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In Kingsport, TN, Jerry Machen Sr. passes on the art of carpet design and repair

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I fell in love with the rug

In their two-room studio in downtown Kingsport, Jerry Machen Sr. and his wife and business partner, Linda Machen, choose colors for a custom butterfly rug.

Jerry designed the mat and created a model out of butcher paper. The future carpet will be a large butterfly in a mix of pastel colors, with touches of mustard yellow and dark brown. As they work, Jerry glues small pieces of yarn onto the template to see how all the colors work together.

“Beautiful!” says Jerry. “God could hire us to make new butterflies.”

The Machens have owned their business for over 50 years. They named him Agape Carpet and Rug Specialists of America.

“Agape is a Greek word. It means the unconditional love of God,” he said. “I guess the reason I can create and do the things that we do is because of his love for us, and I love exactly what I do.”

Jerry’s love for carpeting began in the mid-sixties. He was in his twenties and worked at a furniture store creating custom draperies.

“It was my first love,” he said. “And then they needed help installing carpet. So I fell in love with carpet.

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In Kingsport, TN, Jerry Machen Sr. passes on the art of carpet design and repair

Jerry learned the ins and outs of carpet installation while at the furniture store, but he ended up doing it all on his own. With every installation job he did, Jerry always kept scraps of carpet in case his customers needed repairs. After a while, he had so much carpet scrap that he rented an entire house to put it all away. Linda was not very happy about this.

“See, I didn’t know about the house for a little while,” Linda said. ” It was interesting. He made a little noise. »

“My wife came in one day and said, ‘Get rid of all this. You have to clean this place up,'” Jerry said.

But Jerry didn’t want to just throw away all the leftovers. He thought he could use it. One day he saw a painting of a mountain scene and he had an idea. He decided to recreate the painting with scraps.

“I said, ‘I can do that with carpet.’ I had never built one before in my life,” he said. “But in my mind, I thought over and over again that I could build this.”

Linda came home to find Jerry working frantically on the kitchen floor.

“I come home from work and my whole kitchen floor is covered in chunks,” Linda said. “And he’s going to put a picture together.” And I’m like, ‘Is this going to be done before I have to start supper?’ »

At this point, it was the 1970s, so Jerry was working with pieces of shag carpet in vibrant hues of blues, oranges, reds and soft pinks. He hand stitched all the pieces together from the back. And he was surprised at the result.

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Nicole Musgrave


West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The first pictorial wall hanging that Jerry Machen Sr. created in the 1970s hangs in the front room of his studio. Jerry created rug art by hand sewing pieces of shag rugs.

“When I turned it over I was amazed at what it looked like,” Jerry said. “It was really beautiful.”

After creating this mountain scene, Jerry began sewing unique rugs and wall hangings for clients. He has created hundreds of designs including horoscope signs, landscapes, animals and logos. For Jerry, it’s a pleasure to bring an idea to life.

“I love working with my hands,” he says. “If you can build it in your mind, you can get your hands on it and you can set it up.”

It’s more of a work of art than a job

Over the years, the business has become a family affair. Along with Linda, Jerry works alongside his grandson and eldest son, Jerry Machen Jr.

In the back room of the workshop, the hum of mowers echoes as Jerry watches Jerry Jr. shave the edge of a piece of carpet.

Once the edge is straight and neat, Jerry Jr. uses an air compressor to blow the tiny remnants out of his way. Finally, he sews a strip of fringe to finish the edge.

Jerry Jr. explains that in addition to installing carpet and creating custom designs, they also do a lot of restoration work.

“Restoration is a big part of the business,” Jerry Jr. said. “A lot of people have rugs that have been passed down from generation to generation. And bringing them back to life is pretty amazing.

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Nicole Musgrave


West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jerry Machen Jr. bends the corner of a piece of trim on a runner rug. Jerry Jr. has been in the rug and carpet business his entire life and is accomplished in carpet installation and restoration.

But the Machens don’t just clean and repair carpets customers bring in. Sometimes Jerry finds rugs that people have thrown away. He will bring them into the shop to give them the new life he feels they deserve.

“I can recognize a really good mat, so when I find a good one, of course, I stop and pick it up,” Jerry said. “I like solving it. I like going to redo it. Instead of trashing it and throwing it away, I like fixing it or rebuilding it.

Much like custom design work, restoration work is an opportunity for Jerry to put his creativity and problem-solving skills into motion.

“Each of them tells a story,” Jerry said. “There is not a single rug – especially hand-knotted or tufted – that is the same. Everyone is different. So you have to find the method they used, the knot they used to even fix it. Otherwise it will show up. So it’s a daily learning process.

Jerry isn’t the only one at the studio finding creative fulfillment in installation and restoration. Jerry Jr. too.

“It’s more of a work of art than a job,” Jerry Jr. said. “It’s more creative. You have the opportunity to develop your imagination by doing different things. And actually, it’s a lot of fun.

Linda feels the same.

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Nicole Musgrave


West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Linda Machen (left) and Jerry Machen Sr. (right) choose colors for a custom butterfly rug. Jerry designed the mat and made the template.

“I didn’t even know I had creative abilities,” Linda said. “But I was good with colors and I was good with shapes.”

If you have a gift, then the gift should keep on giving

Jerry continues to teach others the art of carpet design and repair. In 2021, he received a traditional arts scholarship from the Tennessee Folklife Program. With the grant, he advises Stacy Kimbler on how to create painterly wall hangings using a tufting gun.

Today at the store, Stacy is working on a bee design. He stands on a 7-foot-tall wooden frame on which is stretched a piece of white fabric. He holds the tufting gun against the fabric, and when he pulls the trigger, the yarn enters the fabric at high speed, creating the tufted pattern. Jerry stands nearby and advises on the closeness of tuft rows.

“Yeah, you can go over that, it won’t hurt him,” Jerry said. “Just go fill it in the middle. The tighter the better.

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Nicole Musgrave


West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jerry Machen Sr. (right) looks at the bee that his apprentice, Stacy Kimbler (left), designed. Stacy designed the bee and used a tufting gun to bring it to life, a technique he learned while apprenticed with Jerry.

Although Jerry enjoys passing on his knowledge of rug art to others, he recognizes that he can always learn more.

“If you have a gift, then the gift should keep on giving,” Jerry said. “I think it’s very important to keep what we have and learn from it. I don’t know everything and I will never know everything. But I am ready to learn every day.

And after all these years in the business, the opportunity to experience something new is what keeps Jerry going.


This story originally aired on the August 26, 2022 episode of Inside Appalachia.

This story is part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Reporting Project, a partnership with West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia and the West Virginia Humanities Council’s Folklife program.

The Folkways Reporting Project is made possible in part through support from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies at the West Virginia Public Broadcasting Foundation. Subscribe to the podcast to hear more stories about Appalachian folk life, arts, and culture.