Moroccan rugs from eastern Middle Atlas

Text and Photography by José Pérez. All Rights reserved

The tribes from Eastern middle Atlas of Morocco has developed a specific weaving tradition, great carpets with long pile, main covers, fine blankets, capes, grain sacs and pillows were produced in this region since centuries ago until recent days. These Moroccan rugs, its structures, natural materials and its utilitarian uses, were related with the style of life and with the natural ambient that these people have inhabited. Dried stepes, rude mountains and fertile valleys are the landscapes where these tribes have developed its weaving tradition.

The geographic center from this region are the beautiful range of Bou Iblane mountains and the sources from Sebou river. The highlands from Bou Iblane range still preserve a small part from the primary cedar forest, but a great percentage from their extension is a very arid region, where the water is scarce and the oak forests are the main resource of these tribes.


White fiber from beldia sheep used to weave Beni Ouarain carpets

Virgin wool from Beldia sheep used to weave Beni Ouarain carpets

Bou IBlane mountains, the land from original Beni Ouarain carpets

The magnificent Bou IBlane range

The tribes that live in this region although in a superficial view have a similar weaving tradition, each one of them has its own particularities, and specific techniques, fibers, dyes and patterns. The basic fiber found in these Moroccan rugs is sheep's wool, and auxiliary fibers like silk and cotton were frecuently used in the most fine weaves like in the case of wedding capes, also in old times were used yarns from fine linen, although the quantity of examples that show this fiber on its construction is very scarce. Natural dyes were used in all these tribes until middle 20th century, being the more frequents, wild madder roots, walnut skins, pomegranate skins, wild ergues roots, henna in branchs and woad plant. The loom techniques were developed with acuraccy, knotted weaves with berber and symmetrical knot, substitution weft and weft faced plain weave are the main methods used to create their utilitarian items. Except for the production of plain weaves to manufacture "Albornozs" and "Jilabs" that they were made in horizontal looms in a few villages, all other weaves were woven in wooden vertical looms. 

Below are displayed several examples and basic descriptions from the most important groups from this region:

One of the most older Beni Ouarain rugs in the international market


The old Beni Ouarain carpets were woven with wool fiber from "Beldia" sheep, a small race with a fleece of long staple and high luster fiber. It is not a fine fiber but its luster and resiliency are perfect to weave carpets, flatwovens and textiles appropriates for the very cold winters that arrive to these mountains. A loose structure with very low density of knotting, long pile until 5-6 cm high, and minimal compositions in the designs,-mainly in the older examples- are common features in these knotted Moroccan carpets. Looped wefts weaves is a technical practique used to produce "Tilist" ( multi-function main covers ) and piled surfaces for some capes. Fine and elaborated weft substitution technique is the basic method to produce Taberdoutes ( wedding capes ). The yarns were spun in Z method, warps anf wefts were normally spun in single yarns, and the pile in the majority of examples was plied in Z2S. The use of berber knot is the main construction, although symmetrical knots are found in some pieces from Ait Iguezrane and Beni Jelidassen subtribes.
* Beni Ouarain carpet from Modern Art Rugs Gallery

Vintage Marmoucha Moroccan rug with a modern design


Marmoucha tribes have produced great carpets, grain sacs, hambels ( main covers ) and pillows. The knotted Marmoucha rugs have more dense foundation than Beni Ouarain carpets, they were woven with berber knot wrapped in two warps, and in many examples was used double weft between each row of knots. The pile was generally cut about 2-3 cm high, and in older examples, the fiber was very fine combed, producing very soft piled surfaces. Until middle 20th century figurative designs were frequents and in more recent pieces a standard design of chained lozenges with a rigid composition is more common. The yarns were spun in Z method, warps and wefts generaly are single yarns, and the pile is plied in Z2S.

Extremely rare antique Moroccan rug with figurative motives

AIT SERGROUCHEN TRIBE ( eastern group )

Ait Sergrouchen tribes are a great group with fractions in three areas from Middle Atlas range and in one area in High Atlas range. The eastern fraction of the Ait Sergrouchen tribe from middle Atlas has a very interesting weaving tradition, although its production was very small. Its older piled rugs have pictographic designs, and in the most ancient pieces its designs have early iconography. In more recent pieces, although still preserve that idea on its creations, the designs are more dense and rigid. They are also significants its fine capes, woven with weft substitution and adorned with silk tassels. Its antique pillows are also very beautiful, they were dyed with an earthy palete of colors. The wool fiber has a clear difference with the ones found on their neighbors Marmoucha and Ait Youssi tribes, it is low luster and in some cases very fine and fragile. The yarns are spun in Z method, warps and wefts are normally single yarns, and the pile is generally plied in loose Z2S yarns.

Mid century Moroccan rug with modern design

BENI SADDEM TRIBE ( canyon of Sebou river )

Beni Saddem carpets from the fraction of the canyon of Sebou river were unknown for the rugs collectors until late 20th century, the small quantity from these carpets that had arrived to the market until that date were cataloged how Beni Ouarain. The carpets from this fraction were knotted with symmetrical knot without exception, the pile was cut carefully in short size about 2-3 cm high, and the wool fiber used in older examples was from exceptional quality. In these carpets, the wool fleeces were carefully sorted and the fiber was combed with great mastery, The handle is more light than the carpets produced by its neighbors tribes, Beni Alaam and Beni Ouarain, and the surface is less textured. In early examples, the edges were woven with attached saw-tooth interlaced selvage, a rare practique in eastern middle Atlas. The design is generally composed the diamonds and lozenges, being them more stylized than the compositions found in tribes from Bou Iblane range.
* Beni Saddem carpet from Modern Art Rugs gallery 

 Moroccan rug with minimal design


This tribe lives in a very beautiful landscape, its tribal culture is quite different than all others tribes from Bou Iblane range and from the Sebour river region. Although living in very close distance from them, its traditional houses are spectaculars, some of them still preseve the archaic construction from early times. The wool fiber from these Moroccan carpets has a very intense white color, in the older examples the fiber was combed with great delicacy. Its carpets have two decisive features that differenciate them from all other tribes of the region. The most important is the method to spin the yarns, this group spin the fiber in S method, being that feature extremely rare to find in all other weaving traditions from Morocco. The second differentiation is the construction of the selvages, the great majority of the pieces were woven with attached interlaced selvages. The pile is loose plied in S2Z and cut in long size, with an average of 4-5 cm high.

Ait Youssi Moroccan rug with early iconography

AIT YOUSSI TRIBE ( eastern group )

The carpets from eastern Ait Youssi tribe have a foundation with low density and they were woven with symmetrical knot in the great majority of old examples.
The pile was cut in short size, about 2 cm high, and the handle is the most light from all the carpet production from eastern middle Atlas. The wool fiber is enough different than found on its neighbors groups, it has a light cream color, low luster and it is soft and fine. The yarns are spun in Z method, and in many examples the pile is made from unplied yarns, so with single yarns in warps, wefts and pile. The designs in the old examples are very creatives, with assorted tribal symbols, normally drawn inside of a composition of great size lozenges.