A Yarn About Rags from Tom Knisely

I still remember very well the first time I spoke with Tom Knisely. I had just started at Handwoven perhaps the week before and Madelyn told me to call this Tom person to interview him about his teaching. I was totally nervous. I didn’t know anything about Tom, and I didn’t know much about weaving at that point either. Almost from the first “hello,” Tom put my mind at ease: he asked me if I happened to be related to chef Ina Garten after I introduced myself (sadly, no). I learned then, and he’s reminded me in every conversation since, that talking with Tom feels like talking with an old friend. Recently, we asked him to write about rag weaving and his new video Weaving with Rags; read on to meet a new old friend. ~Christina


My career as a handweaver started with my love for and interest in historical textiles, especially rugs. I learned one of the most recognized style of rugs the world over is the humble rag rug. Over the years I have studied and woven many types of rag rugs.

My research has gone beyond documenting color patterns and structures—I am also interested in knowing more about the fabrics contributed as the weft filler in these magnificent rugs. After all, these rugs started out as a way to add warmth to bare board floors and to help keep out drafts. They were woven using lengths of cut or torn strips of fabrics that had seen better days as something else.

Tom Knisely Rug Video

Sometimes these old worn-out rags might be one hundred years older than the antique rug I was studying! You can see how you can be drawn into this field of interest. These frugal old weavers were some of the first recyclers and way ahead of their time. I love this concept. Today, though, I am more likely to pick and buy new fabrics to fit the design or place the rug is intended for.

I find a lot of weavers are visual learners like me, and there’s no better way to explore a new technique than to take a class or watch a video. I knew that working with Anita and the capable staff at Interweave would bring one of my workshops to people who couldn’t take a workshop at a guild or conference. A video can answer many of the questions that you might have, and you can rewind it and view it again and again. It is my pleasure to bring you this video and to share my love of weaving rag rugs with you, and to also show you other examples and applications of rag-woven textiles.

—Tom

Tom Knisely

Tom Knisely

Learn more from Tom Knisely in his popular videos The Loom Owner’s Companion, Weave a Good Rug, and The Weaver’s Yarn Companion. Tom teaches at Red Stone Glen Fiber Arts Center, along with his daughter Sara Bixler, after teaching for many years at The Mannings Handweaving School.


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