What is punch needle?
The version of punch needle that you have most probably know of has become extremely popular in recent years. You may refer to it as ‘punch needle embroidery’ or ‘needle punch’. The two forms of punch needle can be traced back to two different crafts, rug hooking and punch needle embroidery which evolved from Russian miniature punch needle embroidery.
Punch needle rug hooking
This is a modern take on a traditional craft that can be traced back to the US, rug hooking.
Rug hooking can be traced back to the 1800’s. A tool that resembles a crochet hook with a wooden handle was used to make rugs. Working from the right side of the rug, strips of fabric or yarn were pulled through the fabric with the rug hook, forming loops.
The first punch needle tool was invented in the l880’s and it was probably invented to speed up rug hooking and make it easier on the maker. The main difference between rug hooking and punch needle is that in rug hooking, you are working from the front, and in punch needle, you are working from the back. In rug hooking, the rug hook creates loops on the front of the fabric, whereas in punch needle, it is the reverse, the loops are created on the backside of the work.
In recent years, lots of new punch needle tools have been invented. You will see lots of different sizes and models, and they all work in a similar way.
One of my favourite needs has to be the Oxford punch needle. This needle is beautifully designed, wooden and ergonomic and self-threading. It was invented by Amy Oxford and was created to allow for punching comfortably over long periods of time without getting an injury.
Punch needle embroidery
Punch needle embroidery comes from Russian miniature punch needle or Igolochkoy. This form of embroidery can be traced back to the 17th century.
It works in the same way as punch needle rug hooking in that you punch the needle through fabric and loops are created on the backside of the work.
The key difference is that the needle used is a small gauge needle and rather than yarn, fine threads or embroidery floss and the designs are much more intricate and detailed. The fabric used is a tightly woven fabric known as weaver’s cloth.
How does punch needle work?
In punch needle, you push a continuous length of yarn through the fabric. You push the yarn through the backing fabric, and when you pull the needle back out of the fabric, the yarn folds in half, creating a loop. There are no knots and no glue is needed to keep it all in place. The loops are tightly packed into the fabric, creating enough tension to hold it all in place.
Traditionally, the loop side of the work would have been considered the ‘right side’ and the flat stitches the ‘wong side’. I would say that in modern punch needle, there is no right or wrong side. It really is up to you and what you prefer. I sometimes like to have a mixture of flat stitches and loopy stitches in a piece as it adds more texture and interesting elements to it.
Traditionally, rug yarn or fabric strips would have been used to create the rugs. In modern punch needle, any yarn that flows through the needle freely can be used. It’s worth trying out different types of yarns and seeing what you like to use. I personally really like working with rug yarn because of its texture, but I often see makers use cotton yarn, acrylic yarns or acrylic blends. It’s definitely worth experimenting with different yarns and seeing what you like.