In the Marrakesh Tanneries, the traditional process for tanning leather is such a unique and interesting interesting sight, to behold men treading and rinsing skins in mysterious liquids and dyes and then stretching the hides using traditional techniques.
Step 1 – Iferd
During the traditional process of tanning leather in Marrakesh, the skins are soaked to soften in a fermented solution known as iferd. The hide is left to fermet for 3 to 6 days, then they are squeezed out and left to dry. This initial step of the tanning process is, according to the belief held by the tanners, where the skin “eats, drinks and sleeps before being reborn from the water”.
Step 2 – Lime and Argan-kernel pits
After fermenting in the iferd, the skins are squeezed out and put to dry before the skins go into a pit of lime and argan-kernel ash. This is a good example of how Moroccan society functions as an economical, environmentally friendly society, making sure very little goes to waste and reusing byproducts of other industries. This lime and argan-kernel process lasts some 2 to 4 weeks.
Step 3 – Qasriya
After being washed, the skins spend 24 hours in a round pit known as a a qasriya, in order to make the leather thinner and stretchier. According to legend, it is at this qasriya stage, that the leather is said to receive naks, a spirit.
Step 4 – The Tanning process begins
Then begins the actual tanning process. The leather is scraped with pottery shards and beaten with alum, oil and water in preparation to receive the dye. Traditional tanners only ever use plants to dye their leather – that is, roots, bark, seeds and fruits. The solution depends on the type of hide used – cow, camel, goat, sheep – and the colour the leather will be dyed. For example, the infamous yellow babouche is traditionally made using pomegranates!! The dye is applied by hand, as it has always been, before the skin is left to dry out in the hot Moroccan sun.
Step 5 – A Smooth Finish
Finally, the leather is stretched numerous times between two ropes to make them smoother and more flexible. This traditional process is difficult work and is only carried out by the younger, more able-bodied men. This treading stage allows the leather to be manageable to craft various products including bags and satchels, poofs, babouche slippers and more.