Thursday, 24 January 2013

The weavers of Tangier

There is a place in Tangier that is textile heaven. It is called Foundouk Chejra. A foundouk is a sort of market place. Traditionally, a foundouk had a ground-floor open courtyard where people came to sell their wares on donkey or camel back.
This particular foundouk was built at the beginning of the twentieth century at the time of the international status of Tangier, the colonial era when different countries "managed" the city. 
Nowadays the court yard is covered and vendors in tiny stalls sell everything from fluorescent shampoo and pots and pans from China, to flowery tea sets and fake Nikes from who knows where.

In the upper gallery were rooms where travellers could stay for the night.

These small rooms are now weavers' workshops where beautiful textiles are woven out of wool, cotton, jute and sabra, a shiny silk-like synthetic thread.

This man still makes the traditional thick sheep wool striped hooded coats men wear in winter. 

The "workshops" hold one loom and there is a second one on a windowless mezzanine just above. The looms are activated by foot and the spools thrown from one side to the other by hand. One man throws it between the thread to the other man, the foot pedal is activated alternating the threads and the other man sends it back to the first man and so on, hours on end.
 The industrial revolution never made it to Foundouk Chejra! Our gain.
On the gallery floor, men make the spools for the weavers by mixing threads together. The wheel comes from a bike and the rest of the contraption is hand made from old wood planks.
These young boys were also making spools to help out their dad much like we mowed the lawn or washed the car when we were kids. The little guy in the striped shirt and cap was a French tourist who wanted to learn how and although they could not understand the other's language the boys were able to understand each other through a sort of improvised sign language. If only the negociations at the UN were this easy and this friendly!
This one was making the tassles on hand towels my sister had ordered for her company abanja. We made sure he was only helping and was going to school normally. School is not compulsory in Morocco and child labour is not uncommon. 

The result: hand woven, embroidered and tasselled towels ready for the bathroom.

Table mats in fluorescent colours (Abanjà)
Wool and cotton throws in earthy colours

All the bedspreads and curtains for the house were made in the foundouk.We just chose the dimensions, the exact thread colours and the precise size of the stripes and came back three days later and voilà!

I also had extra long curtains made for my 12 ft ceiling living room in Montreal and brought (lugged!) them back in my luggage.
Foutas from the abanjà collection facing the ocean.
Hah! What I would give to be on that beach today!

    Photos: Sylvie Pellet, Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart, Joelle Desparmet

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