Every time I talk to Tom Knisely, I'm reminded that he is truly a master weaver. I know this because he makes every aspect of weaving look simple and fun––the mark of a pro. His mastery of weaving is only exceeded by his skill as a teacher and his gift for passing on the passion and joy he feels in his craft. Here he is to tell you how he fell in love with rug weaving and came to make his latest video. As Tom says, "Enjoy!"
One of the many beautiful rugs Tom's had
published in Handwoven.
I am fascinated by what drives people to want to weave. For me, I think it is a natural curiosity to understand just how threads interlace to create a textile. It is a lot of fun to take a fragment of a coverlet and analyze it to see just how the threads are interwoven and identify the weave structure. Then of course there’s the long history of handweaving. When you take a moment to think about the generations of talented weavers that went before us, and over thousands of years, it's mind blowing, don’t you think? There was so little written down beyond a couple hundred years ago and now we have to rely only on the pieces that have survived to tell their story.
I know I’ve been intrigued with handwoven rugs for as long as I can remember. My parents loved antiques, and I was taken on trips to antique shops and shows where I fondly remember looking at rugs for hours. It really didn’t matter if they were warp-faces , weft-faced, or pile rugs. I loved looking closely at the designs and wondering how the patterns were woven into the rug. I can remember as if it was yesterday buying a small tribal rug for a few bucks and bringing it home and analyzing it, trying to figure out how on one side the pattern was made up of pile and on the reverse was the same pattern but made up of tightly pulled loops of yarn. Knots, of course!
But how did the weaver do it, and what kind of loom was this rug woven on? Let me tell you that there was not much available on the shelves of a rural Pennsylvania high school library on this subject. When I finally did come across a book on rug weaving, I discovered the rug I had been agonizing over was woven on a loom much like the one Navajo weavers use to weave their rugs on. A simple vertical frame made up the loom, and it was apparent that this type of weaving is slooooow.
When I graduated from high school, I took some of the money I had received as gifts and bought a barn frame loom. The loom came out of Maine and only had two shafts but it was perfect for learning how to weave rugs. I had also received as a graduation gift the famous rug weaving book by Peter Collingwood, The Techniques of Rug Weaving. Oh my gosh, I was set and ready to weave. That was thirty-seven years ago. I still have that loom. It’s now in storage but the book is near and always close to me on the book shelf.
Over the years, I have woven dozens of rugs of all kinds and enjoyed weaving each and every one of them. Some ended up as gifts, some were commissioned works, and I am proud to say that many have been in the pages of Handwoven. It is always a delight to share what you love with others. To do my new video on rug weaving, Weave a Good Rug, is truly like a dream come true for me. To be able to share some of the tricks that I have found by weaving all those rugs I hope will be helpful. If I can encourage viewers to put a foot in the water, as they say, and give rug weaving a try then I will be more than pleased. I know they will like rug weaving even if it is only a small kitchen mat for in front of the sink.
Doing the video was so much fun. All of our friends from Interweave Press that were involved in the production made me feel so comfortable that it was easy to convey what I wanted to tell the viewers. Now, you rug weavers and would-be rug weavers, go out and get a copy, make some popcorn, invite a friend over and be inspired to weave your rug. I just know that you will have as much fun as I do. Enjoy!