Image by Tala Safié

Welcome back to Spotted, Eye on Design’s column that turns an eye on the styles and graphic trends you’re seeing everywhere. This time around, we’re looking at the fuzzy world of tufting, the oddly satisfying trend we’ve seen takeover designers’ social media feeds (especially TikTok). See a similar trend you think is worth exploring? Email submit@aiga.org, and we’ll be in touch.

What are you seeing?
Imagine Aladdin’s magic carpet, only way more fuzzy and colorful. These rugs feature geometric blobs, abstract faces, and bold statements, all woven in colorful yarn.  It’s all the fun of design, minus a focus on perfection.

If you’re not familiar with tufting, it refers to a weaving method that involves a tufting gun (sounds scarier than it really is), some yarn, and a few other supplies. On the most basic level, it involves shooting yarn into a cloth and making anything you want. You name it, you can tuft it. And designers have. What started as tufted rugs has become tufted bags, wall art, mirrors, and toilet seats. These colorful yarn-covered objects keep catching our eye thanks to their expressive textures and mesmerizing creation process.   

Some designers freehand their drawings on the cloth and get started that way. Others use a projector to help trace their work onto the cloth. Paris-based art director and curator of the @tuftherapy Instagram account Emmanuelle Buchet uses it like an upgraded version of a coloring book. “I prepare my sketch on Illustrator as if I were making a poster, video project it on my stretched canvas, and transfer it with a marker with a color code like in children’s games,” Buchet said. “Then I tuft, tuft, tuft, colored zone by colored zone.” It’s essentially a choose-your-own-adventure with colorful yarn. 

Who’s making them?
Seemingly everyone these days. With almost 500 million combined views on #tufting and #tuftinggun TikTok videos, this trend spans artists, designers, influencers, and honestly, anyone generally interested in DIY activities. From TV fans recreating popular cartoon characters to digital designers bringing their aesthetic into the physical world, this creative method is gaining traction with a growing community of “tufters.”

Artists like Trish Andersen, Venus Perez, and Caroline Kaufman are some of the many sources of inspiration for those new to tufting. Graphic designers, too, have become obsessed with their tufting gun. It makes sense—tufting has all the creativity of design, minus the godforsaken screens. 

For some designers, their interest in textiles and weaving is rooted in design history. Audrey Hancock, a Utah-based freelance designer and the latest winner of AIGA’s Command X competition, started making rugs when she was in design school studying the women of the Bauhaus like Gunta Stölzl. Stölzl played a significant role in the growth of the Bauhaus’ weaving workshop and later became the only female Bauhaus Master. The first rug Hancock made is an homage to Stölzl‘s legacy and “reflects her importance through a use of shape, materials and color.” Now, Hancock regularly makes tufted work as @tuftgal and shares it with her more than 30,000 followers. 

Aiding tufting’s popularity is the open and egalitarian culture surrounding the craft. Tufters can access online forums and Instagram accounts where anyone can ask questions and get advice from fellow supportive designers. “Everyone’s just so kind,” says NYC-based designer and illustrator Cindy Chung. “They don’t keep secrets.” Chung, who makes and sells all kinds of tufted things in her Etsy store, also receives questions in her direct messages, and returns the favor to others just getting started.

Why do designers love making them?
The weaving method’s meteoric rise comes down to designers having more time, more accessibility to tools, and more of a need to escape from the glowing screens of their computers and phones. Pittsburgh-based graphic designer and artist Adriana Mazzotta says that even though the creative world is going super digital with NFTs and cryptocurrency, “There’s also a resurgence of craft making and things that are one-of-a-kind.” 

For a lot of designers, the repetitive, satisfying process provides a creative outlet, a supportive community, and an opportunity to create something that’s completely  theirs. Designer Avi Naim says tufting is an example of a tool that gets creative juices flowing, even after a 9-to-5 design job. “I get into these hobbies to fulfill my soul and creative output,” says Naim. “I’m always trying to find new tools and new things to try.” Alongside his day job as a product designer, Naim is working on making tufted patches, stool covers, and getting his friends involved in the trend. 

For others, it’s the personal aspect of tufting that keeps them going. Allyn Hughes, an NYC-based design director and guest designer of the “Gossip” issue of Eye on Design Mag, enjoys making tufted rugs for special people in her life. “How long it takes depends on the rug, but we are talking at least 20 hours. That’s 20 hours of me thinking about the work and thinking about the person it is intended for,” she says. “There has to be some kind of spiritual blessing in an object like that.” It’s like a hand-written letter, but way softer.