The What’s, Why’s and How’s of Punch NeedlingTuesday, September 21, 2010 8:07
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.
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.
Yuko Uemura of PataPri attaches embroideries to a solid background to create a colorful and dimensional wall hanging.
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).
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.