Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Weaving the last threads of a dying art

Abdelkader Ouazzani, the last of Morocco’s brocade master weavers, has been repeating the same gestures for 63 years in his dilapidated workshop in the heart of the old city of Fez.

“This profession is vanishing …There were many craftsmen in Fez, but they all died and only memories remain,” says the 79-year-old weaver, the last witness of a bygone era.

His skilful hands intricately create shimmering silk fabrics enhanced with gold or silver thread for bridal jewellery, designer creations or high-end furnishings.

His entire body engages in the delicate job, using a complex drawloom mechanism made up of a large wooden frame topped with beams, rafters, blades, pulleys and counterweights.

His feet rest on the wooden pedals, his shoulders are bent forward, his arms move apart with each launch of the wooden shuttle.

“It’s all a question of calculation, each thread takes its path: it’s like mathematics,” says the old man.

He is secretive about the “rules of the art” which he learned long ago in his youth, when, he says, “there were no industrial machines” to do the job.

Ancestral know-how

His work is both physical and meticulous: it takes an entire day to weave a metre of brocade.

“Not everybody is allowed to see that. It’s very special. He is the last man working like that,” Mohamed Akhda, a tour guide who has led a group of Thai tourists here, explains.

They are visiting on the recommendation of the wife of the head of a major Moroccan bank, herself a client of the workshop.

An article in the historical journal Hesperis, published in 1950 by the Institute of Higher Moroccan Studies, described the weaving of brocades from Fez as a tradition that “disappeared everywhere else in North Africa”.

It said that the ancestral know-how had its roots in the era of the Merinid sultans of the 13th century.

“In the 1950s, there were still four or five workshops left,” says Akhda, the guide in charge of the Thai guests.

“You are now in the last one left in the country.”

Ouazzani says he can’t find a young apprentice to take over his workshop.

“People no longer want to learn this profession,” he says. “No one cares.”

“The future of this refined craft is now threatened,” confirms a new panel affixed by the tourist office outside the workshop, hailing Ouazzani as an “undisputed master of the craft”.

‘Elite of the elite’

As fashions have changed, the wide, colourful belts that for centuries were the pride of the master weavers of Fez gradually stopped selling.

In the age of globalisation, the final blow came with industrial-scale competition. In Fez, as elsewhere, some souvenir shops now sell low-end products that are machine-woven in China.

Ouazzani, on the other hand, works on commission for a clientele he describes as “the elite of the elite”.

His rare fabrics cost up to 5 000 dirhams per metre (about $560), depending on the complexity of the patterns.

A digital tablet he uses to show pictures of his most beautiful pieces — and of his grandchildren — is the only modern object in his workshop that is otherwise crammed with ancient furniture.

On the high walls of the dark room hang framed diplomas and faded pages from fashion magazines.

The master hides his most cherished “treasures” in a small wooden cupboard protected by a dusty tablecloth.

With an expansive gesture, he unfolds his “catalogue”, a 16-metre-long roll of fabric with motifs that range from the Hispanic-Moorish tradition to Oriental art or European designs.

“This one I made for Colette,” says the weaver, showing a photo of a kaftan with a purple geometric pattern on a black background.

His pride and joy, the exquisite work was displayed in the window of the famous French boutique which, until its closure in 2017, was one of the most popular addresses in chic Paris. — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Sophie Pons
Sophie Pons
AFP Director for Morocco at AFP

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Soweto teacher dismissed for the alleged repeated rape of a...

The learner was 13 when the alleged rapes started, and they continued for two years until she asked to be moved to another school

First-of-its-kind rangeland atlas pushes for protection

Rangelands are ‘nature’s gift to humanity’, but have been overlooked, neglected

More top stories

Court refused murder-acused Kilian’s application for particulars, bail dates are...

Zane Kilian has been denied further information into the charges against him, which include murder, unlawful interception of communications and fraud

Soweto teacher dismissed for the alleged repeated rape of a...

The learner was 13 when the alleged rapes started, and they continued for two years until she asked to be moved to another school

MKMVA accuse top six of being factional in collapsed meeting

A defiant MKMVA has vowed it is business as usual, after a meeting with the top six ended with the military veterans being kicked out of the virtual platform

Gumede graft trial likely to begin only in July next...

The state has added racketeering to the charges faced by the former eThekwini mayor and 21 others, but logistics are likely to delay their trial until mid-2022
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×