A Look Behind the Cactus Silk: Moroccan Berber Embroidery

Posted on 23 March 2017

The ABURY signature collection is the Berber Collection: Berber shoulder bags, Berber clutches and Berber pouches. It might not come as a surprise that we have named these products after a Moroccan tribe that tells their story: The Moroccan Berbers. But who are these people that have passed on an incredible craft tradition over many generations? What technique do they use and what is so special about the so-called Moroccan Berber Embroidery?


women artisans in morocco© Photo by Bernd Kolb



Time Leap: Who are these Berbers?


The Berbers are the indigenous people of North Africa. Their name was given to them by the Romans and means Barbarians. However, the Berbers themselves refer to their ethnic group as Imazighen, which translates to “free men”. This translation becomes even more meaningful considering that over millennia they have defended themselves against enemies. They have fought against the Romans as well as Arab and French invaders who tried colonising them yet they managed to preserve their language and culture until today. In fact, they identify with the effortless mixture of African, European, Oriental and Mediterranean influences.

Today Berber communities mostly work as farmers of the mountains and valleys in Morocco. However this does not mean that their image of nomadic tribes in the Moroccan desert is false. The Berbers have had a long-recorded influence in trading by establishing routes between the West African and the Sub-Saharan region. Here they transported goods from beyond the Sahara desert to the Northern Moroccan cities in the earlier days.


landscape of morocco© Photo via ABURYBerber people in the Moroccan desert © Photo via pixabay.com



The Unmistakable Beauty of Moroccan Crafts


Moroccan crafts are not just stunning to look at, but they tell endless stories. There is a range of different techniques that leave you in wonder. These have been passed on from generation to generation over many years and are at the core of Moroccan crafts and culture. In specialist guilds apprentices learn some of these unique skills from their teachers.

Berbers are associated with a great appreciation of nature and freedom. This is also why natural resources such as stone, wood or metal are used in the production. Furthermore, the use of natural materials such as leather and wool and natural tanning or dyeing processes are common. This gives the craft its genuine charisma and underlines the makers’ fondness of the earth.


dying process in morocco© Photo via pixabay.com

The cultural mixture that identifies the Berber culture as well as the attachment to nature is clearly visible in the designs: Arabic calligraphy, symbols of leaves, birds and other animals, abstract geometry typical of urban design with zigzags, triangles, and squares are only some of the characteristics.


Typical Patterns used in Moroccan Crafts © Photo via pxhere.comclose up of an iphone case in process© Photo by Mohamed Smey


The Unique Skills of Berber Embroidery


The Moroccan Berber embroidery is more than a craft - it is an art form. Common patterns that look like ornaments come from typical Berber tattoo patterns or hanna designs.
In the early days it was mainly women who learnt how to embroider. Back then they only sold most embroidery during times of economic need. Throughout the twentieth century the skill became more popular to learn and really began flourishing after the 80s, when people started seeing it as an art that could help the country economically. Today however, with the increasing pressure on the local artisans due to international mass consumption this beautiful skill is slowly dying. This is one of the many reasons for ABURY’s motivation to preserve traditional crafts.



Combining Traditional Berber Embroidery with Modern Design


The history of Berber culture covers almost ten thousand years and yet the people are open to change. To avoid the extinction of the Berber craft skills and at the same time make them find their place and attraction in the modern world, organisations and artisans aim to combine traditional embroidery with modern elements. By connecting the visions of a modern designer with the skills of a traditional craftsman we have launched the Berber Collection. Take a virtual visit in the atelier of our artisan Monsieur Omar to watch the complex embroidery process:


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