The Atlas Berber rug originates from Morocco in North East Africa. The population of Morocco is made up predominantly of two different races that live harmoniously side by side and have done for many years – the Berbers and the Arabs. The Berber tribes are mainly situated in the rural locations – the countryside and the mountains. They have adapted over the years to the difficulties of rural life and have established many small business crafts that have become their traditions. Textiles being one of these - they have developed their own style of loop weaving using the resources available to them - the natural wool from the sheep found in the nearby Atlas mountains. Weaving has been practiced here for many centuries and the rugs that we now know as Berber or Beni Ourain started life as bed coverings, sleeping mats, cloaks and saddle blankets. The thick luxurious pile of the wool found on the local sheep, helped tribes stay warm and protect them from the brutal climate of the snow capped mountains.
Berber rugs are typically known for their use of raw live wool (wool which is shorn from a live sheep as opposed to a sheepskin) and natural tones, making them suitable for most interiors. Natural ivory sheep wool is the base colour and into this you typically find woven a geometric shape in other naturally occurring coloured wool. This is generally dark brown (found on the sheep’s head) but this can also be red and yellow which is found naturally in sheep. The rugs also have a distinctive fleck which runs through the pale wool. Often the geometric pattern is specific to a certain area that a tribe of Berber people live in and hence where they are made can easily be distinguished.
This traditional form of weaving is passed down from mother to daughter and has been for many generations, with male Berbers rarely learning the trade. There are specific looping techniques which distinguish the Berber from other Moroccan rugs. The weaver’s beliefs are shown through their work and all of the designs in the rugs are very personal to the individual who makes them. The symbols and patterns tell stories of the weaver’s life and as it is more often the women who learn this trade the themes often include: birth, fertility, nature, rural life, femininity and religious beliefs. It is also believed that different motifs contain lucky charms and magical properties which can ward off evil spirits. If the rug you weave has enough luck woven into it, the evil spirits will move onto the next rug and leave you be….
Over time the traditional Berber has been subject to change, with bright colour and naturally dyed patterns being added. Still with a natural base, there are bright acid shots of colour added to give a very modern feel to the rugs. Many companies now also produce a style of Berber rug, but they typically contain synthetics and a true Berber rug is made with 100% natural wool.