Hand-tufted rugs can be both beautiful and durable. Tufting can be quicker than hand-knotting, so tufted rugs are often more affordable than their hand-knotted counterparts. Tufting appeals to many people who enjoy crafting for its mix of speed and skill. One of the toughest parts of hand-tufting today is finding the proper tools at affordable prices. With a little perseverance you can either find functional vintage tools or make a simple tufting tool at home. Should you find yourself involved in regular tufting projects, a tufting gun may become a pricey but convenient option.
In tufting, the crafter uses a tool to push yarn through a durable medium to form loops. Patterns are created by using multiple colors and are often drawn right onto the backing. The medium is usually a coarse cloth, with threads that will separate rather than break. The backing is then covered with at least one other layer to secure the threads, and usually with a second layer to finish. Finally, the loops are "sheared" -- cut to form a thick, lofty mat without the looped appearance of hooked rugs.
Make Your Own Tool
For the novice tufter, making your own simple tufting tool can be the most affordable and simple way to get started. Put a drop of glue onto the sharp tip of a large yarn needle. Insert the sharp end of a needle into a cork and allow the glue to dry. You've just created a simple tufting tool. Thread your yarn through the needle. Use the cork as a handle and the eye end of the needle as a "punch." With the right backing, the needle will penetrate between the threads, pushing the yarn from the back of the fabric through to the front of the rug. Grasp the yarn and pull the punch back out, creating a loop. Push the punch through the fabric in the next space where a loop of that color is desired. Repeat until you've finished your color, replace with the next desired color yarn, and continue until your rug is finished. Secure the backing, turn the rug face up, and trim the loops.
Vintage tufting tools can be difficult to find, but offer a more sophisticated version of the manual punch at relatively affordable prices. Some vintage tufting tools will hold multiple colors at once, or push multiple loops of the same color through the backing at once, speeding the process. Vintage hand tools allow you to tuft precisely and give the feel of true hand-crafting to your project. Online auction sites such as eBay often offer tufting tools, and you can occasionally find them at local antique shops or crafters shops. These tools also occasionally turn up for sale on crafting and craft-sale sites like Etsy and ArtFire.
Today's tufting tools are usually electric or pneumatic and can tuft at high speeds. Working with a tufting gun versus a hand punch is akin to working with an electric table saw rather than a pocket knife. For the hand crafter who views rugmaking as an art, these tools can seem industrial and unmanageable, turning crafting time from quiet repose to industrial-strength mayhem. Other crafters, however, especially those who enjoy large projects or quick work, may find the tufting gun the perfect tool. Keep in mind that even a used gun can run you upwards of $3,500, and you'll usually need a tufting rack and spool holders for your yarn, as well. These guns are sold by several online operations, many of which occasionally offer used guns on consignment, or they may be ordered directly from your local craft shop.
Ellie Maclin is freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience. She contributes to online and print publications, specializing in topics such as historical places, archaeology and sustainable living. Maclin holds an M.S. in archaeological resource management from the University of Georgia, as well as a B.A. with honors in anthropology from the University of North Carolina.