Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Punch Needle Embroidery

In my last post I mentioned that I was starting to explore "Punch Needle", (also known as Punchneedle, Needle Punch, and Russian Embroidery). You may have heard of it before, or remember it from years back... I remember it back in the '70's when I worked at a craft store as a teenager. We sold the needles, and I bought one. Unfortunately it came with no instructions outside of how to thread it and I could never figure out what to do with it. (How did we survive before Google?!)

I had all but forgotten about punch needle until the other week when I was at the Lancaster, PA.  AQS Quilt Show and happened to wander into a booth selling punch needle supplies as well as little pieces of beautiful folk-art style punch needle pieces.
I was instantly smitten and my head spun with design possibilities. 

Above is my first attempt. The punch needle tool is that blue pen looking thing. Yarn or floss is thread through the hollow tube and the hollow needle. A design is usually marked onto a piece of cloth. It's recommended that one uses "weaver's cloth" which is a poly/cotton blend. The weave is very strong and forgiving, quickly closing up after the needle is removed, helping to hold the punched threads in place. I did buy some, however seeing that a piece smaller then a fat quarter cost $3.00 and being of frugal mind, I was determined to try other, not recommended fabrics. The above piece was done on  some old and stained utilitarian osanaburg cloth I had. I'd read that this type of fabric wouldn't work, but I had no major troubles with it. I have since visited a wonderful fabric warehouse near where I live, and although they didn't have any weaver's cloth I did find some great poly/cotton blends that work fabulously and were a mere .63 cents a yard! 

(Oh my... "great poly/cotton blends"...who'd of ever thunk those words would come out of my mouth!)

The fabric must be stretched onto a hoop, and it is recommended that you use a hoop that has some sort of non-slip "locking" ridge inside of it. I did take that piece of advice, and although I was promised that the fabric would stay perfectly snug once in the hoop, 
I still have had to re-adjust the tension at times. 

The design is worked from the backside, (in other words the back of the cloth is what is facing upward in the hoop.) In the photo above you can see the running stitches that were made as well as the punch needle tool inserted into the fabric. This is the backside of the work. Notice that there are no knots. The thread tails are simply cut off close to the fabric. They basically are held in place from the weave closing in around them, but fabric glue can be used on the back of the work if one is worried about them coming loose.

Here is my second attempt at punch needle. This time I only sketched the perimeter of the piece onto the fabric, working the inside in an improv manner. I used a variety of 8/2  cotton threads that I previously was using in my handwoven work. The look of the piece was inspired by old hooked rugs... the kind someone's grandma might have done using up left over bits of cloth. 
I worked the piece from the outside perimeter inwards and the wonkiness of the inner part was something that just happened organically.

I'm going to digress for a moment here...
Speaking of handwoven, I haven't done any in a long time as unfortunately tying the warp threads very tight, as one must do, was immensely painful on my hands... and speaking of hand pain, I am THRILLED to say that the punch needle is not aggravating the pain, so YAY!!!! 
I was concerned about it, but the woman who sold me the supplies told me she also had arthritis but had no problems with this particular needle craft. 
So, anyone missing hand work due to hand pain... this might just be your ticket!

One of the things that I love about this form of embroidery is how easy it is to add random bits of color here and their. Very suitable to working in an improvised manner.

Here is my third piece. For this one I did mark a simple geometric outline onto the cloth, and filled it all in with many different colored yarns, again, in an improve manner. 

Here's a shot of the various colored yarns that went into the piece. (Forgive the quality of some of the process photos. They were taken on my Android and I just pulled them off my Instagram feed.) You can see again the fabric in the hoop, the punch needle tool, as well as the back of the work. 
This piece was worked on another type of osanaburg cloth, which had a more open weave, 
so I backed it with some interfacing for more stability. 
(The interfacing did make it stiffer to punch through, so for me, it isn't an ideal way.)

Finished pieces can be framed or mounted onto some sort of background. Or not. For my three pieces I simply cut away the excess fabric, leaving an inch or so, which I then pressed to the backside. I then  hand stitched another piece of fabric to the backside, turning in the raw edges. Two hanging hoops were sewn onto the back using some twill bias tape the local fabric store was literally giving away, (I now have a huge stash of various colors and sizes!) Then I inserted a little flat wood dowel. 
If later I, or someone else, choose to mount or frame a piece that I finished this way, 
the dowel can simply be removed.

The final piece is very sturdy and the dowel is simply place over a small nail. 
Simple, and clean.. I like it!

Even though this is relatively new for me, (save that long ago failed attempt back in the 70's) Punch Needle itself is a very old craft originating back to the Ancient Egyptians, who apparently used thin, hollow bones from bird wings as their needles. The craft form continued through the Middle Ages and onwards throughout parts of Europe and eventually made it's way here via a group of Russian immigrants called "Old Believers" who were seeking refuge from religious persecution.

I'm looking forward to exploring this craft more, and hope that you will all stay tuned!


The Inside Stori said...

Yet again.....you've inspired me big time.....I'm especially taken with your color choices.......thanks for sharing .....

Brenda said...

These are lovely. How big are they? they seem big, but small inside the hoop. I love the variations in the colours and the wonkiness of the square within the square piece.

dolores said...

These are fantastic...especially the last one. Love how you varied the threads. Will have to put this on my list of things to try!;)

lindaroo said...

I also saw this craft at a recent quilt show, and I thought it was lovely. I got caught up in the excitement of the big locker hook projects, and bought that kit instead. I wish I'd purchased the punch needle, especially now! Your pieces are lovely.

La Mañosa said...

Lovely pieces! Thanks for the inspiration. I have the tools and materials and I should really give it a try this summer!

Victoria said...

Thanks to each of you!

Brenda, they are indeed small... the two square ones are only 6.5" x 6.5" each. The work is best done inside of a hoop or frame, and although the hoop can be moved to work on more of a larger area, you can run the risk of crushing the loops too much if they are repositioned and caught under the hoop itself.

Lindaroo, Don't feel bad... several years back I got smitten by the locker hook demos too! I was sure that I would love doing it myself, but after I got home and gave it a try, I realized it wasn't my thing, who knows why? Hopefully you will take to it and have loads of fun, as I've seen some pretty cool things made with that method!

Nifty Quilts said...

Very cool! What a great way for you to use your wonderful color and design sense to make these little folky pieces. I might try it someday.

Katy said...

That looks like fun. Some day I will try it. Good to know I can use all my existing floss!

Corrine at sparkledaysstudio.com said...

My only experience was a rug size punch needle and I found that it all unraveled so quickly if you were not careful. Love your color choices. xox

Jan said...

Love your pieces and must give it a try. I looked online to see what the needle costs. Then I recalled that someone had given me some kind of needle years ago, I had no idea what it was for but I kept it anyway. I looked for and found it in my stash and it is a punch needle with everything I need so I have begun a little project! We shall see if it keeps my interest, I can imagine many things I could design for this work. Thanks once again for this inspiration!

Rachel said...

Thanks for the detailed post. Very intriguing.

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faunhaert said...

I love your little rugs.
they are lovely.

its best if you use your whole fore arm
And not just your hand-

if you put your hands together flat
and you elbows out then push you wrists down
that helps open your carpal tunnels that
squeeze the nerves and cause pain

shoulder rolls help too.

some where along the way
i got a embroidery hoop that some one had round the inner ring with flat bias binding around a little fabric- it helps keep things from shifting. with doing it to both rings if they are metal it helps prevent a silver ring on your embroidery.

Susan said...

Victoria, I'm so sorry to hear that you have hand pain. These first pieces are really nice, and they look so good hung simply. I like how you can use so many colors in exact places, very like painting. And no pain!

Victoria said...

Thanks to each of you!

faunhaert, thanks for the tip, I will try that!

Lynda said...

Love your work. I don't see a way to subscribe by email. Did I miss it or don't you have that set up for your blog? Anyway, love your stuff.

Victoria said...

Lynda, Thank you so much for your comment. I thought I had set one up, but you are right... no where to be found! It's back up now and right under my profile photo. Thanks again for the heads up!