Note: This article was originally posted about a year ago, on the Crazy Useful website. I have re-posted it here.
A few Saturdays ago, after weeks of silent admiration, I finally bought a hand-loomed wool rag rug from Terry Thompson, a.k.a. Terry’s Tinker Shop. I bought it from the Thompson’s booth at the Saturday Gardeners’ Market in downtown Logan, Utah. During the process of choosing and buying the rug, I got to know a little bit about Terry and his wife and the story of the rugs, which to me is an important and probably the most fun part about buying an item like this.
At the booth, along with the hundred-and-something rugs they have displayed, is a picture of the loom on which the rugs are made. On a hunch, I asked Mr. Thompson if he made the loom himself. Being, apparently, a man of few words, he nodded yes. Mrs. Thompson then told then me the whole story.
A few years ago, the Thompsons served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were in Nauvoo, Illinois, where the church has a museum. In that museum was a big loom, which Mr. Thompson fell in love with. When they returned home to Mendon, Utah, he proceeded to build one. Mrs. Thompson explained that he was working only from photographs and somehow he just understood how everything went together. Every once in a while, she said, he would have to call the museum and get this or that measurement. But otherwise, he was on his own. I told them that it reminded me of my late Dad, who once built a giant puppet of the dragon for a stage production of Shrek, with with virtually nothing to go on except a short video clip my mom found for him on YouTube. Mr. Thompson just smiled and nodded.
Mrs. Thompson also told me about how they source the wool “rags”. The material to make the rugs comes from the Pendleton factory in Pendleton, Oregon. When Pendleton makes the wool blankets, they cut the selvage off the finished blanket. For the factory, this inch-wide strip is waste material: for the Thompsons, it’s pure gold. They drive up to the factory periodically and buy big quantities of these strips. They don’t have any choice in the color or patterns that they get, and there’s a fair amount of work involved in detangling the strips, removing the long strings of wool yarn that get tangled in, and separating out the various colors.
The strips are then woven into blankets using the traditional method. The rugs come in a fantastical array of colors and patterns, it would be impossible to find two that are alike.
In a new, unwashed rug, the warp threads are visible and the yarn of the rags is very, well, yarn-like. However, the rugs are machine-washable, and sending them through the washing machine felts the wool yarn, changing the texture to a more “woolly” look. The size, however, does not change. The rug will not shrink, as long as it is not put in the dryer. The felted wool forms a thick protective layer over the warp threads (the part of the rug most susceptible to wear), which prolongs the life of the rug. These rugs are beautiful, but they are in no way delicate. These are meant to be used. For years. Possibly decades.
I wish I could refer you to the website for Terry’s Tinker Shop, but they don’t have one. The Thompsons sell their rugs mainly by traveling to craft shows, primarily around the Southwest. So, while you may not have the chance to buy one of Mr. Thompson’s rugs, I hope you find inspiration in the Thompsons’ skill and dedication to this timeless legacy craft, their ability to turn “waste” into beauty, and their friendly willingness to share it with their neighbors — wherever they may be.