Moroccan rugs are the weaves, carpets, and textiles that have been traditionally hand-woven in Morocco. Rugs have been woven by the indigenous people of Morocco since the Paleolithic Era. Traditionally, Moroccan rugs have been woven by tribal peoples for their utility rather than for decorative purposes. Twentieth-century Moroccan rugs are widely collected in the West, and are almost always woven by tribes people who do not seek nor possess formal artistic training.
The West’s current infatuation with Moroccan rugs stretches to the mid-20th century, when designers embraced bold geometric patterns and even bolder palettes as counterpoints to form-follows-function interiors. Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier were among the designers who used these rustic, natural rugs to offset austere interiors. “They even have one at Fallingwater,” Wright’s early modernist masterpiece, says designer and dealer Madeline Weinrib, who travels to far-flung locations to deal directly with the makers of these textile gems.
With bohemian, global and eco styles on the rise, there’s increased demand for Moroccan tribal rugs, and prices for well-crafted, vintage versions can easily break into the six figures. However, Murat Kupcu, an antique-rug specialist and owner of Double Knot, has a word of caution: “With the popularity and seemingly endless supply of Moroccan rugs today, it is important to distinguish between the authentic, made-for-home Berber rugs and those made for the market, or for export.”
Ironically, it’s the rugs that were produced most economically and without the market in mind that carry the highest price tags. Rug experts and consumers agree: We are most moved by textiles that were developed at the whim of the weaver, whose only instruction was her ancestral traditions.
Traditionally, Moroccan tribal weavings were made exclusively by women and solely for personal use. Dense pile rugs served not only as floor coverings but as mattresses, seating and even blankets in the winter months. Each woman weaves the story of her life into the rugs. They are filled with symbolism and vary greatly depending on the locale where they were woven.
Advantages of Moroccan Rugs
Bold Tribal Patterns
Bold geometric designs are characteristic of many rural regions of Morocco, from the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara. But it’s the Azilal region, extending north of the High Atlas to the southern foothills of the Middle Atlas that provides many of the most-sought-after, heavily decorated carpets. Lacking a written language, ancient Berber weavers incorporated ancestral myths into their textiles using archaic images and symbols.
Azilal rugs are single knotted, which allows for very fine work and artistic design. This probably explains why the patterns are so intricate. Interestingly, neutral-toned versions are more traditionally tribal than the popular rugs with a red ground, which are actually newer rural versions of urban Rabat carpets, whose origins are Arab.
Brilliant Color Saturation
Moroccan rugs are not all about pattern. In fact, some of the most striking examples are nearly monochrome. But what these rugs lack in complexity, they make up for in brilliant color and subtle variation. Traditional dyes are sourced from local vegetation or minerals. However, some, like Tyrian purple and the rich red from cochineal, come from shells. Beni Mguild are particularly known for utilizing indigo to create deep shades of blue and purple.
Although not rich with symbolic imagery, the colors themselves contain their own form of symbolism. In Berber culture, the color red symbolizes strength and protection, blue symbolizes wisdom, yellow represents eternity and green stands for peace.
Boucherouite Rag Rugs
Who would guess such a fun-looking carpet was the result of serious social and economic changes? Boucherouite (from the Arabic bu sherwit, meaning “a piece torn from pre-used clothing”) emerged along with the transition from nomadic herding to modern forms of employment, which has made wool harder to come by. Initiated in the Central Plains by the Beni Mellal and Boujad, eventually this practice gained acceptance by even the most remote tribes in the Middle and High Atlas regions (notably, the Ourika). Boucherouite rugs are distinct in that there is little distinction between them. They are often mislabeled as Boujad in the marketplace because it’s nearly impossible to discern the tribal variations between them.
The neutral tones and elegant, stripped-down geometry of Beni Ourain rugs makes them one of the most loved by modern interiors enthusiasts. There are endless contemporary spinoffs of the style made known by the Beni Ourain, a network of nearly two-dozen individual tribes in the Middle Atlas region.
Although there is nothing in-your-face about Beni Ourains, you see little details that give the pieces depth, soul and character you can’t find in mass-produced machined carpets. Subtle variations in line thickness, asymmetry of the geometric designs and color imperfections are exactly the details that endear these rugs.
Kilim, a word of Turkish origin, denotes a flatwoven and pileless textile, whose many variations share a common heritage and are practiced all across Turkey, the Balkans and throughout the Arab world. Because the resulting weave is lightweight, these rugs are well adapted for use in the hot summer months and are happily embraced by Moroccan tribal weavers.Even though vintage Moroccan kilims tend to be limited in size, their simplified geometry allows us to join them together to create dimensions befitting to modern interiors.
In many ways, Tuareg mats are symbols of a dying way of life. Made primarily in the early 20th century, when endless caravans migrated through North Africa, the mats were designed to support a now-disappearing nomadic way of life. Before moving to a new location, the Tuareg people rolled up their homes, which were built, covered and furnished with the mats made out of palm and reeds and stitched with designs in camel or goat leather.
Considering a Moroccan rug? Things to keep in mind:
- Tribal Moroccan rugs differ from urban Rabat carpets, which derive from Arab rug-making traditions.
- Before buying, ask if your vintage Moroccan rug was made for a home or the market.
- Azilal is a region known for densely decorated geometric tribal designs.
- Beni Ourain is a group of tribes from the Middle Atlas known for neutral rugs, which traditionally used undyed wool.
- Tribal rugs were originally conceived as multifunctional pieces, to be used as bedding in the winter.
- Traditional dyes were all natural: ocher and madder for red; henna for orange and brown; saffron, tumeric and sumac for yellow; indigo for blue; and Tyrian for purple.
- Abrash means a sudden, dramatic shift in color.
- Boucherouite derives from the Arab word bu sherwit, meaning rag. It’s not a region or a tribe.
- The nomadic Tuareg people incorporate leather into their multipurpose indoor-outdoor reed mats.
- Kilims are lightweight, flatwoven rugs.
Cleaning a Moroccan Rug at home
You came to Morocco (or you bought a Berber rug at home) but now it’s time to face the music. Your Moroccan rug needs to be cleaned. Of course one of the safest ways to get it cleaned is to bring it to a professional carpet cleaner. But this can be VERY expensive, especially if you have it done regularly. You also will want to be aware of any chemicals they use in the cleaning process as this can strip the natural dyes out of Moroccan rugs and cause a lot of damage.
Cleaning a wool rug is a lot easier than you might think. Learning how to do it yourself can save you a lot of money and hassle. We went through the process of cleaning a Beni Ourani rug so that I could share with you the steps. First, you need to know which type of rug you have. If it’s a flat weave rug or a rug that has a low pile it will be fairly easy and straight forward. If however you have a boucherite rug or one that has a higher pile, it can be a little more complicated.
CLEANING FLAT KILM RUGS OR LOW PILE RUGS
If your rug has gotten wet, perhaps from a spill or a pet stain, begin the clean up by applying paper towels to the spot. Immediately put baking soda on the spot to soak up as much of the liquid as possible. After a few minutes you can vacuum this spot. But, what if it doesn’t work or you’ve got a tougher stain. A mixture of vinegar and baking soda can do the trick.
For pet stains mix distilled vinegar and cold water in a 1-to-1 ratio. Add to a spray bottle and make sure to soak the rug. You will need to use quite a bit of water to really saturate the wool. Then use a soft bristle brush to work the mixture into the fibers of the rug. Let it sit for a minimum of 10 minutes. Blot out any excess liquid with paper towels after it has had a chance to sit and then dry completely. This will help neutralize any smells.
Now it’s time for the deep cleaning. Beni Ourani rugs are some of the easiest to clean. Why? They’re made using natural colors. The black and white on the rug are the colors of the sheep wool so there is no additional dying. This means there’s no risk of colors running or bleeding – that is if you’ve purchased an authentic rug.
A few things I recommend having before you start cleaning;
A space that is high enough you can hang the rug vertically to dry sunshine. The rug needs to have warm sunshine to dry. A vacuum that has a low and high setting. A good scrub brush. A water source, ideally apower washer
The first thing you need to do is get out any excess dirt from your rug. Take it outside and shake or bang it well. Next, lay it down flat near your vacuum. Using the “high” height setting on your vacuum you’ll want to pull up any more dirt. When you do begin to vacuum do so the short width of the rug, not the length of the rug. Go back and forth slowly. You can also use the hand attachment to pull out any dirt on the edges, this can sometimes be more effective. This process can take some time, BUT the more dirt you can remove before the washing the better!
Arrange your rug so that the water can run off. We used a tall ladder to drape the rug over. This allows for dirty water to run off easily and is much easier on the arms. When these rugs are wet they are very heavy! I have washed rugs both with and without a power washer and if you have one, or can borrow one, a power washer is the way to go! We used it to spray the rug starting at the top to the bottom on both sides of the rug. It will take time to soak the rug and you want to make sure it is completely soaked. Spray downwards and trust me, you’ll be shocked at the dirt coming off!
You can use the scrub brush to really work out any dark spots. We also used the scrub brush on the back, flat side of the rug to loosen up anything that was stuck. Then keep spraying! If you don’t have a power washer you could use a hose with a spray attachment.
If your rug is really dirty you can use a gentle soap like Dreft to clean it. I would be very cautious using soaps on rugs that were dyed as you can never be completely sure how the color dye will react with the soap of choice. If you have certain spots that are dirty, I would try to spot treat vs, using soap on the entire rug.
Once you feel comfortable you’ve removed as much as possible it’s time to dry your rug. If you’re using a ladder like we did, you may want to let some of the excess water run off first. Let it hang for 20-30 minutes to do this. Then you’ll want to squeeze it. Lay the rug out on a table and roll it as tightly as you can. You won’t squeeze out everything but the point is just to get out as much water as possible. This will speed up the drying time. Once this is done, hang it back up in direct sunlight. Your rug will need to dry completely before it’s ready to go back in your home. If it doesn’t, you will know it – wet wool has a very specific smell; imagine a wet dog but worse. Depending on how warm it is, you should leave it to dry 12-24 hours minimum. You might notice that the rug looks a bit matted after washing. You can use the vacuum again to perk up the pile and make it fluffy.
Cleaning your rug can be time consuming but if your rug isn’t in a high traffic area, you should only need to go through this in depth process once a year. During the rest of the time rely on spot cleaning and regularly shaking out the rug.
CLEANING SHAGGY RUGS
What if you bought a shaggy rug like a boucherite rag rug? These are a little different to clean. Because of the nature of the rug you’ll want to be a little more gentle with them. The higher pile also means there’s more chance to pull out a piece of the rug and unravel a portion.
For rag rugs, a regular beating of the rug is a must. To clean it, you can clean it as you would any other fabric – they’re mostly made of fabric materials and not wool. Spot treat using the same formula as listed above and then use a soft detergent to wash the material. Rinse it out really well and squeeze as much water out as you can before hanging it up to dry. Don’t forget to wash the back, flat side first to loosen up anything stuck.