Geometric patterns made by Moroccan zillij, mosaic materpieces, capture attention and mesmerize. For me, the facination with zillij is so overwhelming that it makes me love Moroccan artistic traditions. It also drives me to write and produce this blog. More
“This pattern is called ‘The Spider’” our guide said excitedly while gesturing towards a zillige-covered wall. “The Prophet Mohammad was hiding in a cave from his enemies when a spider came and built a web over the entrance. His enemies believed he couldn’t be in the cave because the web was unbroken. This is why it is haram (forbidden) to kill spiders and why this pattern is called named after the spider.”
The Story of the Spider
Since returning from Morocco to the solid walls of the United States, I’ve been craving pattern. My solid-color walls are staring at me like a blinking cursor on the computer screen. Judging by the pages of the Fall 2008 Pier One catalog, I’m not alone. Could it be that wall paper is making a comeback?
A craving for patterns...
Once you see a Moroccan zillij masterpiece, you can spot the style anywhere. It is an art form that has been practiced for a thousand years. It is a unique specialization of Morocco and continues to thrive in Moroccan society within a contemporary creative framework.
I got an e-mail from an artist who is constructing Islamic patterns and was wondering about the use of a grid. Since there are only three regular tessellations; square, hexagon, and triangle, I think each of those grid types would be useful as a base for constructing complex patterns. I found some free downloadable grid papers online. Scroll down the page and you’ll find triangles, hexagons, and even octagons, all which should be very useful for learning how to construct zillij patterns. Some writers state zillij designs are constructed through circles, but I am confident there are more straight forward grids underlying them. Let me know how it works out for you if you try them.
Some tips on creating Islamic patterns
I’ve recreated a few Moroccan tiling patterns. These designs are great for web and graphic designers or for anyone to use as desktop wallpaper. I kept the designs black and white. You can use an image-editing software to customizing the color scheme to suite your taste. They are free for download.
Download Moroccan Pattern Backgrounds
The shape that most clearly represents Morocco in my mind’s eye is the eight-point star. It is a simple shape made by overlapping two squares. The hard-edged lines make it indicative of Moroccan patterns, which are known for their use of straight lines in contrast to the curvilinear arabesque of the Middle East. It has a feel that is both modern and ancient. What is the meaning behind this particular shape and what does it represent? (Note: this article was revised on March 24, 2008)
Read more about the eight-point star