Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Skinny on Punch Needle - Have You Tried it Yet?

Have you ever tried punch needle?  There's a good amount of instruction on the internet on this fun craft, and I have to admit I spent a fair amount of time (uh, $$) following bad instruction.  Since we’re friends here, I want to help you avoid frustration, so I've prepared this little introduction to punch needle.  As always, if you have additional questions (and you might), don't hesitate to make a comment on the blog or drop me an email at melanie@americanpiedesigns.com.

Punch Needle Pattern "C is for Cat" (www.americanpiedesigns.com)

Three Little Guidelines:

I've got three little guidelines I always follow.  You'll probably try your own methods and equipment and that's fine, but I bet you'll eventually stop pulling your hair out and come full-swing back to these suggestions:

Number one, you will have a superior result if you use “weavers cloth” for your punching foundation.  Anyone who tells you to punch on aida cloth, evenweave, muslin or an old sheet isn’t telling you how much difficulty you are going to have or how crummy your finished project will look.  If your loops are uneven or missing in places, chances are you are not using weaver’s cloth.

Number two, use an “Ultra-Punch” brand needle (sometimes called a “Cameo” punch needle).  I’ve used Boye, Clover, Dimensions and many other brands (and I hope I don’t make those nice folks mad), but Ultra-Punch is the only brand I recommend and offer on my website.  Why?  Hey, it’s simple--I want my loops to look good!

Number three, don’t try to use a standard embroidery hoop to hold your foundation cloth--it just doesn't work.  Instead, I use an inexpensive Morgan interlocking hoop.  There are also lap frames made especially for punch needle embroidery which work very well, but they are more expensive.

A Little Preparation:

Now, the first thing you will notice about a punch needle pattern is it is drawn backwards on the paper or weavers cloth.  That’s because you’ll punch from the back side of your project, so the pattern is intentionally “reversed” or is a mirror image of the completed design.  Don’t worry, your finished loops will appear on the underside of your hoop or frame and your completed design will look exactly as it's supposed to.  Also:
  • I use standard DMC® embroidery floss.  You can use the colors shown in whatever pattern you use or you can choose your own color combinations.  Embroidery floss is not expensive and goes a long way in punch needle projects.
  • Thread your needle with 6 strands of embroidery floss (just follow the easy instructions that come with your punch needle).  Then, I recommend setting your needle in the #2 position (Ultra-Punch needles are easy to adjust and lock into position).  You can play around with other settings and see what you think, but I personally love the height of my loops with the #2 setting.
  • Be sure to stretch the weaver’s cloth drum-tight in your hoop or frame. The fabric should “thump” when you flick it with your fingertip.  To get nice loops, it is essential to keep the fabric tight at all times.  Don’t worry if your piece of weavers cloth is not big enough to fit your hoop or frame--just machine stitch some waste fabric to the sides and then stretch it over your frame.  You can cut away the waste fabric later.
So Here We Go!

1.    You’ll notice the tip of your punch needle has an open, scooped side.  Normally, the  scooped side should face in the direction you want to punch your stitches, but I often rotate the needle a bit so I am punching with the scooped side facing sideways (or towards my thumb):

Tip of "Ultra-Punch" Brand Punch Needle

2.    Hold your punch needle like a pencil and keep it straight up and down (not at an angle).  If you are right-handed, you should punch from right to left.  If you are left-handed, punch from left to right.

3.    The Ultra Punch needle comes with three different size needles: small, medium and large.  For my patterns, I use the medium tip.  Following the manufacturer’s instructions, thread the needle with six strands of embroidery floss.

4.    You can start punching anywhere in the design that you like, except always punch the outline of each shape and then fill it in.  To begin, punch your needle down through the fabric as far as it will go (you will hear a “popping” sound if your fabric is tight enough in the frame) and slowly pull your needle back up until it barely emerges from the fabric.  Leave a short 1/4” tail of floss sticking up from your work--don’t worry; this will not unravel later.  Slide the tip over the fabric by about the width of your needle and punch it down again.  Try to keep the tip of the needle in contact with the fabric at all times. Punch down through the fabric again, slowly lift, slide, punch, slowly lift, slide, punch . . . that’s all there is to it!  Do this until you are familiar with the movement and then you will pick up speed very quickly.  You’ll notice loops forming on the underside (this is actually the front) and small running stitches appearing on the side facing you (this is the back). 
Punch Down Through Foundation Fabric
Slowly Lift . . .
Slide . . .
Punch Again!

5.    Once you have punched at least a 1” square, you’ll notice your stitches are beginning to “lock” into each other on the right side, forming a nice, soft, textured surface where your stitches will not pull out later.

6.    When you come to the end or want to change thread color, place your fingertip firmly against the last stitch to hold it in place.  Pull the needle gently up and away from the fabric and cut the floss, leaving an approximate 1/4” tail sticking up from your work (this tail will not unravel later):

Tips and Tricks:

  • I always begin each project by punching a single row of dense, tightly‑packed loops around the entire outside border of my design (this frames my project and helps keep the edges square).  Although not required, I usually continue by punching the shapes that appear in the foreground first.  For example, if a design has lettering in it, I punch the letters first and then punch the background.  Whatever order you punch the design, always punch the outline of each shape and then fill it in. The background should be the very last thing you hook.  I usually punch a couple of rows around everything in the main background color and then a row of a secondary detail color here and there to add depth and interest to the background.
  • If you reach a corner or need to change direction, stop with your needle in the down position, rotate your hoop or frame, and then continue to punch.
  • Remember, your stitches should be about a needle’s width in length and your rows of punching should be about a needle’s width apart.  If the stitches or rows are packed much tighter, your finished project will “hump” and the edges will tend to curl under when you remove your design from the hoop.
  • If you are not happy with a punched row, simply pull out the thread, gently scrape your nail over the weaver's cloth to close the holes, and re-punch.
  • Although you should usually hold your punch needle straight up and down, there is an exception when punching a row immediately next to another color.  In that case, slightly angle your needle down and away from the other row of color.  This will minimize the chance the different colors tangle with each other and will create nice clean shapes on the front side of your project.

Finishing Your Punch Needle:

Sometimes you'll notice some of your loops have tangled with others and strayed where they shouldn't be.  To fix this, take the tip of your punch needle and simply push the loops around to where you want them. Taking that extra step will make your lines clear and well‑defined.  Here is a bad example of colors tangling with each other . . .

This looks messy . . .uh, no-no!
. . . versus the correct way to punch and clean up your work . . .

Nice and clean . . . yes-yes!
When your hooking is complete, remove the design from your hoop.  If you have any loops or threads sticking up too far on the front side, just snip them off with your scissors (don’t worry, your design will not unravel).

If you packed your rows a bit too tight and your project “humps” a little or the edges tend to curl under, place it face down on an old terry cloth towel and gently steam the back with an iron.  (Caution:  Use more “steam” than pressure.  If you apply much pressure, your loops will permanently flatten.)

Finishing Ideas:

Some punchers like to antique their projects and make them look old and worn.  One way to do this is to mix two or three tablespoons of instant coffee in hot water and dab it onto your project with a sponge.  Allow it to dry and then reapply if you want it darker.  If it is too dark, carefully rinse some of the coffee away with cool water and allow your punch needle to air dry.

If you want to finish your design as a pillow or pin keep, trim the excess weavers cloth approximately 1” away from your last row of loops.  Place your punch needle face down with right sides together onto muslin or other fabric you chose for the back.  Stitch the front and back together using a zipper foot on your sewing machine (a zipper foot will let you stitch as close as possible to the outside row of punched loops).  If you do not have a zipper foot, get as close as possible to the last row of loops without getting them caught in your seam line.  Stitch all the way around, leaving about a 2-1/2” opening at the bottom for turning.  Trim the excess fabric to approximately 1/4” from your stitched seam.  Turn your design right-side-out and stuff it very firmly with polyester fiberfill.  Finish the bottom by joining the opening together with tiny hidden stitches.

To finish your design as a little mat for your table or under a candle, trim the excess weavers cloth approximately 1/2” away from your last row of hoops.  Fold that seam allowance toward the back side and gently steam press it in place, being careful not to flatten your loops on the front side. Cut a piece of wool craft felt the same size as your finished design and pin it to the back.  Using a needle and single strand of thread, whipstitch or blanket stitch around the outside edges.

I hope this information gets you excited to start your own punch needle project!  As always, feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email if you have questions or would like additional info.  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin'!   xoxo--Melanie

Special thanks to Earl at Punch Needle Marketplace for allowing me use of graphics and images from www.punchneedlemarketplace.com.


  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to write all this stuff down! I've been punching for a couple of years and thought I had read everything I needed to know about punchneedle... but read yours anyways (because it's always beneficial to listen and keep an open mind)... and sure enough, you have a tip I have never read about or even thought of... that is, to use the zipper foot to attach backing to a punched piece! I hope more people read your tips as all of these will save them lots of time and money (and help them go straight to the fun part)!

    1. Thank you "Moosecraft", for your nice review and comments!

  2. Great job!! Will be using this as I try my hand at Punchneedle!

    1. Thank you for commenting, Yvonne! I hope this makes it smooth for you to learn punch needle. :)

  3. I often use rug yarn to finish the edges by whip stitching it to the turned under edges of the weavers cloth or even when I 'line' the piece. This allows me to add dried lavender to the finished piece w/the stuffing if I am attaching the piece to a small box to be used as a pin cushion.
    I liked the detailed step-by-step instructions and wish I had them when I started doing this craft several months ago!

    1. Nada, thank you for commenting and sharing your method. Whip stitching rug yarn to the edges and adding dried lavender are wonderful ideas and are examples of great personal touches!