An Inside Look at Moroccan Artisans at Work Skip to Content

An Inside Look at Moroccan Artisans at Work

An Inside Look at Moroccan Artisans at Work

In Morocco, things are still done the old way, by hand. Generations of men and women have learned the trades of their parents and grandparents and keep them alive. I never get tired of walking through the souks and fonduks to admire the work and I think anyone who comes to Morocco and wants to shop should do the same before purchasing items.

Marrakech Artisans at Work

Why?

It’s amazing to see the work that goes into each piece and you will gain a new appreciation for the love and talent that goes into the work. It also might make anyone think twice before offering a dirt cheap price for something that may have taken days to make. I had my first ah-ha moment when we went to Safi and toured the pottery making factories. Three days or more to make a bowl and half a dozen different artists having had a role in the process for a selling price of maybe 30dh? Shocking.

I thought it would be interesting to introduce you to some of the artists in Marrakech.

Plaster Carving

Plaster Carving Marrakech

Carving Tools for Plaster Artist

Nearly every house and riad in the country features intricately carved plaster pieces around the edges of room or chandelier. Years ago this was all done by hand and carved in place. Today shortcuts are taken to make this design affordable to everyone. Lighter plaster is carved in workshops and then adhered to the walls. In Marrakech there are only a handful of men who still do the original style of carving and they are some of the most skilled artists I’ve met. Using simple hand tools like chisels they carefully remove semi-wet plaster to create geometric designs in a wide variety of styles.

Leather Work

Leather Design Marrakech

There’s possibly no trade that is more respected in Morocco than leather work. Men work in all stages of the trade. From the butchers who collect the animal skins to the tanners who prepare and work the skins. There are men who dye and dry the skin. Then it is used in any number of ways from creating leather bags (like above), to making boots, or the tops of traditional Moroccan drums. In the souks of Marrakech you can see all stages of the process if you know where to look. I love the workshops where it’s possible to see the creation of new designs. Every time I go I spot a new style or design. Not to mention anything I could dream up, they can make!

Zellige (Tile) Work

Zellige Tiles Marrakech

Moroccan tile work is the most amazing decorative feature. Today, large tiles are purchased with the geometric designs printed on them. But, for those who want the authentic look of individual tiles it’s still possible. Each of the tiles is chipped by hand. It’s then put in place UPSIDE DOWN! The person assembling remembers the pattern and which colors are where strictly from memory. When the pattern is set, concrete is poured on the back to hold the pattern together. This completely blows my mind!

Zellige Tiles

When we stopped at this shop we learned the shop owner worked with the Moroccan artists association to train new zellige artisans in the trade. They begin with chipping shapes and work up to assembling simple designs. When I told him how valuable a skill he had and how in other countries this skill would come with a really good paycheck he was surprised. I also asked him if there were people still wanting to learn the trade. In recent years he said there’s been an increase of apprentices who want to learn – good news! It can take years to learn how to consistently chip the right size and shapes of tiles, and then many more to learn the patterns to assemble.

Musical Instruments

Musical Instruments in Marrakech

Music plays an important role in life across Morocco. Traditional instruments are made from clay, wood, and animal skins. They are affordable for most people, though you will find a wide range in quality. Professional musicians obviously invest in more customized and special instruments. In Fez, we were able to see how drums were made and our boys assembled their own. Marrakech doesn’t have as many workshops making instruments as other cities but they do exist.

Fabric Weaving

Scarf Weaving

The colorful scarves you find in the souks across Morocco? Some of them are made here while others are imported from China. A good way to tell is if it has a tag on it or not. Tag? It’s from China. No tag? It’s Moroccan. This isn’t true 100% of the time but is a good indicator. You also may see scarves from Morocco are more stiff. Don’t take that at face value. Give it a wash and the fabric softens right up. While it’s being woven a type of resin glue is added on top to keep it from snaring and coming unraveled. The glue bind to the fabric and when it’s washed will soften. These huge looms turn out handwoven fabric. One weaver can weave about 9 meters a day, depending on the complexity of the design.

Marrakech Thread Weaving

I was able to see how raw thread is woven onto spools. The weavers use this apparatus to wind thread onto the spools. 12 huge rolls of thread are arranged on a peg behind the spinning mechanism (you can see them right behind the man). The most amazing thing? He spun these threads onto the loom in a matter of minutes, spacing them perfectly for the number of spools he needed. There are no marks on the spinning mechanism or notches to put the thread in. He just intrinsically knows how to do this. It looks simple but the math involved would have required me to sit down and work it out, he did it in his head in a few seconds.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about Morocco’s artists! If you’d like to see them at work and try your hand at some of these trades and you’ll be in Marrakech, why not sign up for our Marrakech Artisan Tour? That’s right we’ve expanded our popular food tours to include artisan tours in the souks. Join a small group and licensed guide to see artists first-hand!

Sign up for an artisan tour

An Inside Look at Moroccan Artisans at Work

 

Middle Eastern and North African Heritage Month MKB

This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs series for North African and Middle Eastern heritage month. All month contributors are sharing posts focusing on the region. Find some of the other posts here;

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August 28
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Stop over to the MKB blog and enter our global giveaway for some wonderful MENA inspired prizes!

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stephanie Gosnell

Thursday 21st of May 2020

Hi Amanda...im planning on coming back to Morocco in February (If all this mess clears out). I would very much be interested in a tour of artisans....more to see them at work than to shop. I took a wonderful tour with Culture Vultures.org in Fez and Sefrou ( which was amazing) If you are able to provide this or have someone who can , please let me know. ( 4-5 persons)

Amanda Mouttaki

Friday 22nd of May 2020

Hey! Email me directly closer to the time you're here and I'm sure we can organize something for you. <3

A-L

Thursday 30th of April 2020

I'm feeling quite dense, but I can't find the information on the artisan tour. Is there a link you could provide? Or is it no longer being offered by Marrakech Food Tours (that was the only link I was able to follow)?

Thanks so much!

Amanda Mouttaki

Thursday 30th of April 2020

Hello - our apologies but we did stop offering that tour at present. I will make sure to go back and update this post to reflect that.

An Inside Look at Moroccan Artisans at Work by MarocMama – Eid Creations

Monday 11th of March 2019

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Roma Carlin

Thursday 27th of August 2015

Hi Amanda, Great article! I love to watch artisans at their work, their skills amaze me and you discover just how much creativity and work go into making these beautiful items! You have made some terrific additions to your tours. I'm really looking forward to returning to Marrakech in October and taking this tour with you, Roma

Amanda Mouttaki

Saturday 29th of August 2015

Looking forward to seeing you again!

Nancy Brady

Thursday 27th of August 2015

This is so wonderful Amanda. I especially liked the Math component in this post. Tomorrow I teach a math art integration at UNM to my students, who will be teachers when they graduate. When I am in Morocco I am blown away at the mosaics and love visiting a factory in Fes to watch the process from start to finish. Your links have helped me to be able to share with college students in the USA so they can understand how to share this with thier students someday. YOU ROCK!!!

Pat Carrington

Sunday 10th of March 2019

I agree! Amanda rocks! Absolutely wonderful! As a weaver, I found the weaving community in Morocco fascinating, and I have two Berber rugs to prove it! I even met the weavers who wove my rugs! They showed me how to use their looms and their tools. The whole experience was magical. Thank you, Amanda, for setting this up!

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