Wool Berber Carpet vs Berber style rugs:
Beginner’s guide on how to identify a true Moroccan rug
In recent years, with the rise of boho and Scandinavian trends, a lot of deco magazines have given pride of Berber carpets from Beni Ourain to Boucherouite. Throughout their pages, we can now see them in every house room.
It is pretty sad though to notice that the big homewares brands have taken it over, making money off of the local craftsmanship and the Berber tribes of the Moroccan Atlas. This is literally distorting the magnificent history of these objects. They have them done in Asia under the name of “Berber style”, “Beni Ouarain style”, made of polluting and toxic synthetic fibers. It becomes necessary to know how to recognize a real Moroccan rug from an imitation since even on the Moroccan Souk you find some of these Berber carpets imitation. So I will try to reveal you some of their secrets.
Moroccan carpets back in time
Moroccan rugs find roots from the High and Middle Atlas mountains crossing Morocco. Their first origins go up to the 2nd century BC. These carpets are the traditional rural art practiced by women of nomadic or semi-nomadic people. They are made from virgin sheep’s wool.
Traditionally, Moroccan tribal carpets were made exclusively by women and only for personal use. Dense pile rugs served not only as floor coverings but as mattresses, seating and even blankets in the cold months. Each woman weaves her own life story and experiences into the rugs. They are filled with symbolism and vary greatly depending on the regions where they are knotted.
The loom back then was venerated and feared. Empty it was dead, but as soon as wool yarns were stretched, it was alive again. When it was time to unravel the Berber rug from the loom, the women would sing because it meant temporary death and thus they need to mourn it.
The first Berber people created a specific knot called the Berber knot. And unlike oriental carpets, they are never made on a model or a schema but weaved according to the current desire and inspiration of the woman who makes it.
The patterns represented on the Berber rugs evoke symbols found in parietal art. The trellis, the diamond, the cross and the fish each invoke in their own way femininity, fertility and procreation. At the same timel, a zigzag lines refers to the serpent phallic symbolism. You will find all the meanings and details of Berber symbols in our Moroccans Rugs Symbols post.
Moroccan rugs have long been desregarded and copied without the slightest consideration by carpets industry. It was only in the 1900’s that several artists took interest on them and restored their declining value. Notably Paul Klee’s paintings including Berber geometric forms, and the integration of these forms into architecture by le Corbusier. Henri Matisse for his part, called them the «white giants».
In recent years, they have been gaining popularity, in particular the Beni Ourain rugs. All decoration brands still make imitations and sell them as «Berber Style Rugs». Because of this popular success, the trends followers become to get bored of them. For my part, I share more the thoughts of Timothy Wealon when he says : “I don’t see them as a passing trend, but rather as a decorative element that will always be present in interior design.”
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How to recognize a real Moroccan Berber carpet
The simplest and easiest way is to entrust this task tofind a Moroccan Rugs retailer. You’ll find two kinds of Moroccan rugs, Modern and vintage. the latter being usually more expensive and mainly intended for collectors. You can expect a minimum of $400 to buy an authentic Medium size Berber rug through a trusted dealer.
Of course, you should avoid the big homewares brands that offer you polypropylene machined models at prices sometimes similar to a real handmade carpet.
If you have the chance to visit Morocco, then the ideal is to go directly to the Middle Atlas and buy your carpet from a cooperative of Berber women, but as you may guess this can be a bit complicated (but still feasible) for a first time visit. If you are in Marrakech, I advise you to go to the «Souk des tapis». You need to be a pretty good barganier though as most of sellers tend to pump up the prices. And above all, beware of rugs sold by curbsiders and hawkers which most of the time are made abroad in synthetic materials. Their low price will give you an idea.
Here are some clues to help you identify a real Berber carpet:
Take a look at the back of the carpet. A real Berber carpet is handmade, that’s why the knotting on the reverse side is necessarily irregular.
When the back of the rug is hard plastic, this mean that your rugs top pile is made from a synthetic material and the hard plastic back is holding the rug together
Fringe and tassels
A real Berber carpet only has fringes on one side because these fringes result from the knots made to finish the carpet.
However Berber artisans started to make double fringe rugs in contrast to traditional weaving process as more and more customers are fond of them.
The Berber rug is handmade of 100% undyed virgin wool, which gives it a slightly yellowish coloring. Avoid low-priced copies made of a mixture of wool and synthetic materials.
You will never have any allergy issues with wool (as long as you’re not allergic to it). A real Moroccan wool rug will last you decades, and can even be used as investment and heirloom pieces.
If taken care of properly, hand knotted wool rugs will hold their value extremely well. You will be lucky if a synthetic rug lasts 3 years. They are simply not made to last.
In order to own a true, authentic Berber rug, and become capable of identifying oriental rugs you need to know that it must be made from wool!
Get or ask the seller to take off few fibers from the rug which won’t be noticed. Burn them with a lighter flame or a matchstick and sniff at the smoke from the fibers as they burn.
Animal fibers – wool, alpacka, mohair, silk – all smell like burning feathers, with a sharp hint of burning sulphur. They also make a tiny black ball of ash that is fairly firm but you can crush it between your fingers when it’s cold.
Oil-based fibers burn with a black-smokier flame to make a tiny black ball, sticky like napalm and can cause deep skin burns. When it’s cold you can’t crush it at all.
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