Basket Making: Review of a Successful Week in 2019
Published in the Journal of the Basketmaking Association
What a treat our visit to Morocco was in January, the second basketmaking group to stay at La Maison Anglaise (see Basketmakers’ Association 167 p. 48). Such a joy to experience basketmaking in its everyday context and see people making functional things out of easily available local materials. There were 7 of us with varying degrees of experience but that didn’t matter. Our week was non-stop – we got off to a great start with a visit to the hammam in Taroudant, round the corner from where we were staying – the staff looked after us all the way as it was slightly challenging without road names or in the few cases where there were marble plaques, they were of course in Arabic. Taroudant is a lively historic town in southern Morocco (about an hour inland from Agadir where we flew to), with a kasbah and palace, and surrounded by an impressive 7 km of mud walls. As it’s not a tourist destination, it felt very normal – people shopping in the souk, going to the mosque and chatting over mint tea, without all the harassment of Marrakech or other cities. Real Morocco.
Having been thoroughly covered in rhassoul mud, scrubbed and massaged – and bonded! – we set off to walk across town to visit Brahim who worked in wild cane, Arundo donax. Later in the week he came to the guesthouse where we were staying to lead a workshop on the roof terrace, making a small handled basket; he fortunately insisted on wielding the huge knife with which he split the cane into 4 and 8. We had to admit that we struggled with the material, which was incredibly brittle, and difficult to keep a tight weave, but we all made a passable basket, even those who had never done any basketmaking before.
During the week we also spent a glorious day in a Berber village in the Atlas foothills, where almost the entire village joined us in their new and bare cooperative building to show us how to weave dwarf palm (Chamaerops humulis) growing all over the hillsides among the little terraced fields of barley and almond trees.
They stitched together woven strips with twisted palm string to make baskets, donkey panniers and other items. The elderly women tutored, hugged and giggled with us, kept us fed with biscuits and mint tea, followed by couscous. On another village visit, we were introduced to a typical kitchen, pottery-making and bread-making (flat-bread which is made daily), in between demonstrating the weaving of round mats by binding palm leaves.
Among these activities, we fitted in strolls around the town, exploring the walls, the tannery and the souk, looking for examples of local baskets and buying spices. One highlight was a trip just outside the town to a magnificent palace built about 15 years ago by artist Claudio Bravo, filled with African antiques and copies of his incredible paintings. We toured the gardens, ending with mint tea in a pavilion reflected in the lake, before a horse and carriage took us back.
The sustainably run guesthouse we stayed in was so comfortable – bedrooms furnished with Moroccan textiles, kitchen, lounge and roof terrace for our use and the most delicious vegetarian food I have ever tasted – including barley porridge with olive oil, yoghurt and orange honey for breakfast, tasty vegetable tagines, bakes or pastilla and salads for dinner. The staff could not have been more helpful.
The owner of Holidays with Heart, Jane Bayley, is involved in many projects to help and educate – supporting villages through our visits, developing women’s cooperative businesses such as soap-making, helping an orphanage, a street children’s project and a beekeepers’ cooperative – and there are opportunities to get involved if you want to. She has built a new guesthouse just outside the town walls, using traditional rammed earth, with ground floor bedrooms, gardens and a swimming pool, which will be open by the time you read this. Jane would welcome more basketmaking groups– it really is a chance not to be missed.
The next Basketmaking group will run from 10-17 May 2022. Please contact us to be the first to know once we have details.