Before the ClothRoads/Thrums Book tour to Morocco fades into memory, there are special moments from the May trip that are highlights. One was visiting the town of Sefrou and meeting Amina Yabis, the founder of the Cherry Button Cooperative. We traveled there to learn the technique of making the jacquard-style button used on the djellaba, a traditional Moroccan caftan. And learning this directly from the women artisans was a rare treat. So much so, one of our tour members said she came on the trip expressly for that purpose. The story of the making of the “cherry” buttons has become synonymous with bettering women’s lives in Morocco.
Meet Amina Yabis
I introduced you to Amina Yabis in a blog back in 2012. Now we were together in her village of Sefrou, a stark contrast from meeting her in a packed booth at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. She greeted us at the roadside with a warm welcoming smile and outstretched arms. Upon seeing her longtime friend, Susan Shaefer Davis, she just beamed. I quickly snapped a photo noticing their height difference. Amina’s physical stature is barely five feet; her other stature is far greater.
A wife and mother of four, Amina’s remarkable life is a story of belief and action that has transcended all conventional wisdom and cultural limits. Her work with the Cherry Button Cooperative and beyond has brought literacy, education, and improved economic potential to thousands of girls and women in Morocco. It’s also led to more opportunity for her to have an impact as the treasurer and board member of a center for women’s issues funded by the King of Morocco, a rare honor for a woman.
Making the djellaba button it is a tedious process requiring a steady hand and considerable talent. Women learn this skill while young, usually from their mothers or grandmothers. Using a simple needle, the women knot the rayon into incredibly intricate buttons. One button alone can take four to ten minutes to make depending on the maker’s skill level.
For our workshop, we were paired with a woman artisan, given a sharpened drill bit, some cut lengths of rayon thread, a needle, and a small white bead. Non-verbal communication began—first watching our teacher as she quickly transformed thread into a very small button. Next, she proceeded slowly breaking the rhythmic steps down. And finally, the tools went into our hands as we made feeble attempts at mimicking our teacher’s motions. (There was a lot more back and forth between hands as correction of the steps was indeed necessary.) I can’t say I learned the process in short order, as I didn’t. But I did manage to make two buttons. (You can see buttons being made in this video.)
Read more about the Women Artisans of Morocco
Susan Schaefer Davis, the author of Women Artisans of Morocco, tells the stories of twenty-five women who continue their textile traditions and contribute substantially to their family’s income. Joe Coca’s award-winning photography captures the beauty of the women, their work, and Morocco.
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