Get to know the artisans of Fez.

23 01 2014

Start with the ancient North African city of Fez.  Add the often hidden, traditional artisans who tenuously preserve the old craft techniques.  Spice it up with local and international contemporary visual artists,. The result: – Exposé Artisanal –an exciting project emerging out of Fez’ old medina to inspire creativity, expand portfolios of design and celebrate the treasured yet dwindling number of Fassi artisans.  Exposé Artisanal offers a unique opportunity to foster a new appreciation of the talent and traditions behind the crafts people of Fez and celebrate the influence of their unique heritage on the wider world.

Probably you would like to be part of this project, give yourself the opportunity to be among those artisans thousands of stories ,legends, popular wise sayings. Be the person who can help the process of appreciation. Here’s how


Artisan Grants. Morocco.

14 12 2013

The reports here represent a tiny fraction of the grants given out by the volunteer group at the heart of HETAG in the course of almost 2o years of grant making. For more information email Joanne Heard at

Hsini Family Yarns.

Bouarfa, Morocco
Crafts: Rugs, weaving
$1152.50 Award for Spinning wheel, dyes, equipment

The small grant has allowed the group to have spinning equipment designed and built locally. Traditionally, wool for their carpets is spun by hand-held equipment – like drop spindles and hand-held combs. This is laborious and hard on the spinners’ health – especially tendons in the wrists and arms. Together we researched spinning equipment and designed a foot-pedal spinning wheel, wool picker and rolling drum carder that could all be made with local resource.


The group is learning on the equipment now with plans to host a training in the coming weeks for other wool spinners and weavers in the community.  The Moroccan ministry in charge of artisan work caught wind of this project through my community counterpart at the Artisan Agency. They want the group to do equipment training throughout the region.  A post-grant report from a volunteer working with touch with the group reads:

We have held one natural dye training and have a second planned for next week. We dyed with materials easily available in Morocco: dried pomegranate shells, leaves from olive trees, onion skins, turmeric, tea leaves, coffee, madder,  chamomile, henna and dried orange peels. The pink-orange color produced by the madder was a hit. We will bring in a trainer from Sefrou to train on dyeing with indigo. Natural dyes are addictive! I have started buying wool from the group and dyeing in my kitchen for some of my own art projects. 

Does the grants organization visit groups? Artists’ Association of Spinning and Weaving extend a very warm welcome to ATA, should anyone be visiting Morocco in the future. They would love to share their work with the group that has opened up so many opportunities to them.  As we say in Arabic: Marhaba bikum! 

Cooperative Tissage Ain Leuh
Ain Leuh, Morocco
Craft: traditional Berber weavings including carpets, shawls, pillow coverings, and bags
Granted: $1,500 for weaving tools and looms (World of Good Grant)

tissage ain Lueh

The artisans report a variety of results from their grant support, including a broader product offering, additional artisans employed, more orders/customers and improved production:
“The new looms, equipment, and supplies that were purchased have enabled the women to expand their product line.  They can now make blankets, shawls and jellaba fabric on the horizontal looms and continue to make rugs on the vertical looms.  The new products enable them to use different materials, such as cactus silk, and to produce products faster and therefore at a different price range, so they can expand their customer base.  were just installed mid-March 2008.  The number of regular weavers increased from 10 to 16.   Also, there are a number of local women weavers, not currently members of the cooperative, who could now participate on a part-time basis, based on the expanded production capacity.”

UpcloseWhiteLozengesKilimTiaage Ain Leuh. Kilim.

They also note expanded access to the local market and an increase in the portion of the price that goes to the artisan:

Previous sales were primarily the high-ticket items ,hnbl  carpets, accessible mostly to tourists.  Now there are a number of lesser priced items, l’haik shawls, for example, that are within the price range of local residents, and have been enthusiastically received.  These new items are also marketed in the nearby Azrou Ensemble Artisanal.  The women could not quantify sales before and after but they did say that where they previously paid each weaver 500 dh per square meter, they are now able to give each weaver 700 dh per square meter.

The weavers also plan to introduce natural dyes to their product lines, as a result of this overall expansion. Finally, the report summarizes:

The grant enabled them to by everything they needed to expand their business – looms, weaving combs, yarn and wool.  They have enthusiastically jumped into the process of learning the new looms and of weaving new products.  These women have ambition, skill and imagination and the grant helped them to expand their potential.

The grant underscored that others outside the Region had an understanding and appreciation for the work the women are doing.  They are committed, experienced, excellent weavers making an exquisite, traditional Berber product, which is at risk of disappearing if the women cannot support themselves.  Thank you for your grant and your confidence.

Original Post HandEye Magazine

Artist in Residency Program – AiR Artisan

16 11 2013

Artists Call Out 

Residency 7th April – 6th May 2014.

Application deadline –  3rd January 2014.

Fez. Morocco.

Artists and designers are invited to apply for a one month artist residency with an attribute of working alongside a Fassi artisan. Culture Vultures invites designers, visual artists, installation artists, writers, musicians, performers, researchers or conceptual artists to spend a month investigating and practicing the techniques,  materials and personalities of the traditional crafts masters in Fez. The definition of artist is broad.  C.V. has a preference to unexpected collaborations that combine both approaches and an in-depth exchange.


AiR Artist – Artisan – Spend a month residing in a house in the ancient city of Fez, the world’s largest car-free urban metropolis and Moroccan capitol of crafts. Recognized by UNESCO and many national and international development organizations as a valued heritage of Fez, the crafts and their makers play an important role in the cast of this magical North African city. Artists will be housed together in a traditional house in the medina of Fez and spend extensive  time in the workshops of the artisans.


When – This residency will take place from 7th April to 6th May 2014.

Culture Vultures is an arts and cultural organization based in the Fez region. Founded in 2009 by visual artists Jess Stephens, C.V. has a rich and active portfolio of activities that encourage cross culture encounters through an arts agenda. With Jess’ experience in facilitating artist’s visits, projects and presentations in Morocco and good relations with a network of artisans based in the medina and beyond this residency promises food for thought, material for creativity and insightful exchanges.


Artisans portfolio  – Local artisans that are in C.V.s netwrok and welcome an artist into their working environment include traditional plaster carvers, potters, metal workers, weavers, mosaic ( zeliig) artists, carpet knitters, wood carvers, tailors  and tanners.


The program includes

  • Orientation of Fez medina. A half tour of the labyrinth-like old city of Fez with a historical guide.
  • An artisanal tour – an introduction to some of the artisans of the medina and the new artisanal centre for training.
  • Artists dinners. Informal dinners where visiting artists are introduced to the  Fez arts community.
  • Weekly lectures, round tables and presentations.
  • 2 excursions out of Fez to get a fresh perspective of the surrounding area.

Price   950 €


Half board, comfortable accommodation in the medina of Fez.

Extensive workshop time with the artisans and skills exchange.

Professional facilitation between visiting artists and artisans.

The rich program of activities mentioned above.

Does not include

Travel to or from Fez at either side of the residency.


One meal a day.

Application deadline January 3rd 2014.

Note – Full residency places are limited to 8 people. Places are secured after confirmation from the organization and a deposit is paid.

For an application form and proposal outline write to Jess at

All images courtesy of The Art of Islamic Pattern 

culture vultures

NATURAL DYES – A Splendid Shade of Milked Snail and Other Colors

24 10 2013

There was a time when color was worth crossing the Sahara for. It drove men to risk life or scurvy to bring back logwood bark from across the Atlantic, or swim under the surface of the sea to harvest unearthly colors. Far-flung villages became famous for the luck of having a plant or beetle that could produce a dye like no other. Travel the world over, and the color souvenirs were truly things of wonder: a black of a somberness never before seen in Europe, or a purple so deep it was too rich for even the Empress of Rome.


Red dyes in vats that have been around since the 1400s. Fez, Morocco.

The first natural dyes were suspiciously akin to food stains: yellow turmeric, orange saffron, red annatto and rosy-pink safflower. It’s easy to imagine the accidental discoveries — turmeric dribbled down the front of your drab beige tunic didn’t wash out, but brown beef stew did. More than just stains, the colors of these ground plants formed a chemical bond with the fibers of the cloth.

Never content with what chance gives us, humanity, across cultures and over millennia, tried to find ever more substances that could dye cloth, and do it better. Besides color, “fastness” – the ability of a dye to maintain its color without fading or washing away — was key. The discovery and perfection of the use of mordants — binding agents that improved the fastness of a dye, and in some cases influencing the very color produced — became a science in itself. Recipes and techniques for the best dyes spread with the fame of the cloth.


Along the cross-continental trade routes, people went mad for the rich, bright blue of true indigo, a flowering plant harvested and processed in India, Vietnam and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The people of Tyre, in modern-day Lebanon, somehow discovered that the mucous secretion from the hypobranchial gland of a predatory Mediterranean sea snail made an excellent purple. There are two ways to extract the luxury mucous: by gently milking the snail (and letting it live another day for another milking), or by crushing the snails and draining out the liquid. Twelve thousand snails yielded 1.4 grams of pure dye — enough for one garment. Whether carried out by an army of milkmaids or by snail harvesters, the process was painstaking. But Tyrian purple had a quality like no other dye — it didn’t fade or dull, but became brighter and more intense with sunlight and use.

For centuries, until the fall of Constantinople in 1204, Tyrian purple cloth was the mark of royalty. While the dye-ing techniques were lost forever in the ravages of the Fourth Crusade, in a couple of centuries discoveries from the New World would capture people’s devotion.


When crushed, gray cochineal beetles from Central America turned orange with a base mordant, purple with an acid and burgundy with neutral water. But the dye discovery that truly transformed clothing — at least in the eyes of this writer, the Spanish clergy, and generations of men and women of certain dispositions — is the fast black of the flowering logwood tree of Belize.



Like many bad choices of the past, low prices and convenience drove the drift from natural dyes to synthetic ones. The first synthetic dye, discovered accidentally by chemist William Henry Perkin in 1856, was mauve. Though it has never been a crowd favorite, chemists saw its potential, and set about developing other colors. Synthetic dyes were much easier to manipulate, producing clear, brilliant tones. Natural dyes still lasted longer on the cloth when exposed to water and light, but convenience won out, and by the early 1900s natural dyes had almost entirely fallen by the wayside.

dyerDyer-masters from street sbariin, Fez medina.

Today, it would be wrong to suggest that with a century of advancements and innovations behind us, synthetic colors are inferior to natural dyes. Some metal mordants (dioxin and formaldehyde, for example) can be environmentally harmful, but even natural plant dyes use heavy metals like copper and alum. If you’re worried about safety, food-grade dyes will always be safest. (Though you’ll need to research each one to guarantee the safety of a dye.) There’s still a range of quality when it comes to synthetic dyes; cheap ones will fade with each wash, while others are as resistant to light exposure and repeated washing and are as good as or better than their natural counterparts. –



See more at:

The Mystery of Pigments from Morocco.

24 09 2013

When Diane Ashmore  visited  Morocco she bought six “organic” pigments from the local souk, from a trader who didn’t speak English very well. Their origins are therefore a mystery but she has managed to identify some of them, although others will remain anonymous until the depths of time. The names for the pigments have been taken from the labels he wrote on them, although Diane suspect some of them may be incorrect.  She states

  • Murex: This is my favourite as it glistens in the light. It is composed of crushed sea shells, and when water is added turns to a bright turquoise in colour. This is the only pigment I’ve managed to positively identify. I have to be careful with it as any escaping flakes tend to dye anything it touches, including carpets, fingers, tabletops, sinks…


  • Mogadon Blue: I suspect this is plant-based and is possibly similar to Indigo.
  • Jojoba: I know that you can get oil from this plant, so perhaps another part of the plant can be dried and used to produce yellow.
  • Caba Caba: This is labelled incorrectly I suspect (possibly Cara Cara? but then that would be red?). It is a red colour when dry which turns to blue when wet. It could be smalt (made from glass) and hopefully doesn’t contain copper which is poisonous.
  • Rose: This is an interesting pigment as it becomes a very deep rich pink when mixed with a binding medium or water. It is possibly Rose Madder.
  • Pistache: This is my least favourite as it becomes a very pale green when mixed with binding medium (or perhaps it is better used as a dye for fabric).

I know that fabrics and items such as carpets and leather goods are produced in Morocco using these organic pigments. So it would be interesting to know if they can be used successfully in egg tempera without changing radically in colour over time.

Original article here