How To Punch Needle
Did you know punch needle started in the 1880's?! Where did it go all these years?! I don't know, but I'm glad it's back! It seems to have disappeared so much, it's a lost art having everyone asking all the questions. How do I start? What do I need? Where can I buy it? Have no fear, punch needle wonder woman is here!
What do I need to start?
Tools you will need:
Punch needle tool with threader
Punch Needle Tools
The main thing to notice here is the difference between an embroidery punch needle and a yarn thickness punch needle (see below).
Adjustable Handle Punch Needle – one tool, 6 adjustable loop lengths, wood handle, stainless steel needle, smooth entry into fabric, smaller handle, use of threader required
Oxford Punch Needle – one tool, one loop length, easy to thread (no threaders), wood handle, stainless steel needle, smooth entry into fabric, large handle, to experience different loop lengths multiple tools need to be purchased
Amazon Punch Needle – one tool, 4 adjustable loop lengths, plastic handle, copper needle, needle catches fabric somewhat (still usable just not as enjoyable), copper needle tarnishes over time, after some use the middle portion pops out too easily while working, cost effective for use in starting out
Embroidery Punch Needle – this tool is intended for use with small embroidery thread (think cross stitch), it is too thin to hold yarn. It is a beautiful art as well, but not to be used when wanting to work with yarn.
Hobby Lobby teal handle Punch Needle (not pictured) – one tool, one loop length, plastic handle, copper needle, needle catches, copper needle tarnishes over time, very cheaply made
For a more in-depth look at Punch Needle Tools, visit the Tools Blog Post by clicking HERE.
Punch needle does require a special foundation fabric. Fabrics found in local craft stores or big online fabric stores (i.e. fabric.com) will not work for punch needle. The needle is too large for typical fabrics, it will make holes in non-punch needle foundation fabrics and will not hold the yarn.
Monks cloth – most common, softest, most pliable, smoothest needle entry, fabric strands move most easily, holds yarn the best, not as pretty to use as a background (typically project will cover all the fabric)
Traditional linen (or burlap) – pretty for use as part of the design, project doesn’t have to fill the entire area (since fabric is pretty), stiffer material, doesn’t hold yarn as well, fabric strands don’t move as easily
Rug warp – same in color as Monks cloth, stiffer fabric, doesn’t hold yarn as well as Monks cloth
For a more in-depth look at Foundation Fabrics, visit the Foundation Fabrics blog post by clicking here.
1. Wooden embroidery hoops – pretty end product, fabric becomes loose easily (this can be fixed by preparing the frame before starting, pulling fabric as tight as possible, trimming fabric and hot gluing to the hoop, if this is done fabric will not slip)
2. Plastic no slip embroidery hoops – Holds fabric well, pulls fabric tight, cannot use to display work after done (not cost efficient and not very pretty), can transfer work to another frame when completed.
3. Wooden frames – fabric has to be stapled or tacked to frame, can leave in frame for completed project, can also transfer to another frame or made into something else (like a pillow), staples or tacks hold fabric tightly. Wooden frames can be as easy as buying an artist painting canvas, removing the canvas material and then using the wood frame in your project. There are also stretcher bars available that can be assembled by hand.
4. Carpet tack wooden frames (not pictured) – there are some frames that use carpet tack on the edges to hold the fabric, these tend to be expensive. You can make this frame by applying carpet tack to a wooden frame if you are up for the project. (Example: Oxford Gripper Frame)
For a more in-depth look at Punch Needle Frames, visit the All About Frames Blog Post by clicking HERE.
100% wool yarn – Is this really required? No, it is not. If you are working on a true rug and intend to use it as a rug, then yes definitely use 100% wool yarn. It is also handy if you intend on using your project excessively (i.e. make it into a purse or pillow). If you are not making a rug nor a purse, you can use whatever yarn you want! Cotton yarns, acrylic yarns, wool blends, fancy yarns, even cut up strips of plastic bags and fabric.
Yarn thickness – Yarn thickness varies within the different types of yarn. I find that yarn weight of 4 (medium) or 5 (bulky) work best for punch needle. I have had mixed results with yarn weight 6 (super bulky). Some of my 6 weights work okay, some I have to fix several times as I work (yarn loops are too small and I have to go back) and some won’t stay at all. With that said, I have a beautiful grey 6 weight yarn that works great and it’s one of my favorites. So don’t shy away from it, but do be aware it might not work as easily as you would like. A yarn weight 7 (jumbo) would be too big and would not work at all. On the flip side, yarn weights 1 (super fine) and 2 (fine) will work, however, they are very thin and require double the punching to fill in the area. I have used yarn weight 3 (light) and it works fine, however, you do have to close your stitch length (go every 1 or 2 holes in your fabric) so the fabric can hold it and it fills in. I tend to stay away from weight 3 for this reason, but it would work if you find one you love.
Design or no design? – I believe this is personal preference. My first piece I didn’t want to spend hours trying to find the perfect design (like I did deciding on my yarn colors, haha) so I let my heart and gut lead the design and I love it! I have also had fun designing pre-made designs for the kits in my store. Either way you can’t go wrong. Punch needle involves making art with yarn and in my punch needle journey I have found that yarn is beautiful in itself. As long as you have beautiful yarn, you can’t really go wrong. Let your heart lead your decision. My one recommendation is to allow thinking ahead just long enough to know where your design is going and draw a line to guide you. Your foundation fabric has holes and fabric strands to lead you, but in the process of pulling and tightening the fabrics, the lines are skewed and don’t always follow a straight line. Drawing your design allows you to follow the pattern you wish to obtain and not relying on the unreliable fabric to guide you. My first design I drew few lines and my shapes are somewhat misshapen.
Now Time to Punch
Once you have your design laid out and your frame ready, it’s time to start punching. First, thread the punch needle tool.
Use threading wire to thread the needle. Insert the threader into the top of the needle.
Place 2 inches of yarn through threader loop end.
Pull threader and yarn back through the needle.
Push a loop of yarn through the eye of the punch needle. Pull yarn through.
To adjust the punch needle for different loop lengths, use notches. Simply twist the needle, pull or push to desired length and turn to lock in place.
If you are using an Oxford Punch Needle tool, watch the following video to learn how to thread it.
If your design has small detailed areas (i.e. eyes of an animal), start with those areas first. If your design is simple with large areas to fill (similar to my piece), you can start wherever you want. I started with the dark copper yarn on the edge.
Start in the middle of your outline. If you start at the edge, the tail end will stick out and possibly come undone over time.
To ensure a clear outline, use a short stitch length for your first row around the outline. A short stitch is about every 2 holes in your Monks cloth.
Insert needle until wooden handle touches canvas. Pull the needle out and move over 2 holes. Be sure the open slot of the needle is pointing the direction you are working. And be sure to graze the fabric with your needle tip.
If the needle tip is lifted too high, you will get loops on the back side.
After the initial first row outline all the way around, you will open up your stitch for the remaining rows. A larger stitch will be every 3-5 holes depending on your yarn.
For your second row, you will want to punch in the middle of your mountain peak on your first row. Since you are opening up your stitch, you will go into every other mountain peak.
Check your work as you go. If there are bare spots, punch closer together.
If this is your first time punching, don’t let all these details scare you. It is much easier than it sounds. The close stitch for the outline and the larger stitches for the next rows is something I have learned over time. It helps make the design prettier. BUT it is not necessary. I recommend just starting. Graze your needle and touch your handle each time and you will do great. You can also go back later to fill in gaps.
To turn corners: When you come to a corner, it is easiest to turn the frame in your hands. Leave your needle in the fabric, turn the piece, turn the needle, ensure the open slot of your needle is facing the direction you are working and continue punching.
To finish each color: No knots needed! Punch the needle to the long loop side. Pull a small loop out and trim.
Pull Punch Needle tool out of the fabric leaving the short tail on your loop side.
After you have finished all yarn colors, you will have multiple short little tails throughout your design. Simply trim these tails so that they hide within the other loops.
If you have any straggling yarn bits, trim those as well. The fabric will hold the yarn.
I want to encourage you to try to have fun with this. Art can be a beautiful thing, but somehow a lot of us have found a way to make it stressful and frustrating (me included). Punch needle spoke to me because it was a form of creativity with little stress. I find it relaxing and easy. In teaching others, I’ve seen it’s not always the case for others. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The yarn comes out easily and you get to start again and it doesn’t take long to come back to where you left off. So take a deep breath, relax and begin. If it gets frustrating, leave it and come back to it later. If you have any questions along the way, please feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org)! I’d love to hear from you.