If you’ve seen High in Fiber Rugs at any of the numerous arts events and markets around town (including West Side Arts, Boneyard, and even the Urbana Farmers Market), you already know how creative (and cute!) these rugs are. I’m always interested in art forms that I know absolutely nothing about, and making rugs is definitely one of those things. Fortunately, High in Fiber Rugs’ founder, Brittany Heyen, corresponded with me to talk about what goes into making her rugs, how she got started, and what she is most excited about with her upcoming participation in Made Fest at PYGMALION.
Some answers have been edited for length or clarity.
Smile Politely: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What’s your connection to Champaign-Urbana?
Britany Heyen: I’m Brittany, High in Fiber. I’ve always taken an interest in art and knew I wanted to pursue a creative career. I studied Graphic Design at the University of Illinois and worked at a local creative agency for a few years before going freelance as a graphic designer/artist full-time in the spring of 2022, picking up rug tufting along the way. I happily reside in Urbana, enjoying all that this wonderful community has to offer.
SP: You got started making rugs pretty recently, correct? (Which is super impressive because your stuff is so good!) What made you interested in this and how did you learn and initially get started?
Heyen: Shucks! Yes, I’ve been tufting since January 2022. The tactile/sensory nature of the medium had me intrigued right away. I picked up rug tufting after watching enough satisfying process videos to be convinced this was a hobby I wanted to invest in. I did a lot of research up front so I would feel prepared when it came time to get started, although I’ve come up with a lot of my own methods along the way and enjoy exchanging tips with other tufters I’ve met online.
SP: Did you have any mishaps or funny stories from early on?
Heyen: I bought a tufting machine, built my frame, and was collecting yarn well before I made my first tuft. I didn’t want to be bad at it, and I let that hold me back. I had to release the idea that the first thing I made had to be anything at all, so I loaded my machine with yarn and focused more on getting a feel for it than the result. I ended up pulling out the fibers of most of those first experiments to make room for “real” rugs and learned that it was easy to revise, but it also taught me to just get started and be okay with making messy things in the process. Don’t get in your own way! Have fun!
SP: What materials do you use for your rugs? Where do you source everything from?
Heyen: The yarn and felt I use are primarily secondhand. I like working within the limitations of what I can thrift, but larger pieces sometimes require me to source higher quantities of a certain color. I especially love shopping at the Idea Store!
SP: I saw on Instagram you have a huge wooden frame, do you use that for everything or just for large pieces? Are there other special tools you need?
Heyen: My frame is 5×6 feet, so I could potentially make pieces that large, although I tend to make smaller ones and cut them out. I came up with a way to add a divider to section off part of the frame for smaller batches. The actual tufting can be done by hand with a simple punch needle, or with a power tool called a tufting machine. I also use a hot glue gun, a carpet trimmer, and duckbill scissors for the finishing steps, as well as tweezers for fine tuning any fibers that are out of line.
SP: Can you walk us through the process of creating one of your pieces?
- Stretch tufting cloth on frame
- Draw out designs
- Choose and prepare yarn
- Load tool
- Apply carpet adhesive
- Cut out individual rugs
- Glue borders in
- Apply felt backing
- Trim and glue edges
- Shave and carve
SP: How do you come up with your concepts, and where do you get inspiration from? The burger, in particular, is incredibly creative.
Heyen: Thank you! I love a good burger. I’m largely inspired by food, flowers, and nostalgia. In general, I think it’s funny when everyday objects are made out of a material you wouldn’t expect and aim to evoke overwhelming joy in people who interact with my carpet creations.
SP: What’s most challenging about tufting rugs?
Heyen: There are a lot of things that can go wrong with the machinery, and luckily, I’ve been able to troubleshoot everything so far from getting yarn caught up in the gears to the built-in scissors ripping a hole in the tufting cloth and having to patch it. I’ve had to take my machine apart and make adjustments to get it working again a couple times, but there’s information out there to guide you through it.
SP: You are going to be at PYGMALION, which is exciting! Is this your first year attending?
Heyen: I am! I have attended for years, but this will be my first time as a vendor. Other local markets I have participated in include Urbana’s Market at the Square (once/month), BAM! Boneyard Arts Market, Mistletoe Market, and West Side Arts as well as some smaller pop-ups.
SP: What are you currently working on?
Heyen: I’ve started making magnets! A few seasonal items are in the works, too.
SP: Your corgipillar is amazing; definitely my favorite thing I’ve seen. Do you have an all-time favorite creation?
Heyen: The corgipillar is up there. A friend wanted a rug of a corgi with shoes on. I said, “Yeah, but what if it had more legs?” and we made it happen. I’d say my favorite thing I’ve made so far is the deluxe pizza. I pushed the shading and used multiple textures on it for extra dimension. The toppings were also fun to plan out and choose colors for.
SP: Outside of PYGMALION, is there any place around C-U where people can check out your rugs?
Heyen: I’m @highinfiber.rugs, mostly on Instagram, sometimes TikTok. Follow for upcoming markets and general fuzziness!
SP: What’s next for you?
Heyen: I’m excited to be offering a free tufting workshop! Participants will choose their tool, their yarn (or even bring your own), and contribute to a large community rug mural. It will be Saturday, October 7th from 4 to 8 p.m. as part of Fall Fusion Festival, organized by 40 North and the Urbana Arts and Culture Program. The gallery exhibition/sale will run for the month of October at Analog Wine Library in Urbana.
Rose Bowl Tavern
106 N Race St
Sept 22 + 23
F 5 to 9 p.m.
Sa 1 to 8 p.m.
Free, but you can buy things