Given the success of the Batik art workshop in Bali and the knife making workshop in New Zealand, we’ve decided that attending a course designed to teach you a traditional skill from whatever region you’re visiting is most certainly the way forward! These courses are great fun; allow you a chance to get to know a local or two; and teach you a new skill along with a deeper appreciation for just how much work and skill is required to make these traditional artefacts. Learning how to fashion a small bowl from a piece of brass down a small backstreet in Marrakech’s medina was no exception.
We booked our course through Ateliers d’Ailleurs, who offer a wide range of workshops, including pottery casting and turning; mosaics; wood carving, turning and painting; jewellery making; basketry; leather production; embroidery; carpet weaving; and cooking. So just a few options then! Bean8 was the most excited about the prospect of the workshops so we let him choose the course – he opted for a shaping and hammering brassware workshop.
At 9:00, our interpreter for the day, the lovely Oumaima, collected us from our Riad and walked us through the souk to the workshop of Muhammed, one of the top brassware craftsmen in Morocco. He was even one of the judges on a Moroccan TV show to find the best young artisan of the year. With a prize pot of $1 million, it was designed by the government to encourage young Moroccans to keep the country’s traditional crafts alive.
After showing us his shop of handmade brass treasures, we settled down on our little stools for the session whilst Muhammed measured us out four circles from a sheet of brass. He then started us off cutting it out and handed us the brass-cutting scissors for us to have a try. Cutting I thought, I can do that. Embarrassingly though, I really couldn’t… It was extremely hard – I must have had a dodgy pair of scissors though as the others managed it, albeit with a lot of effort and a little help from Muhammed!
Once we’d cut out our circles, it was on to the hammering to attempt to turn the 2D shape into a 3D bowl. Again, this was a lot harder than it looked. We were hammering for at least an hour using tree stumps with little bowl-shaped indents in the top to aid our progress (apparently these are key to the process!). He showed us the technique, holding the brass over the hole and hammering around the edge first in a complete ring and then moving towards the centre for the next ring of beating. It was hard work and after a while, he brought us out the ubiquitous mint tea and a plate of delicious Moroccan desserts.
All the while, Oumaima translated Muhammed’s Arabic instructions into English for us as well as telling us stories about her life in Morocco (as one of very few educated women, she struggles with the disparity between the sexes in her country and the lack of opportunity for women); local stories and legends; and all about the tradespeople who worked in that little corner of the souk. She interpreted as a leather worker taught his apprentice (in apparently fairly harsh words) how to prepare and dye the pieces of leather in the workshop next to ours. She also described some of the techniques and tools Muhammed uses to create the intricate designs on his more complex brass products. It was fascinating to listen to her, and the Beans were extremely impressed at how fluently she spoke English, as her fourth language, along with Arabic (her mother tongue), Spanish and French (and she’s just started to learn Japanese too!). They were so inspired by her language proficiency, that they’ve vowed to practise their Spanish more at home by having days where they only speak Spanish. I may well have to remind them of this promise in the future!
But back to the brass. When we’d finally hammered our little bowls into shape – MrJ was definitely the best at this and I was certainly the worst – Muhammed showed us how to position it upside down on a metal rod and use a mallet to smooth out the bottom, removing any dents. Then it was onto the patterning, gently knocking little circles into the base of the bowl from the centre outwards. Again, much harder than it looked! Bean8 and I ended up with quite wonky looking bowls by the time we’d added the pattern – clearly, we were both slightly too vigorous with the tools! Luckily MrJ came to our rescue, smoothing out the dents with the mallet.
Next up on the agenda was a spot of soldering – the traditional way – to attach the three little feet. A first for the Beans. Usually Muhammed does this part himself, but he could see we were keen to learn, so he let us all have a go (fixing any errors for us!). The Beans loved heating up the tool, dipping it in the solder and carefully applying it to the brass to affix the feet. And I loved the fact that the only health and safety regulation in force was a healthy dose of pragmatism!
The final step was polishing the brass with a buffing tool made from a pair of old jeans! Simple but highly effective. We each had a turn to add a little shine to our handmade bowls.
Here are the finished products:
We were all ridiculously pleased with the final result of our morning’s work. They may be simple little objects, but there’s something wonderful about having created them with our own hands. Wandering back through the souk, we stared with fascination at the shops crammed full of beautifully crafted brass treasures with a deeper appreciation of just how much effort and skill went into making each item.
If you fancy a spot of crafting and are visiting Marrakech, I would highly recommend getting in touch with this company and booking yourself and your family onto one of their excellent workshops. Learning traditional hands on skills alongside your family has to be one of most fun ways to learn 😊
2 thoughts on “Traditional Brassware Workshop in Marrakech”
Brilliant for you all to enjoy being real artisans!
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