How Zellige Tile is Made
When Johannes Brahms in 1800 said "Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind" Zellige Tile was around for 600 years already...
One of the core values of our Zellige master craftsmen in Fes, Morocco is to keep the full authenticity in mind while making Zellige and stick to the traditional methods that made Zellige so unique for centuries. We're glad to share with you the steps taken to create this unique for of tile that has captured the world's best architects minds and designers.
Step 1 - The Raw Material
The good quality clay Zellige tile is made out of is found only in two towns in Morocco; Fes, and Meknes. Fes clay is known to be light in color, Meknes's on the other hand is known to be little reddish in color. These are large clay lumps that are soaked in water basins for days before they are kneaded by hand and feet until until they get soft.
Step 2 - The Hard Handwork
Once the clay is soft, it gets smashed and pressed by a hammer until it's little over one inch think and cut into large squares, then laid on large piece of wood to soak-up the sun. This step should take a day or two if it's a sunny season.
Step 3 - The First Bake
Once the clay pieces get little drier, they get cut into 4'.5x4'.5 and flattened by hand while making sure the clay doesn't contain any air bubbles, this is a very crucial part of the process as air bubbles will make square tiles difficult to cut into small shapes once baked. The squares are now baked for the first time in traditional fire kilns that are fueled with wood flakes and olive pits residue from olive oil mills.
Step 4 - The Second Bake
The squares are now ready to be painted. The paint contain sand to make sure it sticks while getting baked the second time. The proper and authentic approach to painting the squares is to dip them in paint by hand and place the base dark colored squares first in the traditional kiln and then light color variations last. Dark and base colors are more heat resistant than light colors.
Step 5 - The Artisan's Draw
Once the squares are baked, they get sorted by color and cut by hand to make a perfect 4'x4' squares. The squares get passed on to a craftsman to draw the desired shapes with a small sharp tool that make up the pattern requested like a Star of David, small triangles or any other shapes you see within a pattern.
Step 6 - The Artisan's Cut
This is a very crucial step that requires a lot of patience and focus. The second artisan cuts the squares into the little shapes by hand and a medieval sharp tool that looks like a half hammer half axe. These shapes can be as small as 1/8 an inch curvy and very pointy which makes it extremely difficult to cut by hand unless you're highly experienced.
Step 7 - The Puzzle
Once the required shapes for a specific pattern are cut and put a side, a metal frame is built where the shapes will be pre-assembled upside down by hand like a puzzle to make a full pattern, then glue will be poured on top and left to dry for 24 hours.