Local rug-maker paints with fiber

Writer: Madeline Cisneros
Photos: Duane Tinkey

Craig Miller started making rugs during the pandemic, when he was locked up at home like the rest of us.

But these are no ordinary rugs. They’re handmade pieces of art that he “paints” with fiber in his creative space at Mainframe Studios. He often portrays ordinary objects and gives them a funny twist, like a fish with a ball cap or an apple with a frown.

“A lot of my work is about everyday stuff,” he said. “I’ve been getting more into making coffee at home. I think it’s amazing when people can do latte art with, literally, liquid. So I thought, ‘What could that look like in an illustrated format?’”

As a kid, Miller worked on sewing projects with his grandma. He learned how to draw and paint early on and earned a degree in graphic design from the University of Northern Iowa in 2020.

You can see him flex his design skills when he makes his rugs. As soon as he chooses a concept, he designs it first on his tablet and then sketches the outline onto backing fiber. Then comes the fun part, when he loads up his tufting gun with yarn and colors in his design. For a finishing touch, he gives the rug a haircut before gluing the yarn in place.

It’s a fun process to watch. Just ask his 25,000 followers on TikTok who have collectively watched his first rug-making video more than 1.4 million times. He also shares his work on Instagram (@craigmillerstudio), which has led him to commissions from collectors with specific requests.

For one recent commission, he created a rug inspired by one of painter David Hockney’s famous Los Angeles swimming pools. Miller’s version looks abstract from up close — a mix of colorful forms and crisp, sharp lines — but as you pull back, you can see a bright pink diving board, palm trees and a woman gazing at the distant hills.

He’s been branching out to work with other artists around town. He’s appeared in a pop-up event at the East Fifth Studio in the East Village and demonstrated chain-stitch embroidery at the clothing store Preservation on Ingersoll. He also made chenille patches for clothing designer Evan Ihde’s varsity jackets.

In his studio, surrounded by a rainbow of yarn, a bright orange cityscape mural and a few other pieces of his handiwork, there’s no shortage of inspiration. “I’m never at a loss for what I can work on,” he said. “With every project, I’m almost excited to be done with it, so I can start on something new.”

Craig Miller makes all kinds of tactile art at his workspace at Mainframe Studios. He recently served up three fuzzy cocktails.

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