Inside a weaver’s mind: where technical prowess is the warp of the darting imaginative weft.

21 04 2014

As a student, Mohammed loved mathematics and IT. Today, he uses all of these skills in the complicated techniques required for preparing a loom. For example, his current frame has 150 strands of 26 threads, 13 lines of ‘up’ alternating with 13 lines of ‘down’. He has to focus and concentrate hard when preparing as one mistake can undo hours of work. It is incredibly intricate and systematic the act of threading a loom – some steps require eight people working simultaneously to create the correct tensions and placement of threads. Once the loom is prepared, they can weave for a few weeks then the process starts again.



There used to be njars (carpenters) in the medina who were specialist loom makers. You could just give them a set of dimensions and they would build a wooden loom for you. There are none left now, only carpenters who will copy an existing loom or make repairs. In one generation, all the specialist vocabulary describing the different parts of the loom, has been lost. We hope Mohammed will document all these terms from his aged father before it is too late.

Here are a few Moroccan proverbs and sayings related to weaving:

Kay tayr knzuk

Flying like a weaver’s shuttle (i.e. someone who moves fast)

T’hat duf

Under the flying shuttle canal (i.e. to give someone something under the table/on the sly)

Hadeet u mrazal

 Like a bobbin spinner (i.e. someone who speaks and works at the same time)

Written By Aisha,  a Fassia resident and beloved Artisans of Morocco Citizen Reporter.


Like grandfather, like father, like son

11 04 2014

“I’ve brought him inside today,” Said  tells me as I turn my head towards a soft chirping sound and discover a little bird in his cage set on the floor tucked behind the counter. “So he doesn’t catch a cold”, he adds.

Situated just off the Najarine square on Derb Seqqaiene, I have stepped into the last workshop in Fez that fuses ironmongery with silversmithing. An array of earrings dangle on a pole like percussion chimes, the plates and urns sheen like the cheeks of someone who has just come out of the hammam, the animals are collectively pinned on a board like a mass cross continental safari, the bracelets overlap each other in domino effect. Even the unfinished hand of Fattema has been carefully propped up in the corner. A carefully executed mise-en-scene. When Said tells me he has 3 daughters and no sons, with 3 fingers raised and a smile on his face, I smile too. “My youngest, she’s 12, (or 13?), and loves pigeons, like me,” Said explains. “Although her mother has stopped her from going up to the rooftop until she’s finished her homework and anything else that needs doing downstairs. Otherwise she’s up there all afternoon! She knows all 30 of them. I mean, if someone else’s ends up among ours, she will catch it and put it to one side until I get home and then show it to me, “Is this ours, Baba?” They’re not like the ones my father used to have though. His were as big as chickens. They would come up and peck the food right out of his hands.”

I ask him if he lives close by. “Oh yes, near Sidi Ahmed Tijani” and he points south east to where he’s standing as though we are suddenly at a bird’s-eye view of the medina and can map out the path directly to his home. Instead we can see little else than the decorated walls enclosing us. But I know where he means; I’ve weaved my way past that mosque many a time over the years with my husband Ali and our dogs as we return to our house from a walk on the Jbel Zalagh hillside reentering the medina via the hotel Palais Jamaii entrance. So I nod to confirm we’re on the same page. Said tells me that he lives in the house where he was born, where he got married, and now where he and his wife and 3 daughters live. They share the house with his brother and family. “We have the first floor and they have the ground floor” he states matter of factly. He goes back home everyday to lunch with his wife and daughters. He closes up just before the evening prayer. He opens in the mornings on Fridays to tie up loose ends before heading off to the main Friday prayer. His daily routine ticks along like clockwork.


Said Akessbi at work

Photo by Anaas Med El Issmaeli.

Hidden inside the only cupboard in his shop, are Said’s father’ s and grandfather’s tools. “I haven’t been inside this cupboard for 10 years; not since my father died.” He raises his eyebrows as he says this and waves his hand back and forth to denote the years flying by like salt over his shoulder. He brings out a small newspaper bundle, hardly crumpled, (hardly touched), and unfolds blades that more resemble excavated arrow heads I remember from the Roman museum of my hometown after they found remnants under our local Somerfield supermarket. “A quick polish with wire wool will clean these up” he chirps,”they are all ready to use”. He repeats their usability to us again as he unfolds another blade and presses his finger tip against the point. I do the same. No blood but I do think of the knife sharpeners down in Bab Sinsila and the sparks that fly when a dull blade hits the mill stone they pedal into rotation. The family blades return to the cupboard.

There is one last piece remaining made by Said’s father; a huge urn sits on the top shelf on the right as you enter. Above head height, it would take a very curious customer to spot it. I imagine Said casting his eyes up from time to time to admire his father’s work as he sits on his stool rubbing the jade stone wand across another finished piece. “My father was a teacher, you know. He left Fez, his workshop and his family to go and train apprentices in Meknes. A rich Meknessi offered him a good deal. But he reached a point where he missed Fez, so he came home, back to this workshop. His dad, my grandfather, had the workshop next door although we sold that years ago. People now think this craft is from Meknes because there are still a number of maalems, or master craftsmen, in Meknes who do the craft but it was my father who taught their fathers and my grandfather who taught my father.” His tone is honest and soft. We all study the faded picture of his father.

The hook in the door frame of the shop hangs empty today but Spring is on its way and soon Said’s chirping companion will resume his elevated position and sing out, as we all like to do, when the sun shines upon our backs.


By Alice Barnsdale, 9 years in Fez and married into a family of artisans.

What would Seffarine Square be without the Fassi artisan, Hamid?

12 02 2014


Hammid photo by Vanessa Bonnin

Hammid photo by Vanessa Bonnin

“Aysha”, a Fassia resident and Artisans of Morocco Citizen Reporter, offers her second spotlight on a renowned artisan in the Fez medina.

“Hamid used to deliver and collect all the large copper pots throughout the medina so consequently knew all the families and gossip of Fez.”

Hamid started working in Fez’s famous Seffarine Square when he was just 8 years old, running errands for the copperware maalems (master craftsmen) after school. He was ‘a son of the medina’ as are so many young boys in this communal city. The only one in his family to work in the copper trade, Hamid was eager to watch and learn, to pass through the many levels needed to become skilled in his craft. Incidentally, he ended up working with the same maalem for 41 years, from 1969-2010. When asked if his children were interested in learning his craft, Hamid responded with a proverb, “No one chooses his mother.” All is destiny, it has been written… And his children’s stories seem to lie elsewhere.

Seffarine – taken from the Arabic word seffar – yellow, reflective of all the yellow (and red) copperware in the square, has always been the place in Fez to rent large copper pots (tangeras) for cooking at wedding feasts and other ceremonies. Seffarine tangeras can take up to 50 chickens at a time! Hamid used to deliver and collect all the pots throughout the medina so consequently knew all the families and gossip of Fez. When he returned the pots, he would wash them in the old fountain in the square – but were they clean of the stories his eyes and ears has been witness to…

For your own eyes and ears, take a listen to this catchy “2012 copper beat re-mix” direct from the artisans of Seffarine Square. (Hamid is the man wearing the white and light green patterned cap in the video.) You’ll be nodding your head in no time.

Amanda Staltham, travel editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, recently commented that Seffarine Square was her greatest discovery when visiting Fez: “I got more adventurous on my second day, branching off and discovering some amazing spots, the best of which was Seffarine Square. Beneath the shade of an enormous tree, coppersmiths bang away at enormous kettles and cauldrons, earnest students head for the Kairaouine Library (closed to tourists) or opposite to the Medersa Seffarine, which dates back to 1285 making it one of the oldest colleges in the world. I lucked out as one of the handful of chairs outside Café Seffarine in a corner of the square was free, so I sat in the sunshine and people-watched with a mint tea.”

Hamid and his felllow copperware neighbours continue to captivate people from across the world with an art that is not only functional but evokes both a visual and aural charm. No wonder Hamid has been doing this for 44 years.

written by Aysha

Exposé Artisanal :

Mohammed Saili :the last of the comb makers in Fez

26 01 2014

Mohammed Saili

Mohammed Saili is the last of the comb makers on Derb Mechatin.
He began working in agriculture as a child, selling fruits and vegetables harvested from the orchards that surrounded the medina back in the early 60s. Then in 1965 it was Allah who decided, god willing, to make a change in his life and he started working in the medina carving combs. This was a skill he learnt from many people who used to make traditional square shaped combs from cow and sheep horn which they bought from Dar Dbagh Chauara, the oldest tanneries in Fez.

But hamdullillah, Allah gave him a gift of imagination and he started creating combs in the shapes of animals and fish and other inspirations.
His children know how to do this craft but find the work too hard so therefore have other jobs.

Mohammed continues to make combs, spoons, buttons, pendants and other Koranic talismans each day. He is proud that he can earn money from creating products from his imagination, his gift. He makes more than he sells so is creating boxes of his craft than can be sold long after he stops producing.

His work is mostly appreciated by foreigners because they give value to the handicraft. Often they will buy it as an acknowledgement of his skills knowing that they might not even be able to bring it back to their country if there are strict border controls on animal products.

He says that seemingly Moroccans aren’t very interested in such tradition anymore, they are seeking new modern goods. He laments that people are living too fast now, zerba zerba, and not taking the time they used to for tradition. ‘Even women in a Hamam will do a quick shampoo and finish with their hair rather than spending hours treating it with henna…’ he shakes his head with a hint of sadness.
We ask him what sort of things he enjoys making most and he replies with a laugh ‘ whatever makes money’. That is the reality. He has to support himself and his family.
Mohammed is a living treasure with a beautiful smile, a gifted imagination and nearly fifty years of  skill in producing his craft. These are the artisans of the Fez medina.

Article by Aysha and Fatima Zahra

January 2014

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

Mr Said Chraibi, Famous Oud Player

15 01 2014


The oud (or ud) is one of the most popular instruments in Middle Eastern music. Its name derives from the Arabic for ‘wood’, and this refers to the strips of wood used to make its rounded body, one of the best Moroccan players of oud is Mr Said Chraibi born in 1951 in Marrakech, Morocco, but was raised in the city of Fez. He began playing the oud at the age of 13 and went on to study Andalusian music at university. He subsequently toured widely throughout North Africa and the Middle East and in 1986, at the age of thirty-five, he won a prestigious prize at a competition in Iraq. However, it was not until his appearances at the Festival of Sacred Music in Fez that his music reached an international audience. Chraibi has been one of the key players in a revival of the traditions of Arab-Andalusian music in Morocco, and he continues to promote this heritage while also incorporating elements of Turkish, Iraqi and Persian music into his playing.

Happy New Year

29 12 2013

Our resolution for this coming year is to boost the size of a community supporting the sustainability of tradition Fez crafts.  Exhibitions, residencies, round tables and creative exchanges are all added the boiling pot.  Add more visitors and artistic encounters, a crowd funding project, pOp up Museum and a book this coming year already glows.


Here’s to a firey and cracking coming four seasons from us 


Culture Vultures