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For thousands of years, man has struggled with the natural elements, but with time, he settles, changing from hunting to a pastoral way of life. He began to use tools, to master and use natural elements, and to secure his living by domesticating animals. Sheep were highly prized amongst these animals because their flash provided food and their wool could be used for making carpets and clothes.
With the passing of time, shepherds learnt to handle the tools in such a way as to produce and process more efficiently. Various procedures and tools were developed for sheep shearing. Nowadays the ancient shears have been replaced by time-saving electrical devices, making it easier to cope with the ever growing herds. Goats and dromedaries also provide wool which is used for the weaving of the burnous (warm Berber cape), carpets, tents etc., and the shearing technique is comparable.

Washing the wool
Obviously, one part of an animal coat will be dirtier than another, so, a variety of washing procedures are employed. Wool collected from different animals will have many different qualities and may be long, curly, coarse etc. The proprietor classifies the raw material according to the job in hand. In yesteryears, shepherds would sort and classify up to eighteen categories of different wool. Nowadays, only four to eight classes of wool are raised, and in modern industrial wool processing, this job is done by specialized professionals.
After washing, the wool goes through a degreasing operation. In the north of the Chenoua frontiers, wool is treated with sea water. Washers march down to the sea flat baskets filled with wool and sticks in hand. They submerge their baskets in the sea water and move them to and from in half circles. This operation goes on until the washers are satisfied that it is clean. Finally, it is brought out to drain and gets a sun bath. However with this method grease sometimes remains stuck to the wool, and the sand, attracts to the wool throughout the process, is not easy to remove. Washing with fresh water is more efficient and can be done at home using cold or hot water. Cold water washing is the simplest method. First, the wool is put into big copper pans with flat bottoms and left for about two days to soften the dirt. After this time, it is removed, beaten, pulled apart and rubbed in the palm of the sands.
It is then trodden down while rinsing regularly with clean water. This is usually done in river water. Hot water washing is more complicated because it requires the heating of eater in cauldrons. The boiling water id thrown onto the wool which has been previously spread out on a flat support, and thus the grease is quickly eliminated. The wool is then rinsed in large wooden buckets. After a quick wringing, it is put in bags and left fry for two or three days.
Dyeing was often done in a traditional way at home, or with the help of roving dyers. In big cities, there are some dyeing shops, and the preferred methods these days employs chemical colourings instead of the ancient vegetal and animal dyes.
The traditional dyes do give a more natural effect, but they are more difficult to use, and also more susceptible to ravages of time. Nevertheless, the natural dyes are still well worth considering since these dyes do not fix easily, it is best to prime the wool using mordents (caustic salts). These mordents are produced from metal salts, such as alum, aluminium, copper sulphate, iron sulphate, tin etc., and combine permanently with the fibre in a way that renders it water-resistant, and durable despite regular washing.
The weavers dye the wool themselves by plunging it into cauldrons made of coppers, warmed on a wood fire, which contain from ten to fifteen litres of an alum solution. For one to two hours, the wool must be stirred by a stick, only then to be taken out and rinse thoroughly with water. A previously prepared dyeing bath is used for the wool tinting, and this is then brought to boiling point. Finally, the wool receives its last rinse and is put out to dry. Once the wool has been dyed and dried, the proper carpet weaving can begin and this is done using various looms.


Rugs and weaving in the city and rural areas:
Algerian Rugs and weavings have a certain richness of style which time has left untouched. Over the long march of time, this ancient art had never failed to enrich itself through the influence of other cultures and their arts. Just as the Mediterranean sea touches many cultures and peoples, so Algerian craft has been touched by African. Arabian, Islamic, Berber and Oriental civilisations; and the riches of these, have been exploited and incorporated into the communal expression of art in weaving.
The diversity and creativity of Algerian weaving, owes its stature to the readiness of its artisans to learn and exploit the arts and crafts to which they have been exposed.
Their work reflects a refinement of shape and style which intertwines art and everyday life in an authentic, very Algerian way. The Algerian artisan has been successful in preserving basic skill and arts; from the gathering of wool to the production of a fine finished weave, which travels in its own dimension, a dimension charged with sentimentality. The anonymous hand of the Algerian artisan demonstrates an instinctive knowledge of beauty, unaffected and disinterested by worldly celebrity, which can only be appreciated by an experienced and well-trained eye. The artisan gives generously of himself in the dedication and care given to shearing, sorting, washing, dyeing and weaving the material. Working unfettered by the prejudice of formal training and value judgments.
Carrying a vital passion to be at one with the material, just as one feel at one with the material, just as one feels at one with the natural world when walking in the fields at dawn.
There is clearly a duty to protect these arts and to bring into the service of people, a craft which appears as much imprinted in the artisans genetics as it is affected by his environment; through years of development of style and refinement of product in search of the exceptional. Sometimes sober, often majestic or purely and simply beautiful.

The urban carpet
For many long years, carpets of Kairouan, Rabat and Setif have all developed along similar lines. These iridescent and flowery compositions excite the imagination and have often been compared to those produced by the Ottoman and Anatolian artisans.
Great care and attention is lavished in the production of the urban carpet. The wool is washed and dyed with natural colourings such as cochineal, madder, indigo, centaurea, pomegranate rind etc., carded and spun at home. Their home is essentially practical and the size of each carpet will vary according to its use, be it prayer mat, carpet for the hammam (Turkish bath), saddle blanker, or floor carpet.

Rural carpets
These are usually magnificent carpets of soft fleece, their powerful and vibrant colours are reminiscent of cathedral windows. They are still used today as blankets which protect against cold nights. It is tribes of the Atlas mountains who gave this type of weaving a certain nobility. Subjected to the vicissitudes of the elements in these regions, the artisans has responded by weaving fabrics to suit these particular climatic conditions. The carpets are of a short pile due to the exclusive use of the warp and the weft intertwined and not knotted. This cottage industry remains the industrial domain of women who use either the vertical high-warp or the low-warp loom to create bags in which they transport cereals, flijis, tents and many other day-today items. The decoration is extremely sober but harmonious, dominated by reds, blues and yellows.

Carpet from Kabylia
From the small to the great Kabylia of Djurdjura and the lesser Kabylia of the bibans, this northern sector of Algeria is inhabited by Berber Speaking people.
The lesser Kabylia, because of its coastal situation, has assimilated the influences of several antiques civilisations, not least the Phoenician. Nevertheless, the heights of the mountainous Kabylia have always been difficult to penetrate. These regions are seeped in the old weaving traditions, despite the absence of significant sheep farming activities. Every Kabyle home has a place for its loom along the length of the living room and facing the light. As soon as the cool snap of autumn is felt, and before the olives are brought into harvest, the artisan sets to work using the wool from the souks (Marketplaces) or supplied by passing nomads.
The best examples of this region are the carpets of Ait-Hichem. A style developed only after the lifting of an old taboo, which one forbade women to weave with dyed wool. The credit for the celebrity of this style must go to the Ait-Oubane family first, and then to a few families who migrated to the region bringing with them certain secrets of the craft.
Originally, these were woven as feminine attire or ‘akhellal’ and were heavy cloaks held on the shoulders by silver brooches. "Ddil", shawls covering the shoulders and the back were also woven.
The ornamentation follows the selvage, which is found on the shoulders, and the bottom of the garment, while the plain middle part stayed supple to facilitate elegant draping at the waist. Sometimes, large decorative pendants covered the front and back of the bodice, so that when it was opened a charming asymmetry would be exposed. It should be noted that cross-banding is not specific to the Ait-Hichem region, but just as in other places, it is a result of the technique of short pile weaving. The style of Ait-Hichem is expressed through the discrete use of colour, the fine working of the weave and in the design.
The bands which hold together the design are dark, using reds, browns, bottle green, and indigo. The bands are set against creamy-white backgrounds, and outlined with zigzags known as snakes - a popular type of symbolism. The deep tones of the work are brought out by the white wool or sometimes, shiny cotton filigree work. Popular imagery is reflected in the decoration using natural elements such as honeycomb, fig stems, the moon and the stars, the snake and the pheasant amongst a multitude of others, emanating from the rural environment.

Reference: Some parts of the above text was inspired from "Algerian Handicrafts" By ANEP publishers
Note: To find out more about the Berber and Kabyle people and their handicraft/Pottery, just use any search engine, in typing the following keywords: Algeria handictaft, pottery, Berbers, Kabyle, etc.






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