Last year, we left Camille Bertrand stranded in Morocco by the pandemic. She had started a collaboration with a cooperative of embroiderers at the gates of the desert, but travel being prohibited, she focused on setting up a textile dyeing workshop, while cultivating the necessary plants.
A year later, it is in the south of Lyon (France) that we find her, again trapped by the Pandemic! For a “nomad embroiderer”, this is an incongruous situation! While in France to give courses in embroidery, natural dyeing and fabric printing, she learned that flights to Morocco were being canceled indefinitely.
She must therefore once again review her plans. But the young woman is determined, full of creative energy and humor about her situation.
Surroundings of the Tiwizi association, with a view of the Atlas between Marrakech and Agadir © Camille Bertrand
Berber Embroidery (Amezrou Cooperative) – Zoom on the hands of an embroiderer at work on an order for the Nomad Stitcher © Camille Bertrand
Since our last conversation, Camille has decided to settle permanently in Morocco. After the first (and only) confinement, she was able to find her Berber embroiderers from Zagora and work with them on more and more interesting projects. Traditional stitches are very common (chainstitch, buttonhole stitch, stem stitch, etc.) but it is the way in which they are made that is unique to Berber women. They normally embroider sitting on the floor, without comfort, without a magnifying glass or suitable light and everything is done while chatting. The stitches are therefore quite free, each one embroiders according to her ideas. To get the embroidery she expects, Camille begins by making a sample. This is then simply copied. Much easier than long explanations!
These samples then allow Camille to show what can be done at Haute Couture Houses, while ensuring the necessary income through the sale of small accessories.
During the confinement, the 5 brothers who created this cooperative did some research and found veils and scarves embroidered by previous generations. This work is quite different from the embroidery of today even if the link is easily found. These are the same stitches, the same patterns too, but more complex and more frequent. These are always very organic patterns, the symbolism of which has been lost (the research carried out by Camille on this level has not yielded anything but if you know something, please let us know!). Today’s embroiderers have mostly developed the edges by adding knotted threads (like macrame), pom poms, etc.
Having to provide the fabrics themselves, the embroiderers had chosen polyester, which was less expensive. Camille brings her fabric and natural threads, and the embroidery thus regains its hues and the appearance it once had.
Berber Embroidery (Amezrou Cooperative) – Embroidered veil made by previous generations, in the village of Amerou © Camille Bertrand
Entrance of the Amezrou Cooperative © Camille Bertrand
The embroidered scarves worn by today’s women of the Drâa valley © Camille Bertrand
Berber embroidery (Amezrou Cooperative) – Clutches made with Berber embroidery of the cooperative © Camille Bertrand
These exercises that push embroiderers to work with other materials are perfect for the next step. Camille’s dream is to be an “intermediary of excellent craftsmanship” by working with haute couture houses in France. One of them asked for embroidery samples to be done on specific fabrics, within specific limits. A challenge for the young woman who must adjust the work on both sides with a lot of diplomacy!
Berber embroidery in silk threads tinted with Chamomile and Moroccan Madder on a cotton printed in natural serigraphy © Camille Bertrand
The fabrics and threads come from France and China: Camille worked with Miao women and was able to come back with magnificent indigo silks. In France, she goes to the factories and workshops that produce a lot of leftovers. She takes these ends of unbleached silk which she dyes in her workshop. She ended up with over 50 kg of silk! Impossible to embroider all this.
It was then that she met Anne, a Belgian woman fascinated by the nomadic life of the Berbers. In Morocco, sheep are primarily a source of meat. The bigger they are, the better. If their wool is perfect for making rugs, it is unfortunately too short to be embroidered.
Anne seeks to recreate a herd of endemic sheep in Morocco (the Tighalins), which have almost disappeared. She has a small flock of them in the valley of Ait Bougmez.
The threads obtained from their wool are much longer and finer. Trials, tests, the start of a 100% Moroccan adventure, maybe become a reality one day …
Tighaline sheep from Anne in Ait Bougmez © Camille Bertrand
First collection of hand-woven cushions and rugs made in wool and silk in collaboration with a women’s cooperative in the Atlas © Camille Bertrand
Moroccan rugs are well known, they are part of the cultural heritage of the country. Camille met a cooperative that weaves it together. They use wool without questioning where it comes from. To make a carpet, the warp threads are prepared on a vertical loom. Then they weave the weft threads. Camille proposed to create the traditional patterns with silk, the same patterns that she uses for her embroidery. The difference in size means that for a woolen thread, 8 silk threads are needed to make a stitch. But the idea takes. The wool is woven, and the patterns embroidered with silk threads. It takes time, but the result is promising.
She has also met a Frenchwoman living in Marrakech who has a boutique of linens embroidered by a group of women. This association (Tiwizi) located in the middle of nowhere, between Marrakech and Agadir, practices a very little-known embroidery in Morocco (Rozlaby). The geometric patterns take up the weaving of the fabric. For the past ten years, these embroiderers have been making linen household, with DMC threads, always woking on linen with the same colors.
Embroidered pouch from the mother of one of the embroiderers of the Tiwizi association. It is made of polyamide yarn on woven plastic © Camille Bertrand
Rozlaby embroidery (Tiwizi Association) in silk threads tinted with Moroccan chamomile on cotton tinted with cachou for the Nomad Stitcher © Camille Bertrand
Berber embroidery made with wool yarn from Anne’s sheep in the valley of Ait Bougmez. The dyes are made in the workshop of the Nomad Stitcher © Camille Bertrand
Camille suggests that they try working on other fabrics with other colors. Since you have to follow the weave, the possibilities for change are limited, but not inexistent. As fabrics are also limited, working with Haute Couture houses seems difficult. Camille then turns to Safea, a Moroccan living in Germany who has her own line of clothing, Hedo. She bought a pouch decorated with this technique, figured out the type of fabric needed, sent it to the association, and it was embroidered. Camille tells me how eager she is to be able to see this achievement up close!
A reader of Camille’s blog raised an interesting question: in Yugoslavia, we find this same technique, less finely executed. What is the historical link between these techniques? What curious human adventure is behind this “journey”?
The Nomad stitcher has not quite put down her bag yet …
The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire