Dating back to 5 BCE, tufting is a technique used in the creation of textiles, which was later automated in 1930 with the invention of the tufting gun.
From rugs to pillows and wall art, tufting is achieved by weaving loops of yarn through a fabric backing to create textiles with intricate and one-of-a-kind designs.
This craft rose to popularity abroad circa 2018 thanks to TikTok, but it only reached Singapore’s shores late 2021 when three Singaporeans — Carl Teh, Izac Tan, and Zoey Soh — founded Tuft Club, the first tufting studio in Southeast Asia and Singapore.
Close friends turned colleagues, the trio initially pooled around S$15,000 to run a small 400 square-foot painting and punch needle studio. Called Hueplay Studio, it offered art jamming sessions and punch needle (a form of hand-tufting) workshops for its customers.
Shortly after the studio’s launch in 2020, Singapore was struck by the COVID-19 lockdowns, which forced them to pause their operations. It was also during this circuit breaker period that the trio came across tufting, which became all the rage on mainstream media.
The three friends started experimenting with a tufting gun, trying their hand at making a makeshift frame.
Using a tufting gun is a pretty unique feeling, shooting yarn and painting with fiber almost. It’s fun, therapeutic, versatile and receiving the end product is really fulfilling.– Carl Teh, co-founder of Tuft Club
Using a tufting gun is a pretty unique feeling, shooting yarn and painting with fiber almost. It’s fun, therapeutic, versatile and receiving the end product is really fulfilling.
Although gratifying, the trio soon realised that tufting was not an easy craft to get into.
Operating and maintaining tufting guns, learning different tufting techniques, sourcing suitable materials, building custom tufting frames, putting together tufted works — these were some of the challenges they faced along the way, which helped them understand why the craft was not as popular as it should be.
This prompted the inception of Tuft Club in 2021, which aims to provide a space centred around making tufting welcoming, easy and accessible, even for beginners.
We felt tufting had a lot to offer, and there wasn’t a better time to build a space that made it easy and accessible.– Carl Teh, co-founder of Tuft Club
We felt tufting had a lot to offer, and there wasn’t a better time to build a space that made it easy and accessible.
In order to save up enough to open Tuft Club, the three friends drew S$600 monthly salaries from their painting and punch needle studio business for one whole year.
With tufting being such a new craft, having not much to ground themselves on was also quite a challenge for the trio. They had to start Tuft Club from scratch, due to the lack of resources and the absence of similar players in both the local and international market.
“We had to source for materials from all over and meet and learn from different veterans in the industry to improve our craft,” said Carl. This included learning how to hand-build frames, tear apart and fix tufting guns, handle different machinery, and set up proper and sustainable finishing practices.
Beyond these technical requirements, the founders wanted to ensure the longevity of Tuft Club, given that most people wouldn’t know what the craft was unless they stumbled upon it on TikTok. In order to solve this, the team had to figure out how to localise tufting and “cater to locals beyond a trend”.
Tuft Club grew in popularity as more customers shared their experiences tufting on various social media platforms, most prominently on TikTok.
As its tufting sessions quickly filled up due to strong online traction, the trio often finish and dry their customers’ rugs late most nights, pulling 12-hour days six days a week, and sometimes end up sleeping overnight in the studio.
However, at this time, the small space of Tuft Club’s studio which could only host up to four people at a time, was pulling back the business. So just two months into its opening, Tuft Club relocated to Boat Quay, into a more spacious two-storey studio that can now host up to 16 people in one session.
Apart from expanding its studio space, the tufting studio has also scored partnerships with various brands over the past year.
Tuft Club was one of the local craftsmen featured by H&M for its 10th anniversary, and was featured in a digital event by JD Sport’s to commence its 40th anniversary.
Carl acknowledged that this has been a great start for Tuft Club so far, but he is uncertain on what the future holds for it, as well as other tufting studios especially with the times ahead.
As inflation has driven up costs, the general consensus among consumers and businesses is to be conservative, spurring Tuft Club to launch shorter and cheaper workshops.
“This is so that our tufters can still have the full experience at more comfortable price points,” reasoned Carl.
Tuft Club’s tufting workshops usually span four hours and costs S$190, but its shortened workshops span three hours at a lower cost of S$135.
Aside from the introduction of its shortened sessions, the business is also currently experimenting on how tufting can add value to Singaporeans, be it through collaborations, installations or new workshops with different brands and artists to find different uses for the craft.
Currently, it is exploring selling limited runs of rugs designed by different artists, as well as working on commissions of larger, made-to-order customised rugs for those who want a customised piece that are out of the limitations of a four-hour workshop.
Seeing that most of its customers join its workshops to commemorate important events, Tuft Club ultimately wants to continue being a space for Singaporeans to produce meaningful and lasting tufted goods — be it to celebrate new homes, anniversaries, or even just to spend quality time.
Featured Image Credit: Tuft Club
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