Morocco – Dyeing and Leather in the Fez Medina

The tourist brochures talk of being in the Fez medina as stepping back into the Middle Ages. Many traditional skills are still practiced and old-world services still offered. This likely to be one of the reasons why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you want a worn article of clothing freshened up, visit the street dyer, drop off your faded garment and  pick it up once it has been over-dyed.

The Fes medina has a dyers’ district where dyeing skills have been handed down through many generations. Hand-woven woolen and cotton cloth, tanned hides of camels, goats, cattle and sheep are tanned and dyed at a number of different tanneries.

Earthen vats are filled with dye materials – ochre, poppy, pomegranate and henna for reds, date stones for light brown.

Fullers stomp on the hides in the vats then lift them out. It is back-breaking work for only the strongest. And the smell… but you probably don’t notice it when you work there every day. Visiting tourists are handed a fresh sprig of mint to help the delicate ones cope with the smell. I found the smell to be not too bad, but I did remind myself we were there in winter. In the summer heat, I may have gagged.

The small yellow hides are saffron-dyed lamb skins to make the softest of leather.
From our high vantage point in a leather goods store’s verandah, we stood for a long time watching all of the different activities going on.

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