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Do you know what tufting is?

 

(Photo courtesy of Taylor Florence)

Tufting sounds like something you’d do at the gym or while flipping through a parkour course.

"Did you see that guy tufting?"
"Yeah, that was awesome!”

Okay, maybe that's not a conversation you're having with your friends. Tufting is actually a craft done by First Nations people to make three-dimensional (3D) art and jewellery and to decorate clothing. It was traditionally done by the Dene people in Northwest Territories and the Cree people of northern Alberta and has been done for centuries.

How is tufting done?

a moose sitting in the grass

The tufting hair comes from the moose. (Photo on Visualhunt)

First Nations artists use the white hair from the shoulder and rear of a moose and create beautiful designs using the hairs. The artists — or tufters — collect the hair by plucking it. Once they’re done collecting it, they sort all of the hair by length, size and colour. The hairs are then tied together in bunches and dyed.

How do they dye the hair?

glass bottles filled with powdered dye

You can get all sorts of colours with powder dyes. (Photo credit: mhiguera on Visual hunt / CC BY)

Traditionally, artists would use things found in nature to dye the hair. They would collect plants, roots and berries and make their own dyes with those. But today, tufters use powdered dyes to create beautiful, vibrant colours. Sometimes, artists leave the hair their natural colour to make more natural designs.

So, they've dyed the hair… now what?

pouches made of moose hide

Moose hide is very soft and can be used to make everything from boots to pouches like these. These can be decorated with beads or tufting. (Photo credit: Andrew Kurjata on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA)

Now that the hair is coloured, the artist uses a piece of moose hide and draws a design on it by hand. They do this so that every design is unique and not one is the same. The most common designs are flowers and leaves.
 

a brooch made of tufting

The final tufting design can be used as jewelry, as decoration on clothing or even art. (Photo courtesy Taylor Florence)

Now comes the tricky part. The tufter takes a bunch of about 20 hairs that are the same length, size and colour and bundle them together. They lie them down on the design and draw a thread through the hide and around the bundle near the end. When they draw the thread through the hide tightly, it makes the bundle of hand stand straight up; making a tuft. The artist repeats this over and over, leaving no space between bundles, until they’ve filled the design they’ve drawn, then they trim the ends.

Fun fact

Although moose hair is the most common kind of hair used in tufting, artists also use the hair from the beards of caribou.

close up of caribou

Photo credit: guppiecat on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND