In a colorful, yarn-covered studio on the West Side of Providence (behind Ogie’s and upstairs from where The Nest used to be) you’ll find TuftxPVD – a new art space where folks of all skill levels can learn the craft of tufting from a working artist.
A few years back, the catchphrase of every cash-strapped millennial became, “I’m more interested in experiences than things.” So with the gift-giving season upon us, the pressure is on. What kind of experiences can you gift your friends and loved ones?
Paint nights seem to be a popular choice for double dates, bachelorette parties and cool moms. You could get wine-drunk with the girls and make your way through a paint-by-numbers sunset over some generic river…
Or instead of duplicating a corporate painting that you’ll likely throw out before the weekend is over, why not try tufting?
The art of tufting blew up on TikTok in the pandemic – all over social media, colorful little shag portraits depicted everything from Pokémon characters to album covers to Homer Simpson memes.
And all of it was made possible by the tufting gun – essentially a hand-held, trigger-activated sewing machine. The tufting gun took the slow and laborious art of rug hooking and made it accessible to a wider audience of artists; with more artists came an explosion of innovation.
Enter Providence-based painter Savaree Hazard-Chaney (everybody calls her Sav). You can recognize her by her paint-stained clothes, her “Buy Art from Queer Black Women” tote and her infectious smile.
In 2020, Sav was a mural painter stifled by pandemic shutdowns. But “when [the Treasury Department] was giving out the little $600 stimi,” Sav jokes,” I was like, ‘Alright… I’m gonna reinvest this into myself!’” She bought a tufting gun and some yarn, hopped onto YouTube and taught herself the burgeoning art of tufting.
You may have seen Sav’s installation “If These Walls Could Talk” when she was a WaterFire Accelerate Artist. Or you may have seen her studio space as a resident artist at The Graduate this year. Some of her most innovative pieces include a cherry blossom-tufted basketball, a dripping rug that runs down a wall and “pools” onto the floor, and of course tufted portraits of Aang and Appa from Avatar.
“Honestly,” says Sav, “All of my art started out as Avatar art!”
Tufting came naturally to her, because as Sav says, “This is like painting, but with yarn.” But as popular as tufting has become, it has been slow to gain the infrastructure that other artforms have. You can find a Groupon for “paint and sip” nights in any city in America and Providence, in particular, has a thriving screenprinting scene. But with TuftxPVD, Sav has created our area’s only true tufting workshop.
Among the coolest things about tufting are the endless possibilities once you learn the basics. “A lot of people think you have to be crafty to pull something like this off,” says Sav. “But you don’t! I love the fact that a graphic designer and a fashion designer can come together and collab and create a tufted project.”
It’s not cheap – $175 for a 5-hour session. But don’t forget, this isn’t just a way to waste a quiet weekend. TuftxPVD is a class where you are learning the foundations for a new skill. And that $175 includes all the materials necessary for tufting, snacks to munch on while you tuft and the knowledge, and the guidance and expertise, of a skilled teacher.
If that’s still not cutting it for you, Sav also occasionally teaches classes at the Providence Public Library and AS220 at more affordable rates.
Sav’s wife, Cessa, handles social media and hospitality. Throughout the class she makes her rounds dropping helpful tips, cranking out Instagram reels, and sharing words of encouragement. It’s such a positive space with laughing and praising, tunes ranging from Afrobeat to Whitney Houston, and bonding with strangers.
Tufting is just fun. You get to wield a steampunk-esque weapon loaded with yarn. You get to goop on globs of sticky glue to create the backing. And when you’ve finished creating your unique masterpiece, you get to obsess over giving your rug a perfectly even haircut with a trimmer and shears.
This is all what makes TuftxPVD such a unique experience. The art you take home is your own; designed and created by you. You can continue to develop those skills you learned in your initial lesson on your own for now, but Sav has considered future workshops on frame building, yarn dying, and all of the other tangential skills any tufter might be interested in.
“I just wanted to figure out how to share what I really love to do,” says Sav. “I think about how much joy tufting brings me, and also how it brings a lot of different people together.” •
Sav will be tufting live at the Good Trade Maker’s Market at the WaterFire Arts Center on Nov 18 and 19. Check her out!