Yarn Weights in Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountains

In many countries around the world, knitting yarn is available in different thicknesses or weights. Each weight has its own name, so it’s easy for knitters to describe exactly what they’re using for a given project. A knitter might choose a fingering weight yarn for socks or a light shawl; a sport or DK weight yarn for a Fair Isle-inspired sweater; or a chunky yarn for a blanket. Weaving yarns in Morocco are no different. In the Middle Atlas, each type of yarn has its own name and is associated with different kinds of projects. What follows are some of the yarn types we learned about on a recent trip. Note that the names are in the local dialect of Tashelhit – an Amazigh (or Berber) dialect.

Araaf: This is a thin, tightly spun yarn used for the warp in weaving projects. It’s visible as the tassels on a rug or from the back of the weaving.


The black yarn in the tassels are Araaf.

Tafardast: This is a thin, loosely to moderately spun yarn used for the weft in weaving projects. You can find it in djellabas (the hooded robe worn by many Moroccans) and Hanbels. The Hanbel is a type of flat weave rug found throughout Morocco.


The red yarn in this Hanbel is Tafardast.

Uzleeg and Uzleeg Sgheer: This is a tightly spun, bulky yarn used primarily in hand knotted rugs like the famous Beni Ourain. Hand knotted rugs, also known as pile rugs, are referred to as “zarbiya” in the Middle Atlas region we visited. Beni Ourain is the name of a specific Middle Atlas tribe that is associated with the ubiquitous natural cream with dark brown or black linear designs. You can read more about the Beni Ourain here. Uzleeg Sgheer is simply a thinner version of Uzleeg. Sgheer means small in Arabic.


The natural cream and black yarn in this zarbiya is Uzleeg.

Kharri and Kharri Sgheer: This is a very loosely spun, super chunky yarn. Some people might consider this pencil roving, and it could probably be used for projects that require pencil roving. This super soft, very fluffy yarn is used for the weft in the local Btaniya blankets. These are soft, fuzzy blankets that develop a natural nap with use. They are perfect for keeping warm during the harsh mountain winters. Kharri Sgheer is the thinner version of Kharri.

Kharri Sgheer (left); Kharri (right)
The weft in this Btaniya blanket is Kharri.

All of these yarns are made with wool from local Middle Atlas sheep and are prepared with carders and a long spindle. You can read more about tools and techniques in this blog post here.


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