Yarn: Dead or Alive?


We had spent the morning exploring the narrow, earthen alleys and passageways of the souk in Fes, Morocco, on a blistering hot day.  We had seen everything from master wood carvers at work, to huge vats of tanned leather, and even a severed camels head, hanging from a stall in the meat market. When I asked our guide if we could buy yarn, he said yes, then asked do we want to see yarn dead, or alive? How do I answer that? If I reply alive, will he take us to the animals or to stalls of live sheep? And If I say dead, well I am not sure I even want to guess where that will lead us, I decided to play it safe and say, “Alive, please.”

Our guide walked so quickly that the hem of his djellabla (the long, loose traditional garment worn by many Moroccan people) seemed to glide around his feet and ankles. His English was excellent as he has educated us about his culture, his people, and the history of the country. To my request for yarn he said, “Come, come, I show you” and we scurried along behind him.

We darted into an alley so narrow that only one person at a time could pass, and so low that Hubby had to hunch over. We came out of the dark alley into the light, rounded a corner and came to an open air area where the poultry vendors gathered. They invited us to hold the chickens and take photos, it made me miss my pet hens. I told myself that when I return home I must remind them of how lucky, and spoiled they are.

Past the chickens, we turned our millionth corner and came to an alcove that serves as hotel of sorts. Many vendors travel great distances to bring their wares to market, they are provided these small tin sheds, in which to sleep and store their goods.  We were guided to a massive ten foot high by ten foot wide, mountain of sheared sheep wool. My nose tickled as I breathed in the smell of the raw, earthy dander. The wool vendor and our guide spoke to one another rapidly, then the vendor offered me a large handful of the un-carded wool. I accepted it with a smile and a handshake, as he would not accept payment. Our guide gestured grandly and proclaims that this is “alive” wool. Okay, so if this alive, what is dead?

“Come, come, I show you” he says, and just like that, the flash was off again, with us trotting behind. More mazes, seriously, how do they know where they are going?

We came to an aisle, a cobblestone walkway with open doorways to the right and left. One room had a huge vat of hot dye cooking over a small fire. Our eyes sting. The next open doorway had a room, lined with dozens of five gallon buckets, each filled with a different color of dye, full of yarn.

The water that ran down the center of the stone alley was a river flowing simultaneous colors of red, blue and brown. The feet and hands of the workers are permanently stained black.

Further down the path we found rooms strung with lines from one end to the other and back, all about shoulder height.  The lines were draped with colorfully dyed, drying yarn. The scent here is musty, almost moldy from the over 100 degree temperatures. With burning eyes and noses, we were relieved to move on.

“Come, come I show you” he said, when asked about yarn that is finished, ready for someone to take home. We pass a collection of stalls, each no wider than a doorway and only a few feet deep. We wondered how the shopkeepers move in and out of their shops.

We pass shops with beautiful silk threads, the threads are stacked so closely together that the eye barely sees the transitions as the colors flow from blues to greens and on to every color of the rainbow. The displays are works of art.

As we were being led from shop to shop, in search of alive vs. dead wool, I was fascinated by it all. My travel companions, however were less than thrilled, and pretty much over the whole thing. I needed to find my yarn, and soon!   

Suddenly our guide announces, “Here, dead wool!” and we stumbled out into the blinding light.

There it was, a yarn shop, at last! The yarns were piled loosely into bins, each color and texture spilling over onto the next, creating an exciting dance of fibers. Inside the stall was an ancient scale, where my selection is carefully weighed, and placed into a plastic bag. I thank the smiling vendor and did a little skip as I walked away with my turquoise beauties.

Is yarn dead, and wool alive? There are so many ways to look at it, it is certainly worthy of debate. However if you are ever looking for yarn in Morocco at least you know that you will be in for an adventure, and it just might include a severed camel head!   

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