It’s tufting time in Egypt

Sarah Elhosary , Tuesday 21 May 2024

Enthusiasts of tufting are using this technique to make state-of-the-art products in Egypt.

Tuft Egypt


The modern revival of tufting is spreading in Egypt as enthusiasts employ it to create fashionable home accessories and wall adornments. Tufting uses a semi-handcraft technique in which threads are manually stitched onto fabric using tools like a tufting gun or punch needle.

Three years ago, Tuqa Momtaz and Nada Selim, co-founders of Tuft Egypt, noticed the spread of tufting in the country. They decided to learn the craft and pursue it as their own business. 

“We noticed young people’s attraction to modern designs in tufting, and this inspired us to make rug pieces using tufting and to sell them,” Momtaz said, adding that much of the learning had been by trial and error before they purchased a tufting gun.

“At first, we struggled with the tufting process, as the fabric’s frame would move around while we used the gun, and to stabilise it one of us had to hold the frame with both hands. However, we improved over time and corrected our mistakes,” she added.

“We started making rugs and wall hangings by hand, using trendy animation designs that our customers requested. Over time, we expanded our team and began encouraging our customers to allow us to create designs that suit their spaces and home styles more.”

“We try to understand their preferences, so we can create customised designs that fit their homes and personalities, rather than just replicating an Internet image because it’s trendy,” she said.

“When we began, we also faced a shortage of materials and tools. After an extensive search, we had to order them online from sources outside Egypt. Moreover, due to the lack of awareness about tufting in Egypt, we had to seek guidance from foreign designers we followed online,” Momtaz said.

“The challenges we faced inspired us to offer educational workshops to facilitate learning for others. We have been offering workshops for two years now, and we have many clients who have started their projects and enjoyed working in this artistic craft.”

“We also researched the best sources for tufting tools outside Egypt and provided them to those interested in learning this art within the local market. Teaching this art and providing materials and tools were the two biggest challenges in this field,” she said.

Artist Amr Abdel-Ghani agreed with Momtaz, saying that “before starting to work professionally in tufting, acquiring the tools was one of the most significant challenges I faced. Although I searched for a tufting gun in Egypt, I could not find a local supplier and had to buy it from an overseas company.”

“I contacted the company online, and they told me that they only have one distributor in Egypt. I eventually dealt with this distributor to get what I needed. In addition, I also use fabric-smoothing machines, different types of glue, and other tools, each playing a role in designing and preparing the rugs and wall hangings that I make using tufting.”

“As for the threads themselves, I buy them in Ataba Square in Cairo, where they are retailers dealing in various types of wool and acrylic.”

Trying to learn through watching videos of craftsmen using a tufting gun to design rugs and wall hangings, Abdel-Ghani at first mistakenly considered it to be a simple art form. However, when he started working, he discovered that the videos mainly focused on displaying the artwork and quickly passed over the work stages.

They did not always show the skills he needed to become proficient in tufting himself.

According to Abdel-Ghani, he had to depend on practice to learn how to handle the tufting gun and to work with it after facing issues like torn fabrics or threads not holding on. Gradually, he became proficient in selecting the most appropriate type of thread for each fabric.

“The process of creating a piece starts with selecting the design. If the client chooses a specific shape, I place it on a laptop and then resize it appropriately using a projector on fabric stretched on a wooden frame. I draw the design manually on the fabric and then follow its lines using the tufting gun,” Abdel-Ghani said.

“It typically takes around six hours to work with a tufting gun, though this can vary depending on the complexity of the design. After that, I separate the tangled threads and sculpt the design to create depth and dimension. To reinforce the rug and secure the threads, I apply glue and latex and let it dry for about 10 hours. Once it is dry, I trim away any excess material and surround the piece with a five cm fabric frame secured with a wax gun.”

“Finally, I use a fabric lint remover to smooth out any uneven parts, which takes around seven hours of continuous work,” he said.

Abdel-Ghani started working in tufting about ten months ago, and it took him about three months to make and sell his first piece. He then designed 25 rugs and wall hangings from 20 to 130 cm in size with the average price of a 50x50 cm suspended rug piece being LE500 and the cost of a large floor rug piece reaching about LE1,700. 

Obtaining distinction in tufting takes perseverance. Tufting guns and punch needles require different skills for precision and perseverance, especially since a punch needle requires the manual stitching of the threads stitch by stitch.

According to Heba Hussein, founder of the Pretty Basic Studio in Cairo, creating tufting pieces using a punch needle is simple yet requires patience. She emphasises that anyone making such pieces needs the usual patience for all handmade art, such as the ability to concentrate and sit for long hours. 

Additionally, he or she must go through repeated attempts that may sometimes fail until the piece comes out in the best shape.

“Working with a punch needle wasn’t difficult for me as I studied fine arts and love all handicrafts. As a result, I dedicated two years to closely studying this art and have since been working in it. I have even offered workshops explaining the types of fabrics, threads, needle sizes, and all the details I encountered while learning tufting,” Hussein added.

She translated her creative vision into designing clutches and home accessories like mirror frames, cushions, wall hangings, and human and pet portraits. “I try to present tufting in an attractive and modern way that suits our times. When designing one clutch bag, I chose the name of a famous actress for it. This caught the attention of my clients, who wanted to carry a bag bearing this name.”

Hussein not only values the design of handicraft products, but also emphasises the importance of developing innovative presentation methods for them. “When presenting products on social media platforms, my daughter, also a graphic designer, helps me excel in presenting them with backgrounds and methods that highlight the uniqueness of the pieces and break away from the traditional form of handicraft products,” she commented.

“I also connect the design of the collections with current seasons and constantly update them, such as the recent women’s clutches collection I made using motifs that harmonise with the Ramadan atmosphere and others that use summer colours for the summer season.” 

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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