Handira, T89.0162
Posted: Jan 8th, 2020 | Collection Spotlight

Our Object of the Week is a beautiful wool and cotton shawl from the mid 20th century.

This particular shawl is called a handira, and it was made by Berber women who lived in the Middle Atlas Mountains in northern Morocco. Located on the fertile plateau that stretches from Meknes to the Atlantic coast, the territory is protected to the east by the Middle Atlas Mountains and as a result has a fairly temperate climate. Thus, the peoples who live there have less need for the heavily insulating pile carpets that are so prevalent in the higher elevations of the Middle Atlas.

Handira shawls are made with great care, particularly because they were often made specifically for important occasions– from wedding celebrations to funeral processions. These shawls are composed of wide stripes of undyed ivory wool, and red stripes patterned with geometric motifs in different colours. The introduction of cochineal from the Canary Islands in the 19th century contributed to the widespread use of all shades of the colour red, ranging from orange or tomato-red to more bluish, cranberry hues.

Handira shawls are still made in the region today, for personal use of the artists themselves, and for the tourism and collectors markets. Spinning, dyeing and weaving by hand are becoming less prevalent in everyday home life, however, and now tend to be made more in workshop or co-operative settings.

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