The What’s, Why’s and How’s of Punch Needling

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 8:07
Posted by Claire Menegus in category Projects & Tutorials

Hello, all. My name is Claire and I am a new member of the Hello Craft blogging team.  I’m always interested in discovering and learning about slightly unconventional methods for making things. What’s even better is if there is a great story or tradition behind that method. So when I came across punch needling while browsing the web, I was immediately intrigued and knew I had found the topic of my first Hello Craft post.

Punch needling is a marriage between embroidery and rug hooking. The process involves “punching” a threaded needled through fabric to make raised clusters of loops that create a pattern or image. The result is a plushy, soft look and texture. If embroidery were compared to a crisp colored pencil drawing, punch needling would be a hazy watercolor.

I was surprised to discover that punch needling is actually a very ancient craft, first practiced by the Egyptians who used bird bones as needles. It was especially en vogue in 15th century Europe to embellish religious clothing and tapestries, and by sailors who busied themselves making rugs on long voyages.

Japanese Tokyo Bunka Cottage Farmhouse Embroidery Kit from Etsy shop AliceStitchesArts

The Japanese are also fans of the punch needle, although their slightly different process, Bunka, uses of a specific thread called koya to create very detailed  “thread paintings.” Possibly the most well known punch needle tradition is Igolochkoy, a method preserved by the Russian Old Believers. The Old Believers broke off from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century, and subsequently formed their own reclusive culture that still uses this embroidery today.

Personally, when I think of punch needling I flashback to the tacky badges and appliqués that were ironed onto backpacks or jeans in the early 90’s. But punch needling is making a stylish comeback, and it’s exciting to see how designers are re-inventing its aesthetic in contemporary ways.

LaurenFish Design uses punch needle to add unexpected texture and detail to her kitschy pillows.

Image by Flickr user Patapri

Yuko Uemura of PataPri attaches embroideries to a solid background to create a colorful and dimensional wall hanging.

Vena Cava punch needle wrap dress via Opening Ceremony

Punch needle is even making an appearance in mainstream fashion- this outfit by Vena Cava offers a chic and modern alternative to the knit dress.

The punch needle tool looks a little intimidating-which means my curiosity was instantly piqued. So on a lazy Sunday I decided to expand my craft horizons and experiment. Included below are the fruits of my labor-a mini tutorial on how to get started, as well as some pictures of the process.

How to Thread and Embroider with a Punch Needle:

The punch needle is a pretty simple tool. It has a beveled needle protruding from the front of a hollow tube, and usually comes with a plastic or wire threader.

1. Begin by pushing your threader, looped end first, all the way through the hole in the top, pointed end of your punch needle so that the loop is now poking out of the open, bottom end of the tool.

2. Put embroidery floss through the loop end of the threader.

Then pull the non-looped end of the threader out of the front, pointed end, of the punch needle. The embroidery floss should now be threaded through the punch needle.

3. Now pass the threader through the eye of the needle on the needle’s beveled side (the open side).

4. Put the strand of floss coming out of the needle through the loop of the threader, and pull it back out the eye of the needle. The needle eye should now be threaded.

5. Remove the threader, and adjust the floss length so that only an inch or so is coming out of the needle end of the tool. Now you’re ready to start throwing punches…

To Punch Needle:

1. Secure your fabric, pattern side up, in an interlocking stitching hoop. Just as a reminder: when punching, you’re viewing the back or under side of your project, so that the finished result is visible on the other side of the fabric.

2. Punch through the fabric so that the needle completely penetrates. Then draw the needle back out, dragging it along the surface of the fabric, making sure that the beveled side of the needle is facing the direction you’re stitching.

3. Continue to punch following along your pattern. Make sure your punches are very close to one another, with as little space between as 1/32”.  It’s often easier to start with the larger shapes on your pattern first.

I’ll let you know how the rest of my project goes! If you have any tips, tricks or stories about punch needling, please feel free to share in the comments.

Photo: Claire Menegus

About Claire Menegus

Claire Menegus is an aspiring writer who’s interests intersect at business, design, cheesecake baking and her self-proclaimed nerdy fascination with the internet and new media. Her creative impulses change almost daily — from making home made liqueurs to sewing to book binding, though her life-long obsessions have been cooking and baking. Growing up in a household of artists, she feels passionate about supporting independent creators, and speculates that handmade goods and small business could be the new and improved economy of the future. Claire loves to talk! Contact her at claire[at]hellocraft[dot]com.

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  • planetjune

    It’s really great to see punchneedle get a mention, Claire! I’m a huge fan = you can easily make such bold, vivid designs, and I think it’s long overdue for a revival. My favourite punchneedled project I’ve made to date has been a realistic Moon design, and I’m currently working on a 3D globe covered entirely in punchneedle (a huge project!) – if you’re interested, you can see both here:

  • Claire Menegus

    Hi June,

    Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Your moon design is beautiful and your e-book is such a great idea! The ability to download tutorials or patterns allows for an instant reference during complicated projects. Good luck with your globe project-I can’t wait to see the finished result.


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  • Jenny Johns

    Thanks for the great intro to punch needle! I’m thinking it will make a relaxing switch from counted cross-stitch! However, some of your pictures had broken links :( There’s not a lot out there on punchneedle, and any help would be appreciated! thanks :)

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jenny! Glad to hear you enjoyed the tutorial. We updated the post so all photos should now appear. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. Thanks, Christine

  • sharon

    hi good day claire your a lady near to my hearth i love discovering new thingsas well
    but had a set back recently when i had a stroke
    in would love to do punch needling because i think it would be easy for me
    but at this stage i cant work so i cant purshase any products if you can help me with any discontinued kits i would appreciate it
    regards sharon email

  • sharon

    hi claire i again saw people doing it on a flea market
    but didnt have the money to buy it
    up till today i still dont have a tool
    if by any chance someone can help me getting one i will apreciate it
    i had a stroke and cant work so i wont be able to buy one
    regards sharon cape town

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  • Chirprn

    I don’t care for this method I tried it but find the loose loops in the back would make it easy to fall out, if I’m
    Doing it right -I do tons of hand embroidery on baby quilts which have to be washed a lot, I know my stiches won’t fall out-again I could have it wrong -if you want my tooled me know:)