- Author: Susan Schaefer Davis
- Photographer: Joe Coca
- Publisher: THRUMS Books
Format & layout:
- 254 x 254 mm (10″ x 10″)
- 168 pages
- ISBN 9780999051719
- Full-colour images with text on a white background
Photos, Illustrations & Diagrams:
The book is a full-colour celebration of the lives of the women artisans of Morocco. Every spread is filled with colour. Images of the women whose stories are told, images of the carpets and other crafts they make, and images of the landscape that is both the backdrop and the inspiration of their lives and craft.
Both the author and the photographer understood how to use visual storytelling to illustrate the text and to explain the intricacies of the weaving and embroidery processes.
Except for a map in the front of the book, there are no sketches or diagrams as this is not a how-to book. It is an illustrated storybook.
Joe Coca is a renowned textile and craft photographer who has worked on several other Thrums Books publications. He understands the language of textiles and has a knack for capturing people in their natural settings. His excellent photography plays a huge part in making this book a visual feast.
Author, Susan Schaefer Davis, fell in love with Morocco when she went there as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1960s. Her work and research with traditional women led her to complete a doctorate in anthropology at the University of Michigan and post-doctoral work at Harvard. She has published widely on gender in Morocco including two books, Patience and Power: Women’s Lives in a Moroccan Village and Adolescence in a Moroccan Town.
Susan did not study textiles or craft, she just has an innate affinity for the women of Morocco, and by befriending them through her work she learned about the craft that is such an integral part of their lives.
This book is the stories of Susan’s friends and their families. It is evident when reading the book – as yes, this is a reading book as much as it is a looking book – that Susan knows these women intimately. She knows where and how they live, how they raise their children and how they look after their homes and families. As an anthropologist, Susan understands the issues these women deal with, from gender discrimination to social constraints, to poverty and a lack of formal education.
But as much as this is a book about women’s stories, it is also a book about textiles. Susan explains the different styles of weaving, the regional styles, the techniques and even the economy and business side of being a women artisan in Morocco.
The book is divided into 24 chapters, each telling the story of one woman and her family. Some are weavers, some are embroiderers or button makers, and some are merchants or community leaders. Every woman’s story is closely related to the land, her craft, and the community she lives in.
Susan’s stories of the women are interspersed with chapters on the different styles of weaving, as well as the mechanics of making a living from weaving – from raising the livestock for the fibre and harvesting the plants for dyeing, to the business of co-operatives, merchants and negotiating a fair price for their work.
In the introduction chapter, Susan explains the socio-economic and historical context in which these women live, and she tells her own story – how she came to Morocco in the sixties, her studies inspired by the feisty women she met in this beautiful land, her fieldwork, and how all of this lead to her first becoming a collector, then a trader, all the while helping the women to empower themselves through fair trading initiatives and co-operatives.
The book concludes with a glossary of Arabic and Berber terminology and a bibliography for further reading.
Conclusion – My experience and opinion of the book:
I am familiar with the books produced by Thrums Books and have always been impressed by the quality of not only the production and photography but the research and writing. All the books are written from a very personal point of view yet are presented in a professional and scholarly manner. This one is no different.
Susan has followed the publication of her book by leading tours to Morocco, where she introduces participants to the country and the women she so loves. As I’ve been contemplating a tour to Morocco for some time, I decided to accompany Susan on one of these tours back in October 2019.
This book became like a tour guide. We met the women whose stories are told, we visited their homes, ate at their tables, met their children, and bought their carpets and crafts. For me this book is now more than just a wonderful book about textiles, it is a memento, a souvenir, and a keepsake of a wonderful experience.
But for those who have not (yet) had that privilege, this book is a glimpse into the lives of women who are strong, feisty, entrepreneurial, innovative and talented. These same women are also modest, hardworking, and in tune with their environment. And they spend their lives working with fibre and textile.
To understand and appreciate a Moroccan carpet, it is important to understand the country, the different regions of the Atlas Mountains, the different people groups, and the different socio-economic environments, as well as the immense amount of work that goes into making these carpets.
As someone who came to the carpets through a love and friendship of the women, rather than through textile research, Susan is the best person to educate and explain the craft of carpet weaving and embroidery, as she understands the hearts and the hands that created them.
This book is the next best thing to travelling through the country and meeting the women in their homes. It is a beautiful adventure and a story of love and friendship.