Aunt Susie's House

Punch Needle Tutorial

Author: Susan Davis

Punch needle art is the making of beautiful punched stitches using a special hollow needle called a punch needle tool. It creates a raised design on woven fabric similar to a hooked rug.
It requires no knotting at the beginning or the end.  It is durable and can be washed.  Punch Needle uses various fibers; for instance, embroidery flosses in cotton and wools, silk ribbon, and blending filament that is used in cross stitch.
Punch needle art is worked from the back side.  The hollow needle is punched into the back side of the fabric leaving a loop on the front side.  When this stitch is repeated over and over, the result is a surface of loops that look like a miniature hooked rug.  The length of the loops can be adjusted to make different sizes of loops; this is called a gauge change.  We will talk about that later in this article.
History of Punch Needle Art
The art of punch needle has been around for hundreds of years.  I've read that both Chinese and Egyptians in the 16th or 17th century used this technique.  No one seems to know exactly the time frame except that is was a long time ago.  It has been said that these people used the tiny bones of little birds for their needles.  The religious clothing during this era was elaborate with beautiful punch needle art.
There is a group of people in Oregon called  the Old Believers.  They broke off from the Russian Orthodox church in 1653 because they were persecuted for their beliefs.  They left their homeland for China, Brazil, and the United States.  They adhere to their old ways and believes.  Russian punch needle as it is called is punched with a one strand needle to decorate their religious clothing.
Tools for punch needle embroidery.
The first tool you need is the punch needle tool. Originally, there was one size that used one strand of floss; the Russian Old Believers used this one strand tool, hence the name Russian Punch Needle. Through the years other artisans have used this technique and added a three starnd needle,and a six strand needle. You can use up to three strands of fibers in the three strand tool and up to six strands of fibers in the six strand tool.
There are many punch needle tools on the market.  I have found that most people like the tool they learned on, but that doesn't necessarily make it a good tool.  Good tools are an investment in your art form.  The three strand needle is the most common size if you choose to purchase just one size.
Next, you will need a good locking hoop. I have the expensive hoops and the inexpensive hoops. As long as it is a locking hoop, I don't think it matters.  The locking hoop has a special lip on the edge to keep the fabric very tight.  I have found that after punching awhile the fabric loosens a little in the hoop and you just need to take time and tighten it again.
Basic punch needle is punched on weavers cloth.  It is a utility cloth that is tightly woven and the needle can be easily punched into it.  When it is released from the hoop the fibers in the cloth tightens around your punch work and hold your stitches in place. That is why you don't need to knot your threads.  When this cloth is washed with the punch work, it shrinks a little and tightens even more around your stitches.  You can purchase a design already printed on weavers cloth or trace your own design to the cloth.  The weavers cloth comes in basic white and naturals, but also colors.
A good pair of scissors is a must.  I prefer tiny embroidey scissors that are curved at the tips. Good , sharp scissors trim your finished work precisely where you want to cut.
Punch needle fibers that you can choose are embroidery floss; wool or cotton, silk ribbon, and blending filament. If using the three strand needle, you will need to strip the floss to three strands; the six strand needle uses all six strands of floss or you can punch 4 mm silk ribbon in the six strand needle, whtich is reallty beautiful.  You can also strip the floss to two strands of embroidery floss and one strand of blending filament.  This is really beautiful to punch snow or add gold or silver for accents.  Wool floss is thin and must be punched a little closer together to fill in design, but it adds wonderful texture.
So, lets get started.
All  good needles can have a gauge change.  You measure the gauge from the eye of the needle to the tubing.  Most needles are set from the manufacture at a 3/8" gauge.  When you are beginning this is a good gauge to start from.  I now suggest to my students to start at a 1/4" gauge,  The reason we start shorter is because we are changing the depth of the gauge all the time to punch beards on people, fur on animals and all kinds of designs in nature.  The smaller the gauge length, the shorter the pile.  The longer the gauge length, the taller the pile. Changing the gauge several times in one piece adds lots of texture and opens up a whole new world in punch needle embroidery.
Open up your locking hoop.  The hoop with the edge on it needs to be laid on the table with the edge up.  Lay your weavers cloth with the design on it over the top of the hoop.  Place the other hoop on top and snap in place making sure the top hoop snaps over the edge of the bottom hoop.  The fabric needs to be as tight as a drum without distorting the design.  Work around the hoop a little at a time pulling and tightening until it is tight as a drum.  The tighter the fabric the nicer stitch you will get and it is easier to punch.
Strip three strands of fiber and thread your needle.  Every needle I have ever bought has wonderful instructions to thread the needle so we will skip this step.  Leave a 2 " tail of floss.
Hold the needle with the index finger, middle finger and thumb; just like a pencil.  Rest one wrist on top of the hoop and hold hoop with the other hand, making sure the thumb is on top.  Keep the needle in a verticle position.  Remember, we are working from the back side. The needle has a front and the floss comes out the back. Make sure you punch in a forward direction.  If you punch backwards the punch work will not stay in.  Punch the needle through the fabric until the gauge makes you stop.  Lift the needle out of the fabric, move over just enough to make another stitch.  You measure how close to stitch by one width of the needle apart.
Drag the needle across the fabric and punch again. I call it punch and drag.  If it feels like you are snagging the fabric, you are bringing  the needle out of the fabric just right. Lifting the needle too high makes irregular loops.  Keep the stitches even.  Outline the design and fill in just like you are coloring.  When you need to change directions, leave the needle in the fabric and turn the hoop not the needle.  Make sure the thread is free to flow through the needle by tossing the floss over the back of the hand.  The stitches must be close enough to cover the design evenly.  If you see some white fabric showing on the back side it is okay.  When you turn it to the front the loops (or pile) have filled in beautifully.  If you punch to close the peice will roll when taken form the hoop and will not lay nicely.  To end: Leave the needle trough the front.  Pull some excess thread out.  Trim thread right next to the fabric.  Clip any snags or uneven  stitches on the front and back.
Punch needle embroidery can be framed, made for pillows, aprons, dish towels, clothing, glued on wood boxes,  quilts and doll faces..  We have started punching fabric motifs for quilts and table runners.  The result is beautiful.  Please visit www.auntsusieshouse  to see all our lovely designs.
If you visit you can download a free design to punch or stitch.
Happy Punching !

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About the AuthorI have been in the needle work business since May 2003.  In the past I had been a decorative painting designer so the switch over to needlework design was fairly easy.  I started designing embroidery designs which was a lot of fun.  Thirty years ago I learned to do punch needle embroidery and picked up this technique again , but this time in designing. We have over 100 punch needle designs with 2 Punch of the Month Series.  We have now specialized in Punch Needle Motifs and adding the punch needle work to quilts.  Come joun us, the punch needle work technique opens up a whole new world in hand needlework.