Morocco - last day

by - Thursday, August 06, 2009

It is the last day of the Natural dye workshop. Students receive their certificates - which they love. We review procedures, answer questions, divide up any unused dyes and mordants and consider the future. With the workshop clean and tidy the class makes a field trip to the center of town where the local carpet market takes place. After a week of dyeing and washing wool the students see the local carpets with new eyes.

This is a market for artisans to sell carpets to the vendors. All the stalls face onto a central courtyard. The artisans bring their work and men will carry the carpet on a circuit that runs in front of each vendor. If they like the piece they will motion to the man and negotiations will begin. The man will then revisit the other stalls trying to better the price. This will be the real test of our student's knowledge and understanding; when it comes time to sell their work, are they confident enough to bargain for the higher prices that a carpet made with natural dyes deserves?

Much of what we see in the market could be easily made (for less) in China. Traditional Moroccan carpets are known for their idiosyncratic designs: quirky - unlike any other carpet and distinctly Moroccan. But there is no connection between some of the acrylic, synthetically dyed, poorly woven carpets we see and Moroccan culture. And because there is no cultural connection these poor carpets will be made by whoever can make them the cheapest. This is not elitism, it is market economics. Our students can all see all of this for themselves for they have grown up with this market and they have an intimate understanding of how it works.

We have seen our students as innovators and as enthusiastic artisans leading a revival. Now, in the market we can see that the switch to natural dyes may be essential if Moroccan carpets (made by Moroccans) are going to survive. Whenever a carpet makes the rounds of the stalls that has the character of a traditional piece the haggling is intense and the price is high.

With a set of new skills, knowledge and understanding, the students are finished the workshop. We are sad to be leaving but happy with the results and feeling very privileged to have seen this side of Morocco.


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