Introduction: Rug Tufting 101
About four months ago from one day to another all Youtube suggested to me were rug tufting videos. So I started to watch a few and was obsessed ever since.
Over the years I have started quite a few different hobbies (like 3D printing, woodworking, embroidery, modifying Nerf blasters...) and I can tell you rug tufting is easily one of the most fulfilling. The great thing about it is that it's quite easy to learn and extremely versatile. I also love that what you make actually serves a purpose. You also don't need many things to get started. Though it is certainly not a very cheap hobby since the materials and tools add up.
Before you can get started you will have to make a few decisions:
- Would you like to use a punch needle or rug tufting gun
- Do you prefer a cut pile or a loop pile rug or would you like to make both
- What type of primary and secondary backing materials would you like to use
- What type of yarn would you like to use
- How would you like to finish your rug
In this instructable I am going to tell you what decisions I made and why. After we are ready to start, I will show you how I create and finish my rugs.
Step 1: Manual Vs. Automatic
One of the first decisions you will have to make is to decide whether you would like to manually make your rug with a punch needle or whether you would like to get a rug tufting gun.
Since I am way too impatient to tuft manually I decided to go with a rug tufting gun. If you can only afford a punch needle or prefer the manual process, most of what I write here should also help you.
The next decision you face is whether you should get a "cut pile" gun, a "loop pile" gun, or one that can do both (more expensive and heavier).
The machines create loops of yarn. They can either be left as they are to create a "loop pile" rug or automatically cut to create a "cut pile" rug. You can also of course create a rug that uses both stiles.
The next decision you will have to face is where to get the gun. If you would like to support a local maker (should you be from the USA), I suggest looking at Tim Eads's page (https://tuftinggun.com/) he sells everything you need to get started. The prices for the tufting guns start at $275.00.
A cheaper alternative is to get the gun directly from a Chinese vendor (e.g. from aliexpress.com *). I paid about $150 for mine (including shipment), but they seem to have gotten a bit more expensive. So if you don't mind waiting (mine took a month to arrive), are not from the USA, or don't care about the risk that there is no support if anything is broken, I would say go for it. But remember that you might have to pay taxes depending on from where the gun is sent.
The gun I got (pictured above) is a cut pile machine that can tuft up to 18 mm (roughly 3/4 inch). There are also high pile versions that use pneumatic air (they need an air compressor to work, the one I got doesn't). They can tuft to a length of about 70 mm (about 2 3/4 inches).
Step 2: The Frame
After you've decided how to make your rugs it is time to build the frame. Building the frame is quite easy in terms of woodworking. All you need is a square. You can either cut the beams at a 45-degree angle, use a tenon, a bracket or simply screw the pieces together as I have done (don't forget to predrill the holes to prevent cracking). So far mine has worked great and just screwing one beam to the other is certainly the easiest solution.
Make sure that the beams you get are straight (the cross-section of mine is 3 cm x 5.5 cm). You might also want to think about adding some feet to your frame so it is not going to fall over. You can just lean it onto a wall, but make sure that there is enough space for the needle to move without it pinching the wall. You should also consider your working height. I clamp my frame to a table so that I can work upright, without having to bend down too much. Otherwise, it is going to get uncomfortable rather quickly.
You can build it however big you would like your rug to be. One thing you should consider is, in what size you can buy your backing material. In my case, the material is sold by the meter so making the inside of the frame exactly one meter would result in a lot of wasted fabric since you need about 3 cm around the border to hold it in place. That's why the inside of my small frame is 90 cm, it gives me enough space to clamp the fabric in place without wasting too much material.
After you have built your frame you will have to consider how you would like to attach your fabric to it. A common solution is to use a staple gun. I prefer to use dual-purpose carpet gripper rods, that can be reused however often you would like. You should be able to get them in your local hardware store (or on amazon.com *). Be careful not to hurt yourself on the nails that are sticking out.
In order to allow the yarn to move freely, you might also want to consider using a construction that helps guide it, as I have done (with eye hook screws). You don't really need one though and can place the yarn at your feet. But be careful to keep it away from the gears of the gun.
There is also the possibility to buy a frame building kit here.
Step 3: Backing Fabric
Another decision you will have to make is what backing material to use.
From what I've read online burlap, linen, and monks cloth are possible candidates for tufting. Most people I have seen have either used burlap or monks cloth. I have tried them both and prefer to use monks cloth, even though it is more expensive. I found it easier to attach to my frame and got better lines due to it being more even, but if you are on a budget I suggest going with burlap.
I ordered my monks cloth directly from China since it was ridiculously expensive in Germany. Apparently, some types of monks cloth don't work. So far I have been lucky, but I suggest getting a smaller quantity first and to test it out.
There are multiple offers on amazon.com for tufting cloths. You can check them out here *.
Step 4: Secondary Backing Fabric
There are many technics you can use to finish your rug.
Once you are done tufting, you will have to fold your primary tufting cloth over to the back and hold it in place somehow. It can be sewn or glued. Carpet edge binding tape can also be applied for a protected edge finish.
Afterward, you can use a secondary backing fabric to cover the back of your rug. There are many different ones you can use like for example felt. I use either a non-slip fabric, an anti-slip mat, or felt and attach it with spray adhesive.
Step 5: Picking the Yarn
There are many different types of yarns you can use. All types have their advantages and disadvantages. I listed a few (sorted by the alphabet). There are of course also blends and many more types (like Polyester or Polypropylene). These are the ones I have tested:
Acrylic: Acrylic is is resistant to dirt, mildew, moths, and fading. Acrylic is more affordable than wool and is available in a wide range of colors. Sadly it has a tendency to fuzz and shed and is very soft, therefore it doesn't hold its structure well. Rugs made from acrylic are best in areas that aren't subjected to too much wear.
Cotton: While cotton carpets are soft and comfortable to walk on, they're also susceptible to stains and matting.
Nylon: Nylon is known for being one of the strongest and most durable fibers. It's popularly chosen for its resistance to staining when treated, fading, mold growth, and heat. These characteristics make nylon carpet one of the easiest carpets to clean and maintain.
Wool: Wool is considered a premium fiber as it is resistant to crushing, extremely durable and fire-retardant. Sadly it is also way more expensive than the other choices. If properly cared for wool carpets can last for a long time.
Making a selection is not easy and depends a lot on the money you have available and what you want to do with the rug.
I didn't like the feel of the nylon rug at all, since it is rather hard. The color choices are also very limited and therefore I am surely not going to use it to make a big rug.
I found tufting cotton to be tricky since it kept on slipping over the scissors and therefore the strand didn't get cut properly. Even using multiple strands didn't help. They were all pushed upwards by the scissors and didn't get cut (apparently they were too smooth and therefore the scissors couldn't hold on to it). So if you are planning on using cotton, remember to buy really thick yarn and test it first before buying all the yarn you need. Personally, I didn't like to feel of the finished rug quite as much as the ones made from wool and acrylic.
So after I did some testing I was sure to either use acrylic or wool. They were both a pleasure to work with and I loved the feel of the finished rugs. I ended up using acrylic mainly because it is cheaper and I am still practicing. In the long run, I will probably switch to wool. If I were to make a rug for someone else or if you are planning on selling them, I would probably go with wool. Though I have seen plenty of people selling hand-tufted acrylic rugs.
Unless you are trying to tuft cotton, the thickness of the yarn doesn't really matter. To get a good and consistent tuft, it is important that there is enough yarn in your gun so that it does not slip out of it. You can archive that with thinner yarn by simply using multiple strands.
Step 6: Glue
Glue is used to hold the yarn in place and therefore hugely important. It is applied to the back of your carpet once you are done tufting.
There are different types of glues that you can try. Though I highly suggest going with synthetic rubber.
Latex: Latex has traditionally been used to hold the yarn in place. The biggest issue with latex is that it will break down and crumble over time. Read this article online illustrating this. It's important to use high-quality latex to slow or prevent it from breaking down.
Polyvinyl acetate: PVA glue is cheap, easy to get and non-toxic (you might know Elmer's glue). It can be used for wall pieces and throw pillows. The bond is not as strong as the other types of glue mentioned here and also very stiff.
Acrylate polymer - synthetic rubber: Acrylate polymers are used in most industrial carpet glues. When it comes to tufting, AAT 1132 seems to be the first choice, from what I have read. It is a carboxylated styrene-butadiene rubber latex. Sadly I was not able to test it, because I can't buy it in Germany. The advantage of synthetic rubber is that it sticks really well and doesn't degrade over time like the natural counterpart.
To choose the glue I would like to use, I tried three different brands. If you are from Europe they should be easy for you to get. I bought them on Amazon. The Pattex and baufan glues are extremely similar. They look and smell about the same and have a similar viscosity. I didn't like them quite as much as the SOUDAL glue, because they stayed tacky even after a week of dry time. They also got tacky once they got moist. So if you can get it, I suggest going with the SOUDAL glue.
You will need quite a lot of glue. I used about 0.7 kg on my Pacman ghost rug which is about 70 cm x 70 cm. So don't bother buying the small cans, if your planning on making more than one rug.
Step 7: Other Things You Need
There are a few other things you need. In the pictures, you can see the things I am using. They are:
- Permanent marker: to draw your design onto the backing fabric
- Pliers: to pick out the yarn, if you made a mistake
- Scissors: to cut the yarn and the fabric
- Clippers: to get a nice finish (you can also use the scissors, but clippers will save you time); sheep shears works even faster
- Palette knife: to apply the glue
- Hot glue: to hold the folded over backing fabric in place
- Spray adhesive: to attach the secondary backing fabric
- Projector: to transfer your image
You will also need a paintbrush (or compressed air) and all-purpose oil for maintaining the gun
Step 8: Preparation
Before starting, I rewind the yarn, because it is cheaper for me to get it in balls instead of cones and I want to make sure that it unwinds smoothly. So far it was definitely worth the afford and I haven't had any problems with tangling yarn.
Next, you will have to add the backing fabric to your frame. Take the time to stretch your cloth as tightly as possible, but make sure not to tear it. I start with one side and move around the frame. Increasing the tension bit by bit. The big advantage of the monks cloth I use is that there are lines on it. This way you can make sure the fabric doesn't get distorted when you put tension on it.
Once the fabric is attached, you can transfer the image onto it. I use a very cheap projector to trace my design onto the fabric like this * one. You can of course just draw it on freehand.
When picking your design make sure that the level of detail isn't too high. While you can do a lot of clean-up and make the lines on your rug nearly perfect, remember that most rugs are made for use and once somebody steps on it or you vacuum it, the fibers might move. I make my rugs extremely dense and therefore haven't had huge issues with distorted designs, but it is something you should keep in mind.
For this instructable I originally wanted to make a QR-code that leads to my instructables site but decided to go with the instructable robot instead and am really happy I did. Seeing it makes me extremely happy. I decided not to tuft the antennas and not to add them later, because I thought that it wouldn't look good and I am happy with the decision.
Step 9: Threading the Gun
Start by threading your gun, as shown in the pictures. Go through the yarn holder on top of the gun first. Then use a bent wire to pull the yarn through the hole in the needle.
Depending of the thickness of the yarn, you should use multiple strands. I suggest going with at least two. I usually use two to four strands.
Step 10: Tufting #1
Before moving on to your rug I suggest doing a few straight test lines. This way you can figure out the right technic, pressure and speed. You can adjust the speed by turning the knob that is at the bottom of the handle of the gun. Once you've mastered straight lines you can try doing curves. The best way I found to do them is to go in small burst and correcting the position of the gun throughout.
You can only tuft in the direction of the foot. The foot of the gun has to stay in contact with the fabric during tufting. Make sure to use enough pressure to hold it in place.
Time Eads made a great video on how to get started.
Step 11: Tufting #2
I start by outlining the different areas and fill them in afterward.
The excess yarn can just be cut off. Don't worry if the back looks a bit messy, we are going to cover it later.
I like my rugs to be rather dense, therefore I place the rows of yarn right next to each other, but you don't have to. You can place them slightly apart. If you are unsure how close to each other you want to place them, just do a test piece, since how close you will have to place them also depends on how many strands of yarn you use and how thick the yarn is.
Step 12: Fixing Mistakes
Fixing mistakes is really easy, just plug the yarn out. But be careful not to do this too often, otherwise, you might risk tearing your fabric.
Don't worry if your lines look messy at first. They can easily be fixed later. Just use your pliers to push the yarn around. If some strands are way off, you can just plug them out.
In the picture, you can see my process. The button on the left is finished, the button in the middle shows how it looks before the clean-up and the button on the right shows how it looks before the second color is used.
If you are having troubles with holes, rips, & tears, check out this awesome guide.
Step 13: Gluing the Yarn in Place
Once you are happy with how your rug looks, it is time to hold the yarn in place. Like I have written before, I am using synthetic rubber to do so.
Apply the glue while stretched otherwise it might curl. I lay my frame on the floor and use a palette knife to apply the glue. Go over the sides by about 3 cm to prevent the monks cloth from fraying later on. Make sure that all the yarn is covered.
Let the glue dry for about 24 h before taking the rug down from your frame.
Once again, Tim Eads made a great video:
Like I have written at one of the steps before there are many different ways how you can finish your rug. Here I am showing you how I finish mine.
Once the glue is fully dried, I take the fabric off the frame and cut around the rug at a distance of about 3 cm.
Step 14: Finishing the Rug
In order to be able to fold the excess fabric over to the back, you will have to cut into the border. Otherwise, you won't be able to follow the curves.
As you can see in the pictures, I apply a generous amount of hot glue on the border and fold it over. Be careful not to burn your fingers. I use the pallet knife to apply some pressure, till the hot glue cools off.
Once I am done, I trace the carped onto my secondary backing fabric and cut it to the correct size. Afterward, I use a spray adhesive to attach it. Make sure to use a lot of pressure in order for it to stay in place.
Step 15: Maintaning the Gun
As you can see in the picture there is a lot of yarn build-up from tufting on the gun. In order for it to work properly, you will have to remove it. To do so, I use an air compressor, but you can also just use a brush.
After cleaning the gun you will have to lube it. All-purpose sewing machine oil works great. Just sparsely add it to all the parts where friction might build-up during usage.
Step 16: Adjusting the Pile Height
You should start out by using the factory settings. Once you've got a feel for them you can adjust the tufting height.
Tim Eads from Tuft the World created awesome tutorials on how to adjust the pile height of your tufting guns. You can find them below. Which tutorial you will have to follow depends on the gun you have gotten.
Set the cut pile height:
Set the loop pile height:
Step 17: Great Sources
If you are looking for help or inspiration, check out these awesome sites:
While you at it, I would also appreciate a follow:
* Affiliate link. I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks a lot for the support!
Second Prize in the
Fiber Arts Challenge