I have always enjoyed the look of vintage embroidery and I have a rather large collection of iron on transfers that date back to the 40’s however I have a big problem. I have an allergy to steel needles. So even though I know how to do all sorts of needle work, I can no longer work on any type of needle work for any period of time without suffering for it. Yes that does apply to knitting needles, however there are wood and bamboo and even nylon knitting needles that I can use. And yes I still do wool appliqué and at this point I suffer for it, but that’s another story for another day.
On a side note I prefer to use nylon knitting needles, but they are no longer being made so I buy any I can find in thrift stores or antique stores.
When I was a teenager I came across the art of punch needle embroidery. Back in the 80’s it became popular and lots of patterns, supplies and ideas came out. However I was a broke high school and college student and couldn’t afford to invest into a new hobby. Then marriage and kids came and I kind of forgot about it.
At least that was until last fall. A friend of mine had recently moved into my area and opened her fiber shop. So as any good fiber fanatic I set up a Spin in day to visit the shop and of course do a little bit of shopping. In her store she had a few kits of punch needle. Her kits were ones I had never seen before. Instead of campy animals she had primitive art designs. Which totally caught my eye. So I asked her if she would be willing to set up a class for our little group. As it turned out there were a few interested but as it turned out just two of us came to the class. We both ended up hooked! I had finally found a style of embroidery that I can do without totally trashing my fingers and hands. So like all my hobbies I jumped over the edge of just about obsession.
If you have never seen or done punch needle embroidery let me introduce you to it. First it’s very easy to learn. I would say it will take you all of about 10 minutes to learn. No really. Think of it as coloring with thread. Now when it comes to the tools you will need there are some that you can’t go cheap on.
The Punch Needle
First you will need a punch needle. I have to confess I have only tried two styles and found one I like and have just stayed with it.
The first style I tried was the Boye three in one kit. I first thought well this would be great I can get all three sizes of punches in one kit. However once I started working with it I found the needle would slide inside the handle and then it wouldn’t work properly.
So when I went to my class my friend had the CTR Russian punch. On first glance it looks really small and hard to hold. The neat thing with this design it’s the size of a pencil, so if it’s small size is a problem for you, a pencil grip will fit on it and help ease any finger pain. Although I don’t have a problem with it. The added bonus is the handle is made with a non steel metal so I can work with it just fine. It also has a neat silver stripe on the front to let you know that you are punching in the right direction, which for punch embroidery is important.
There are several other styles of punches but I have not worked with any of them so I can’t recommend them. I will say that the Ultra punch is the number one that is purchased by others however I have found one I like and I don’t see the need to invest in any other styles at this time.
Hoops or Frames
The next thing that is important to have is either a frame or hoop to place you work in. The most important thing to know about punching is to make sure your fabric is drum tight which makes punching so much easier and less work. I have several Morgan hoops and I really like them. They are a bit pricey then the ones you will find in most craft stores. But let me tell you they are worth every penny. They also have sets that have stands and I think they are worth the cost. What makes them so different is they have a groove that locks the fabric in place and in all the projects I have made so far I have never had the fabric loosen. Which again is important to success.
There are also frames that have a tack strip around the top to help hold the fabric in place. I hear good things about them but because I have the hoops and am happy with them I again don’t see the need to buy one.
The next thing is the fabric, whether you by a kit or make a design of your own you really need to use what’s called weavers cloth. It’s a 55% polyester and 45% cotton plain weave fabric. It looks like regular muslin but because of the polyester cotton blend it works perfect for punching and makes it a breeze to work with. Some kits I have come across use what’s called punch needle fabric and it’s not the same as the weaver’s cloth. Weaver’s cloth is an even weave that when you punch it doesn’t break the fibers so it’s stays together and makes punching more enjoyable, whereas the punch fabric is a more open weave and I find it harder to work with. If you are in the US or have a fabric store close by you can buy the fabric by the yarn in several different colors. Regular price at Joann fabric is just 9.99 a yard with will make quite a few projects depending on size. Also they have sales all the time and you can find it for half price.
These are the three most important supplies that will make punch needle an enjoyable new hobby.
There are other things to think about. One important one being what threads to use. There are cotton, wool and acrylic threads that will work wonderfully. I use DMC floss. I can use it as the 6 strand, or 3 or single strand depending on my project. If you are like me I have tons of it around the house that I can use up. Also I like it because there are so many different shades to work with and I can also blend colors by separating the strands.
I have a few other tools that I really like for punch embroidery. One that is really helpful is a pair of bent scissors. It really helps when trimming ends of threads.
I also use a very fine tip Sharpie pen to trace all my patterns. One thing to keep in mind is your designs are backwards on the hoop. While you are punching you are working on the back side so all your designs will be reverse which for the most part doesn’t matter until you add letters or words.
Also you should get some kind of box to keep all your supplies in one place. To thread your punch you use a very small threader that is really thin and very easy to lose so I keep them on a magnetic strip in a plastic box.
If you are at all interested in pursuing this as a new hobby I can’t recommend it enough. It really is fun and portable and the results can be just wonderful. I would suggest doing a bit of Google and YouTube searching for how to’s and supplies, there are all kinds of great ideas out there and lots a great hints tips and how’s that you will be punching before you know it.