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!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Tiny Stitches


Completed this little stitched piece just a few days ago, which I named "Blue Barn with Red Poppy" (It sold within a few hours of posting it in my Etsy Shop, before I had a chance to show it here.)

This piece gives a definite nod and wink to Janet Bolton, whose work always delights, 
and inspires me when I wish to go really small. 
It only measures 6" x 6", so details are very important!

One might think that a small piece like this whips up quickly. On the contrary, as I have mentioned before... a very small piece like this needs to be worked slowly and thoughtfully. Not over burdened by heavy stitching or elements of any kind, 
I find that everything that does go into it needs to be intentional and deliberate.

Working this way is truly one of my favorites, as it makes me slow down and simply meditate on the bits of fabric I am working with and the small stitches I choose to make.
It is a calming and soothing way to work.

Hope to be doing more of these soon, 
but I have also just stumbled upon a new needlecraft obsession...
Will post about that very soon!
(If you are following me on Instagram, you are already seeing me post about it!)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Waiting for Spring

 Posts have been very sparse here on my blog, and I blame it on the winter! It's been so darn cold, that I just want to stay curled up with a good book and a hot cup of tea. While patiently waiting for Spring's arrival, (ok, not always so patiently) I have been stitching the whole while, but mostly little appliqu├ęd doodles and experimental ideas... nothing that really rocks my boat, (although I have posted a few little things over on Instagram if anyone is truly curious). 

Yup, all in all this winter has been one of quiet activity, lot's of thinking and wondering, but not much in terms of finished product. And that's ok, because I have faith that with the Spring thaw, more abundant creativity will come. If not, I've got a few choice words with a certain groundhog over all this prolonged cold and the effects it has on one's brain cells. 

The piece above is my latest pondering, which I actually did finish just today. It was the result of playing around with some new thoughts on construction methods. 
Hope to explore a bit more on this, but first I need another cup of hot tea!
Stay warm everyone, Spring will be here before we know it. 
(I hope, I hope, I hope!)