Give Punch Needle Embroidery a Try

This traditional fiber art activity is making a splash thanks to a social media resurgence.

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If you’ve ever wandered down the Instagram rabbit hole of #punchneedle or #rughooking searches, you know that it’s fairly common to find yourself watching video after video of artists working on punch needle embroidery projects. Why? The rhythmic motion of the work is truly mesmerizing.

Punch needle embroidery, a member of the rug hooking family, is often referred to as painting with thread. With embroidery, your embroidery needle and floss penetrate the fabric in a variety of shapes and textures. With punch needle, your tool pierces the fabric on one side and leaves a loop on the other. Traditionally projects are worked from the back so that one side may look like embroidery, while the looped right side looks more like a hooked rug. Some artists prefer the back of their work — it’s a matter of taste!

Punch needle tools come in different sizes to accommodate different weights and types of fibers being used, from delicate embroidery floss to bulky yarns and ribbons. Some tools offer interchangeable needles and gauge guides to make many loop sizes. Sourcing online or at a craft supply store, you’ll find individual needles or starter kits.

For punch needle embroidery work, weavers cloth is the recommended fabric. This half-and-half blend of cotton and polyester allows you to work your tool through the fibers while remaining strong enough to hold the loops in place. Embroidery hoops work perfectly fine with weavers cloth; you can also make your own frame out of canvas stretcher bars. For your work surface, trace your pattern onto the “wrong” side of the fabric, remembering that it will be reversed when turned over.

Unlike a sewing needle, where you simply pass the thread through the eye, a punch needle embroidery tool requires a threader to help get the material loaded.

First, the threader is passed up through the needle end. The thread is passed through the metal loop sticking out. The threader is then pulled out of the tool.

Next, the threader is inserted into the front of the eye of the needle, and the thread is once again inserted and the threader pulled through. With that done, you’re ready to punch.

When tackling your first punch needle project, try starting small. The key to making a great piece is practice and finding out which tools and techniques work best for you. Tension and even stitches are what you want to keep in mind as you’re working. The thread should be able to pass through the needle with ease. If you find you’re having trouble keeping your stitches in, make sure the thread isn’t too bulky for the size of needle you’re working with. For this example, three strands of embroidery floss were used with this smaller needle.

To get started, you’ll outline your design with stitches. At your starting point, insert your needle, leaving a small tail of thread. Punch straight down, making sure the shaft of your needle has gone all the way through. Gently pull your needle back up. Instead of quickly pulling your needle all the way out and punching again, gently graze it over the weavers cloth and punch. To change directions, keep your needle in the fabric and turn the work itself.

After repeating this several times, you’ll see a line of flat stitches on the back and small loops on the front. It may not look like much at first, but you’re just getting started.

Continue filling in your design by following your outline on the cloth. As you keep adding more stitches, you’ll see the front of your work filling in more and looking more like a hooked rug. If you make a mistake or a stitch doesn’t want to stay in, gently pull on the thread to undo the work. To add additional thread or change colors, rethread your needle and insert into the project, leaving a small tail as you did with the very first stitch.

When you’re done punching, simply trim your thread, leaving a final small tail.

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