March 31, 2023

How rug makers turned a trendy pandemic hobby into a business

When Saunders started tufting around two years ago, she was all-in from the start. In fact, she had visualized the practice being her “10,000 hours.” (Author Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.)

At the time, she was in art school (she’s since graduated with a degree in fiber) and there wasn’t a lot of information out there to help her study the craft. Even her school didn’t have the resources she was looking for. So, she researched on her own, started with a punch needle, and watched manufacturing videos from China and India to learn how to use her tufting gun.

When creating a piece, Saunders gives herself room to explore. She does map out the main idea and design, but she goes into tufting with little inhibition and allows herself to play around as she goes.

“I give myself room for a lot of play because I never know where my mood or, you know, what the atmosphere is going to be day to day.” Saunders said. “And I like for [those things] to inform me.”

As she tufts, Saunders likes to listen to audiobooks from authors like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker to pull inspiration. She draws from pop culture and her own family’s personal history and stories as well.

“I’m very much in touch with the sociopolitical landscape of our time, right?” Saunders said. “And so I draw from a lot — not even from specific narratives, but just from the overall sentiment and emotion of our time.”

In 2020, Saunders won the Bank of Montreal’s 1st Art! competition with her piece “It Matters,” which depicts a Black man wearing a mask with the text “Black lives matter” behind him.

“I was thinking a lot about marginalized communities within the start of the pandemic, and how they were not being afforded the equitable care that [they deserved],” Saunders said.

Saunders remembers seeing stories of Black men being profiled by security guards at stores when the world was first starting to wear masks, “because there was just this automatic racist notion being put onto them that they were gang members,” Saunders said.

“And it was just infuriating, right?” she said. “For me to read that and to discover and, yeah, so that was what this piece encapsulated.”

Saunders is currently focusing on creating pieces that she wants to make and that showcase her voice. She doesn’t take commissions, but she works with a gallerist to exhibit her pieces. Saunders also added that she has some exciting projects coming up… but those are under wraps for now.