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Padraig Simpson has a gun and knows how to use it. Craig Beardsworth talks to him from a safe distance.
Rugmaker Padraig Simpson can’t talk to me in his studio space – it’s been commandeered by a clutch of fashionistas for a photoshoot. With ten creatives sharing a space, there’s always something happening. The denizens of Sector 22 in an old Garrett Street building include a photographer, a screen printer, a painter, a fashion designer, a DJ, a seller of vintage hats, and Padraig. The space is a clamour of colour, people, and art works. In the middle lies a calm square of couches around a coffee table – a communal oasis for breaks. We begin our chat there while waiting for models and photographers to disperse.
Padraig makes rugs using the tufting technique, a traditional way of making textiles by punching a looped wool thread through a wide-weave fabric. The resulting loops can be cut to create exposed wool ends, which create a dense felt-like pelt. Tufting, which began as a folk craft in North America in the early 19th century, has multiple applications, from woolly mittens and jackets to decorative rugs. It used to be a laborious, loop-by-loop process, but in recent years hand-held tufting guns allow anyone to shoot up a woolly storm.
With the covid pandemic forcing everyone indoors lockdown #1 saw a groundswell of enthusiasm for craft. Tufting became a thing on TikTok and its ascendancy was sealed. Padraig joined the fray during lockdown #2 in 2021. A video inspired him to order a gun and he began experimenting when it arrived in September. Entirely self-taught, he learnt by trial and error. Tufting requires a back-to-front approach – a stencil is drawn on the backing cloth, and wool is shot through from behind, following the pattern, to create loops on the other side. Progress can’t be assessed until it’s turned around. Padraig rolls his eyes as he recalls time spent pulling strands of yarn out and resetting plans.
Padraig’s background as a graphic designer has led him to plenty of artistic crossover between mediums. “My design aesthetic is illustrative and therefore looks ‘flat’ so suited to the two-dimensional aspect of rug design.” Several of his design-pad doodlings have been translated into early experimental rugs.
Padraig’s rugmaking rise has been meteoric – receiving the gun just four months ago, he is now tufting full time. He has a couple of regular design clients, and more than enough rug commissions. A simple, small rug takes about eight hours to complete. He has found working with wool “freeing”. With design clients, he explains, “you have to work to a strict brief” to produce a prescribed look. With rugs, on the other hand, “the commissions are looser and I have freedom to explore”. With a New Zealand wool supplier around the corner, he’s exercising his legs: “I average three trips to buy wool a week at the moment”.