Tuft stuff: This free community for fiber enthusiasts is teaching over 6,500 members the ins and outs of tufting
Featured in this Story of Awesome: Tuft the World
Tuft the World Community is a free community for aspiring and experienced rug tufters and fiber enthusiasts hoping to connect with each other across the globe.
The Spark: As Tim Eads’ tufting supply business, Tuft the World, grew, so too did a need for knowledge and customer support. After trying a couple of different platforms, the TTW Community was born.
Tim’s Mighty Moment: “With the Tuft the World community there, it gives people confidence that they can fall back on the community if they need support.”
Tim Eads’ interest in fiber arts started way, way back. “I grew up in a small town and my family had a goat farm,” he says. “We had angora goats where we shaved their hair for fiber, so yeah — it goes way back.”
A longtime fiber-head (a term we admittedly just made up), Tim also has had a long interest in design—from screenprinting in college to a gig at a fabric workshop in Philadelphia. Eventually, Tim started his own business making cut and sew handprinted bags. It was here that he was introduced to the concept of tufting.
“One day one of my assistants at the time was like, ‘Have you heard of tufting?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, this sounds really interesting.” He bought a tufting gun for himself and things fell into place from there. “It completely blew up into this super crazy thing almost immediately,” he says. “And that was three and a half years ago. Now, we have a tufting business—Tuft the World—selling tufting supplies, a 10,000 square feet warehouse, and 21 full-time employees.”
Ahead, we chat with Tim about why he started building a community for tufters and fiber artists alongside his online store, how the pandemic has boosted interest in this lesser-known art form, and what’s next for the Tuft the World Community.
How did the Tuft the World Community come about?
As we started growing, we were just trying to fill a void in the market that wasn’t really there. I traveled and did workshops in 2019, teaching like 600 people how to tuft. And I had the idea to start a forum-style thing because everything I learned, back in the eighties or whatever, was all through forums. And there wasn’t really a lot of information out there at the time for tufting, at all. Maybe there was one YouTube video, but there was nobody on Instagram, just one or two other people tufting and sharing stuff. So I wanted to provide kind of a way to connect people globally to this place where they could ask questions and troubleshoot.
But it was also a way to basically try to field questions that I was getting over and over from our customers. We get hundreds of customer support emails a week. It’s usually about 700 emails or so and it's pretty crazy.
We have a system in place to take care of that through our customer support portal. But if we're answering the same question a hundred times, then we may as well have a dedicated space in a digital community and just have featured articles that they can read to help them troubleshoot.
Did you try any other platforms before finding Mighty Networks?
I tried a different platform, it was more an old-school forum style. We didn’t love it. And I didn't want to use Facebook. So we were trying to find something that was more about us and less about the platform we were using.
We were trying to find something that was more about us and less about the platform we were using.
So I felt like Mighty Networks, especially with the built-in app, really helped make something that I thought my users would get into. And since it's kind of, for lack of a better word, Facebook-style, you can kind of scroll around, and people are pretty familiar with how things work.
Since you’ve found a home in Mighty Networks, who are the kind of people who end up in your community? Are they picking up tufting as a hobby or are they more experienced artists?
We promote the community specifically to our Tuft the World customers a lot. So most of our members are our customers. They’re artists or have a craft background. Many of them are fiber artists already, or artists that have decided to pick up a new craft. But since it is open to the public, we also have some people that aren't customers. And those outsiders are ones that are just trying to get information that they can't find out otherwise.
What features are you using to connect those members? Are there any that you’ve found particularly useful?
There’s a real ease of use all around. I like the featured article thing. I think that helps a lot. I like the aspect where you can see who's near you, because I think for a lot of people that are all over the world, they want to try to connect with people that are within their country or close to them. So I think that really helps build some camaraderie, especially because there's a lot of tufters in America now, but not so much in other countries. It helps build a little tighter community in real life for those people.
Tufting has definitely gained more recognition during the pandemic, but it’s also something that’s not so easy to just pick up on your own. How have you seen the Tuft the World community support your online business selling tufting supplies?
It creates consumer confidence, especially because tufting is kind of expensive. It’s going to cost you a minimum of $500 to get a machine, get a frame, and get some yarn, so it is a bigger commitment for a lot of people.
With the Tuft the World community there, it gives people confidence that they can fall back on the community if they need support.
But with the Tuft the World Community there, it gives people confidence that they can fall back on the community if they need support. That kind of creates a sense that we’re not just this giant weird company that is trying to take people’s money.
What, if any, challenges have you been facing around connecting Tuft the World, the store, and Tuft the World, the community?
Sometimes I do feel like there is a little bit of a disconnect between, say, our Instagram, which is our primary form of communication with our customers, and our Mighty Network. Because not everybody is going to every single one of our platforms like I am. So we’ve been trying to come up with ways to make those two feel more cohesive.
What’s next for Tuft the World?
Right now, a lot of our focus is trying to funnel those questions out and provide those FAQs so that we’re really only having to spend time on the most complicated ones, or the ones that are really the most needed. Which makes it more useful anyway, because then we actually have time to address those things.
We’re also picking our in-person workshops back up. We’re doing almost every couple of weeks in Philly now, and we’re doing one in New York in October. I did 30 workshops in 2019—2020 all got canceled, of course—and we were in LA, Toronto, down in Richmond, Virginia, New York. Basically every other weekend, I was travelling somewhere. It was a little insane, but now we have a couple of people on staff that can tuft and we’re working out a situation where we can share that load a little bit. So that definitely helps.