1. Be prepared for this to be a journey. Carpet buying does not happen in a hurry, whether you see one that you can't live without right off the bat or not.
2. When you enter a carpet 'store', whether it is an outdoor stall or a large co-op like the one in these images, be ready to be awed.
3. Have a cup of mint tea, and while you are drinking this sweet mixture, mentally prepare yourself by knowing ahead of time what you are willing to pay for the carpet. (Some guidelines: smallish ones can range from $120-$250, depending on whether they are silk, silk/wool mix, how they were made, etc. Base everything else on this. We found that prices in the Artisan co-op in Marrakesh were surprisingly low compared to what many shop owners were asking-- but, realise that initially, the shop-keep will ask very high prices, and it is up to the buyer to enter into the spirit of the back-and-forth-dance to get a lower price. If you could time your visits to small weekly souks in the High- and Mid-Atlas towns and villages, you could buy directly from the makers and possibly get even better prices).
If in Fes, take the time to walk around and see what the co-op looks like; after travelling through tiny little tunnel-like alleys, through odd doorways, and down corridors, we entered this grand space. The entire building had been renovated with UNESCO funds, and everything was beautiful from the tiles floors, the carved and painted archways, ceilings, detail on the benches, beauty everywhere!
These cedar 'walls' were put in place as a railing for the upstairs section; they used to be the partitions used to allow women to hear conversations when guests arrived in a home, but kept them unseen by the visitors.
Two young women were working in amazing tandem, knotting woolen knots at the speed of light for a carpet with pile (I can't remember the number, but something like 5000 knots per square foot, possibly a lot more); before we even saw them, a steady rhythmic sound of soft thudding reached us as their hands traveled up and down the vertical threads. They didn't have any pattern written out, just followed each others' movements and built this particular carpet by rote.
While you are sipping your lovely tea, carpets and blankets will be brought out, unrolled onto the floor, and discussed.
Stacks and stacks and stacks. I suppose that each stack is a direct measure of time and effort spent, so this is in fact a physical measure for time-and-effort.
Camel hair blankets; old camel has dark hair, young camel provides light-coloured hair.
These carpets are made of woven silk backgrounds, then embroidered by hand. Men do the weaving, women do the embroidering.
This is a Berber rug woven in the High Atlas range, dyed with the pit of an avocado. The symbols tell the viewer where the carpet was made, and since women are not 'allowed' to be tattooed anymore, the tribal tattoo is incorporated as part of the carpet design.
These shades of purple and violet are made from the dyes of artichoke flowers.
Our official Guide in Fes... laughing about how he smokes like a tilt.
This carpet is made with silk and wool, and displays several different techniques-- weaving, knotting, and embroidery.
Got distracted. The lambswool in this garment is heavy, and it was very very warm; if I only had the space!! This type of djhellapa is meant for keeping warm and not moving around too much, or for riding, as there are no pockets or holes for the arms. I did come home with one, but chose a more functional one that I use most days in my unheated-basement-winter-studio, and it is awesome.
After a while, someone decides that there are enough carpets spread out on the floor, and the removal begins. When there is one that you may be interested in, it is left out, until at the end of this process there are only a few left, and now comes the real choosing time... and the discussion of price. This is a good system, as after all this time, and the effort put in by the shop-keep and his staff, one feels quite invested in the whole process, and if one were new to this business, one would definitely feel like they HAD to buy something, how could you not!
4. Haggle.The shop-keep will put out a big number, and you will offer half of what you are willing to pay. This exchange of numbers will go on for quite some time, often accompanied by calculators, pieces of paper, pens, so that everyone knows what number is in question at the time, and there is less confusion than there might be.
5. Haggle some more. Make sure you are still smiling, as this is a cultural ritual, and meant for enjoyment as well.
6. If you do not want to buy anything, or you have not reached a price that both you and the shop-keep can live with, as difficult as this may be, walk away. Some shop-keeps may be very upset with you at this point (to the point of yelling), and some may just shake their heads, but leaving without buying anything is also a choice that one can make. From personal experience, it is a lot easier to do this when you've spent the whole day with a guide going from one place to the next, and going through this ritual at every stop... for the likes of us who are not used to all the attention and pressure from sales staff, it is exhausting... but ya wouldn't want to miss it for the world!