Bored, Unemployed, and Extremely Online: Textile Artist Finds the Silver Linings
After losing her office job, Odalys Vargas turned a quarantine hobby into her artform
From the flock of yarn loops that build a tufted rug, a psychedelic image emerges; A clear cup tips over, spilling its contents into a hot pink orb, checkerboard-printed liquid filling the round cavity. This piece, like all of Odalys Vargas' textile art, extends into another dimension, existing somewhere beyond earthly constraints.
Odd Rugs, Vargas' textile art brand, leans into bright colors and amorphous blobs. "Someone described it really well," Vargas says. "They were like, 'This looks like what I see when I close my eyes in the dark and look at my eyelids for too long.'" Typically under six square feet, her rugs serve more as wall hangings than floor mats: something to be cherished, not tread on.
The Texas State graduate worked as a social media manager until she was laid off last June, months into the global pandemic. Like many young professionals dropped from their office jobs, the 23-year-old found herself bored, unemployed, and extremely online – fertile ground for a new hobby to sprout.
In July, Vargas and her roommate explored tufting after stumbling across videos of the artform online. She picked up a tufting needle and learned the ropes from Instagram and YouTube tutorials. Soon, she transitioned to a tufting gun, and by August, her self-taught quarantine hobby was something more. The textile artist decided to sell her pieces and take commissions via an Instagram account, and Odd Rugs (@odd.rugs) was born.
Tufting is not an artform easily undertaken. "This is such a long process that you kind of have to go all in," Vargas says. It requires a wooden frame to hold a cloth canvas taut, but they aren't widely available to purchase; Vargas built one herself. A tool, either a manual punch needle or a time-saving tufting gun, is needed to weave yarn in and out of the canvas, creating a carpet's swarm of loops. Glue and a fabric backing lock the loops in place, while edge binding finishes off the project. Though it depends on size and intricacy, her rugs take about three weeks to make, and since her three frames can only hold one piece at a time, she has to finish those in the frame before she can start the next. "It's quite a process, honestly, but it's very rewarding."
Odd Rugs soon moved beyond Vargas' friends and quickly cozied into the feeds of those who admired her work. Now, she has over 3,000 followers on Instagram. Vargas says that despite her virtual presence, the account maintains a local spirit: "It feels really personal, because I know a lot of those people and then, even if I don't really know them, I know how they got to me."
Resembling fuzzy collages, Vargas' pieces look as if multiple tiny rugs coincidentally latched together; the holes that remain are intentional. "I really like feeling things," Vargas says. "So I think it's really satisfying to feel the art and really cut into it and make it three dimensional." Squares and circles are often requested in commissions, but the artist prefers rugs with less geometric bounds, like a dusty rose cowboy hat or a warm lava lamp. A more arresting work, "Black of All Colors," exhibits the faces of four Black women whose varying skin tones escape the lines meant to hold them. The piece was sold at Martha's Contemporary in November.
Living off rug sales and leftover savings, Vargas has a lot of time to explore her craft when she's not roller skating, her outdoor activity of choice. In her seven months of tufting, the artist has translated her work to other formats, creating a gem-covered, thin-striped purse with wooden handles and tufted knob covers for her own dresser. Now, she's working on a carpeted addition to the back of her denim jacket.
As a self-described artistic flake, Vargas has always considered herself creative but couldn't find her niche before tufting. "This has been a great way for me to really accept my creative side and value it more," Vargas says. "I can take myself more seriously now that I feel like I've found something I'm passionate about."
Odd Rugs' bubbly abstraction of reality is often anything but serious, but Vargas' asymmetrical edges and round shapes reveal a certain care for space and what exists in it. Even when she's creating a rug based on something tangible, like a gummy bear or cartoonish mushrooms, her whimsical energy pervades, each work strung together by silver linings.