Plant based wool dyeing for rugs

Together with Hada and Ummaail we stroll along the green river side. We are looking for plants which are suitable for dyeing the wool for our rugs. Hada has taken a big sickle with her. I am surprised how green it is here. The trip to the High Atlas was withered and dry. On arrival, though it’s mid summer, we suddenly find ourselves in a fertile oasis. Hada chops leaves and young nuts from a walnut tree and Ummaail is digging for roots of the madder and kurkuma. Here and there we gather roots, leaves and wood.

Before we are able to start dyeing, the plants have to soak in water. In the mean time Hada prepares the dyeing procedure. This happens in a seperate shed next to the house,  which is blue of smoke and the ceiling is pitch-black. The fire is always burning and it’s here where the most delicious tajines* are being prepared together with the baking of bread. Today the meal has to wait a bit as we are dragging plants, water, wool, pots and pans. I can’t bear the smoke for even a minute, while I have seen the women spending hours in a row there several times. I wonder how healthy this can be. They reassure me that the smoke isn’t harmful as the wood is well dried and not treated. I am not completely convinced and in my mind I am already ordering safety glasses and mouth caps.

The dyeing is done in different baths and now and then something out of a small bottle is being put in it. I don’t exactly understand what they are doing, so I will digg into it when I am back home. After working a couple of hours Hada shows me the beautiful coloured skeins. They differ from three shades of blue, to old pink, orange and even neon yellow. I hardly can believe that these colours originate from nature, incredible!

I do realize that this is a very labour-intensive process. It would have been easier to choose for a less intensive method such as dyeing with synthetic colouring. Hada tells me that she has learnt the dyeing with plants from her mother. It is a tradition which is passed on from mother to daughter. Not everybody is just as capable and many women keep the method a secret.

We dry the dyed wool and then we all start turning balls. Each ball receives a number so we can track down the colours when we start designing the new rugs. I can’t wait to get started with these new natural colours!

A tajine is a Moroccan stew pot made of pottery. The meals which are being prepared in it, simmer for hours. According to many Moroccans a tajine made on charcoal tastes much nicer than a tajine made on gas.