To celebrate my birthday three years ago, my friend Dilys whisked me off to a dreamy apartment filled with light, dried flowers, and art. It was the craft studio and home of an artist who taught us how to make polymer clay earrings. That intimate session sparked our tradition of dabbling in artisanal activities during Leo and Scorpio season — for her birthday and mine, respectively. Thereafter, we tried acrylic pour painting and pottery. This year, I chanced upon the perfect workshop for us: tufting at Tuft Club. A type of textile weaving, the word was not even in my vocabulary before it became a TikTok trend that blew up during quarantine.
Upon booking our slots, I received a confirmation email. A week before our session, I submitted the designs we were considering via Whatsapp. The staff gave comprehensive comments for each of them — the cartoon images of Stitch that Dilys picked had many small details, while the checkered designs I picked had far too many thin boxes. Heeding their advice, I decided to go for a simpler distorted piece. I cropped the background of a feature image I used for another article and colored the thinner boxes using Procreate.
The staff reassured me that I will be able to make minor tweaks on the day itself should I find it too challenging. Since Dilys could not decide which Stitch design was manageable within the four-hour time limit, she decided to wait for Tuft Club’s recommendation on the day of the workshop.
When I reached the second storey of a shophouse on Circular Road, Dilys had already picked her design and was awaiting my arrival. In my haste, I stepped into the staff’s workstation on the left before I was directed to the area where the workshop would be held.
Dilys and I were given a brief introduction of the tufting technique — how loops of yarn are pulled through a backing fabric with the help of a tufting gun — as well as the materials available. Since we wanted ornamental rugs and did not need a wide variety of colors, both of us went with the standard 16-strand cotton yarn option.
As Tuft Club happened to run out of white cotton yarn on the day of our workshop, we got to use the off-white single-ply wool yarn from New Zealand without having to pay an additional $38 for the upgrade.
With the help of projectors and markers, we sketched the inverted version of our final designs on a 70x70cm cut of monk’s cloth. Then, we indicated which color we wanted for the various sections until our cloth resembled a paint-by-numbers art piece.
Before we started tufting, we were reminded to tie our long hair for our safety. The heavy-duty handheld tufting gun was certainly intimidating at first; when in use, it whirred loudly and you could feel a slight recoil. Our instructor, Nicole, demonstrated how to use the machine several times and patiently guided us.
After threading the gun, we had to place it firmly into the cloth. Then, we had to pull the trigger while running the gun up the cloth and rotating it in the direction we wanted. The trick, we were told, was to apply sufficient and consistent pressure.
After practicing with some straight lines and simple curves, I was still unsure if I could work on an entire rug on my own without making any huge blunders. But it turns out that the learning curve is relatively small and this craft was pretty forgiving — as long as you avoid puncturing the fabric.
By the time a staff member of Tuft Club started photographing us (a service they provided to customers for their keepsake), Dilys and I had settled into a comfortable rhythm. Wielding a tufting gun was more physically exerting than expected, and we tried our best to ignore how our arms felt increasingly sore as the time passed.
After I was done with the blue parts of my rug, I moved on to the white portions and discovered that it was unexpectedly challenging to use the wool cones. Slight tension would cause the white wool to break or pull right out of our gun, and it happened multiple times in a single minute.
To thread the gun, we had to use a piece of wire to bring the yarn through the yarn guide and through the top of the needle. Within minutes of working with the white wool, I became very well-acquainted with the wire loop. In contrast, I only had to thread the blue cotton yarn once.
Although we initially started with only two cones of wool yarn, Dilys and I ended up using three so that we didn’t have to re-thread even if one of them fell out. We had to constantly ensure that there was no tension on the yarn by manually unraveling it from the cones after releasing the trigger; the white wool yarn certainly kept us on our toes.
Since both of us needed to use the white yarn, Dilys and I wound up staying for an extra hour. Although extensions actually cost $15 per hour, Tuft Club did not charge us for overstaying. The staff members also frequently checked in on us to offer us their assistance. When we left the studio at 9pm, I felt triumphant and also relieved that we managed to complete our pieces.
Once the tufting process was complete, Tuft Club took over the reins to complete the rugs before delivering them to our doorstep about three weeks later. Our creations were trimmed, rid of stray strands, and glued to an anti-slip rubber backing.
It was only after the workshop that I noticed how out of shape my circle was, so I was a little worried about how the end product would turn out. But when my rug arrived, it looked more circular than before. I was so pleased with it — imperfections and all — because it was my labor of love.
From the pleasant ambiance and lovely service to the deep satisfaction of seeing my creation come to life, Tuft Club’s rug-making workshop is certainly my favorite out of all the DIY craft classes that I’ve attended so far.
Photography by Tuft Club & Sherryl Cheong
Editor’s note: For transparency sake, this review is not an advertisement; we attended the workshop as paying customers.