley where the washing and drying is done. A herd of sheep and goats marched to their shed near the driveway. After weaving, each rug is brought here to be thoroughly washed with water, brushed with brooms, back torched to ensure the yearns stick, and finally hung out to dry in Morocco's scorching sun.
The weavers were still examining all of the rugs, touching the freshly washed surfaces, measuring the dimensions, and updating the documentation of current orders as the moon rose in a lavender sky. They then decided which rugs would be shipped to Marrakech and which would be left to dry.