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The wool rug has been around in Morocco since the Stone Age but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century when top designers from the West discovered its ‘primitive’ beauty and began using it in prestigious projects. It not only sparked the ‘Moroccan’ style interior design movement but also spawned a copycat industry of cheap Morocco rugs. Understanding its origins will help you filter out real Berber-made rugs from machine-made knockoffs.
Way before the Arabs made the move to conquer North Africa, nomadic tribes collectively called the Berbers inhabited the Atlas Mountains which has one of the harshest climates in the region especially during winter. Adapting to their environment, the Berber folks discovered they could use sheep wool to create carpets, cloaks, and sleeping mattresses that protected them from weather elements. They also added color using dyes made from fruits, leaves, and minerals.
Each tribe developed their own unique style of weaving as well as the design patterns they used. This would explain the different variants of Berber-made rugs much like Persian rugs are classified according to the city or town they were made in.
With a seemingly unquenchable demand for Moroccan artistic styles, businessmen and traders are rushing to cash in. But instead of offering genuine handmade Berber rugs, many of them opt to mass-produce rugs with Moroccan-themed designs. While it does promote Moroccan designs, experts and rug collectors believe it’s hurting not only the livelihood of Berber weavers but also the heritage of Moroccan rugs.
Fabricated Moroccan style carpets often cost less than real Morocco rugs because they’re made from synthetic materials. But they don’t last long and are usually decorative which defeats the purpose of buying a rug. Handwoven wool Moroccan rugs, on the other hand, take longer to make and uses 100% organic materials that are expensive and time consuming to produce.
And this is why like all other artisanal products throughout the world, handcrafted Morocco rugs must be preserved and protected. It takes years or even decades to perfect weaving techniques that are often closely guarded secrets passed on from one generation to the next.