The Making of Zellige

“Zellige” simply means tiles in Arabic. But, by a subtle shift of the true meaning of the word, we have reduced the use of this word to the traditional glazed and hand-cut terracotta tiles made in Fez- Morocco; as if everything was suddenly summed up in a simple and imperfect square of colour; unique and unable to be reproduced.

There is actually no real secret behind its creation; only an ancient technique, very artisanal and perfectly illustrative of all the manufacturing defects that industrialisation has sought to eliminate, through ever more lucrative rationalisations.

In opposition to the perfect industrial tile and soulless realisations, the small zellige of Fez, all dented, all imperfect touches us. As if, bored to control everything, we wanted a material close to our nature; far from refined earth, unified moulds and a passage by the fire so dominated and policed that its participation becomes invisible.

The zellige, through their beauty, allows the intervention of natural and human activity to be visible and powerful.

We are here to let you into the world of zellige - giving you a glimpse at how these beautiful tiles are made. Take a few minutes to watch the video and be inspired by the end result.

One of the most important characteristics of the zellige is the clay used for its production. The clay present in the Fez region is from the Miocene period and presents the perfect chemical stability, adaptation to temperature changes and humidity, allowing the creation of a highly sustainable and environmentally friendly product.

Once the clay has been sourced, it’s soaked in water until it has reached a soft texture. Once the ideal texture is reached, the clay is filtered by hand and shaped into rectangles and left to dry in the sun.

Once dried and enamelled, the tiles are then placed into natural wood fired kilns - in traditional Moroccan kilns the heat circulates irregularly allowing tiles to have different tones when dried which makes each tile unique.

There are three specific kind of craftsman that are used at this point to achieve the best zellige tiles. The first selects and draws his desired shape onto the tiles. The tiles are then given to a second craftsman who roughly cuts it into the shape requested using a medieval tool called the menkach.

The most important part happens next by the third craftsman who is most commonly known as the master craftsman who specialises in precision cutting. The whole process results in a number of various types of tiles which are used to create the beautiful zellige which you have come to know and love in your home.

Credit: Ateliers Zelij

Credit: Ateliers Zelij

Maison Sarah Lavoine - Paris XVI

Maison Sarah Lavoine - Paris XVI