Ain Leuh weavers on naturally dyed rugs. Photo: courtesy of Nina Mohammed

Regenerating Natural Fabric Dyeing Processes with Traditional Moroccan Weavers

Category Regenerate

Atop the Ain Leuh natural spring in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco sits a village of 5,000 people. In 1977, local women formed the Ain Leuh Women's Cooperative, where through traditional weaving, they can support their families with an income that preserves their culture.

Yet, today, the global market’s insatiable appetite for cheap Moroccan carpets fuels the demand for synthetically dyed, chemically treated, and disposable textiles that impact the local ecosystem and weaver health while leaving consumers unaware of the environmental consequences of their purchases.

With funding, this project will bring together traditional weavers, researchers, designers, textile experts, scientists, anthropologists, and businesswomen to create sustainable dyeing processes that Ain Leuh Women's Cooperative can use.

Photo: courtesy of Nina Mohammed

Finding natural plant dyes

This project is a collaboration between the Ain Leuh Cooperative, Artisan Project, Around the World in 80 Fabrics (ATW80F), The Microbe Institute, and Bard College. Through a collective team of researchers paired with regional weavers, local plants and microbes will be sought out for the potential of creating natural dyes.

The team will document the local soil and water microbes capable of producing dyes, record their pigments through the photography of the living cultures, and collect and conserve samples containing these microbes.

Process for dyeing fabric by growing it with the purple expressing bacteria. Photo: courtesy of Dr. Brooke Jude

Sharing sustainable dying processes

After the documentation phase, the team will create an open-source natural dye, plant, and microbial resource book with a map and dye recipes. Weavers' stories will also be included, and printed copies will be made available for Ain Leuh.

A dedicated natural plant dye lab at the Ain Leuh Cooperative will also be set up, and a natural dye training workshop will be held. This practicum will partner with master dyers with the local weavers.

Near Ain Leuh location of carpet bleaching. Photo: courtesy of Nina Mohammed

Preserving traditional culture

Another significant scope of this project will be for researchers to collaborate with weavers to document their traditions and women's cultural and spiritual life in the Atlas Mountains.

Weaving is a valuable link in a complex chain of ancient cultural practices that bind the community, linking farmers, herders, spinners, and families. The Ain Leuh Cooperative represents many ages and abilities, integrating weaving into their daily lives. Without the craft of weaving, the fabric of the Atlas Mountains community would unravel.

Ain Leuh weavers on cooperative roof. Photo: courtesy of Nina Mohammed

Improving lives and the environment

Support for this project will empower and improve the health of the Ain Leuh weavers by removing the need for using harsh, harmful chemicals. It will inspire upcoming generations to embrace climate-friendly natural dyes in producing Moroccan wool carpets.

Photo: courtesy of Nina Mohammed

Joining a worldwide effort to rethink fast fashion and fabrics

By seeking the wisdom of diverse Indigenous cultures and creating sustainable processes that can be replicated, ethical alternatives to fast fashion are developed. Endeavors like these protect the environment from pollution and reduce waste worldwide.

ATW80F works with numerous global fabric makers, and this project is part of the organization’s broader goal of developing a traveling educational quilt of 80 fabrics. These 80 fabrics will showcase the ecology of textiles of various cultures from plant, animal, bio-based, and recycled sources, exploring common and uncommon fibers and the makers behind them.

Through programs like the one in Ain Leuh, positive economic and environmental impacts will be felt in the region, and its culture will be preserved and promoted. Ultimately, a more sustainable fashion and textile industry will be created.