Rachida Ousbigh and Latifa Harchaou
In the city of Khenifra, Morocco, it is traditional for women to have artistic skills which can be used both for the needs of the family, and also to generate income if needed; one of these skills is button weaving, which is passed from generation to generation matrilineally. This woven button, called the djellaba, is an essential part of traditional Moroccan clothing, and requires a steady hand, not to mention considerable talent. After making djellaba buttons for most of their lives, a group of women decided to form an artist collective, to create their own innovative products using this unique type of adornment. With help from United States Peace Corps volunteers, these artisans created a new, innovative jewelry line that blends contemporary and traditional Moroccan design. Called Artisanat des Femmes de Khenifra, the cooperative was founded in 2008, and now provides steady work and pay for 17 women.
All jewelry is hand-crafted by members of the cooperative. Thread used is called sabra, which is all-natural and harvested from agave plants indigenous to Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountains. Agave fibers are spun, dyed, and plied for strength. Using just thread and needle, artisans weave each individual button around a plastic or wooden form. Each artisan creates her own pieces of jewelry from start to finish, so color choices, layout, and style reflect each artist.
Although traditionally, Moroccan djellaba buttons were used as ornamentation on garments—sewn onto hoods, for example, or perhaps descending elegantly down the sleeves of blouses and tunics, Artisanat des Femmes de Khenifra now uses the buttons in non-traditional ways, suitable for a wide range of customers. Whether arranged in brightly colored cluster necklaces or longer, wraparound necklaces, Artisanat des Femmes de Khenifra has an artistic style all their own.