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Way back at the end of March I shared with you a list of crafts that I thought would be perfect for isolation. If you’re starting to wig out in quarantine, you might want to check it out! Anyway… #11 on that list was to take up the punch needle and I was just waiting for my first punch needle to arrive in the mail. I already had a gorgeous punch needle pattern purchased from Urban Acres but when I really looked at it with supplies in hand, I was SUPER intimidated.
My punch tool wound up being an awful lot like my fancy cutting machines. It sat in its box for a while until I finally decided to get over it and get after it. But darn if I didn’t want to try to do a pattern that was starting to look more and more difficult for a first try. And so I decided to do a little something I like to call “winging it”. My aunt has been posting a lot of pour paintings on Facebook and inspired by the pretty marbled designs, I decided to try and mimic the look, but with yarn and my trusty new punch needle.
Would you look at that? Not only do I think my marbled punch needle projects are really pretty, they’re also really fun! It’s such a fun and free feeling just creating on a whim. And I don’t really consider myself to be all that artistic. I just made lines and shapes and followed them, changing colors often and something pretty cool happened.
So today I’m going to share with you what you need to get started, tool-wise. But I’m also going to show you how to learn punch needle WITHOUT a pattern. Whatever design you make will be totally unique to you. And you can continue making these pretty marbled projects until you ARE confident using the tool and ready to tackle a pattern that will require some know-how and detail work.
Are you excited? Because I know I am! In fact, I have already used up my 2 FULL YARDS of fabric just making these over and over because they’re pretty and they’re just SO MUCH FUN!
Supplies Needed for a Punch Needle Project
- Punch Needle Tool (Etsy | Amazon)
- Embroidery Hoop
- Sharp Scissors
- Monk’s Cloth
Investing in a Good Punch Needle Tool
I tried to start punch needle some years ago but I could never get my adjustable tool to work. Not wanting a repeat of that frustrating experience I did a lot of research about punch needles and decided to purchase an Oxford Punch Needle from Alice in Stitches. An Oxford Punch Needle is going to cost between $30-40. I was a bit concerned spending so much on a single tool but after I received it I was really happy with my purchase. The handle is ergonomic and super easy to hold in my very arthritic hand… I can literally punch for hours without pain.
There are a lot of options when it comes to which Oxford Punch needle to purchase. There is regular which handles bulkier yarns and fine which handles worsted weight and lighter yarns. They size from #8 which makes a 1/2 inch loop to #14 which creates a much smaller 1/8 inch loop. So a #8 regular will use bulky yarn and make 1/2 inch loops. I have 2 punch needles, a #10 fine and a #14 fine.
On the left is a #10 fine Oxford Punch Needle that makes 1/4 inch loops. On the right is a #14 fine Oxford Punch needle that makes 1/8 inch loops. The longer the metal part of the needle, the longer the loop created. For more info on the sizing guide you can visit the FAQ at the Oxford Company website which has a wealth of information and tutorials.
There are some similar looking punch needles available on Amazon for far less. If you decide to give one of those a try, let me know how it goes!
Which Yarn to Use?
You can really use any yarn you please for punch needle. Acrylic yarn, like used in this project, is inexpensive and comes in a wide range of colors. For my freehand punch needles pieces I’ve used Red Heart Super Saver Petal Pink, Jade, White and Pool . Cotton yarn is also a lot of fun to use if you have it on hand. If you’re wanting to make a really nice finished piece wool yarn is what seems to be the most popular.
If you’re just starting out, I’d say grab a few skeins of Red Heart Super Saver yarn from some place like Walmart. At less than $3 a skein you won’t feel so badly about wasted materials if you wind up ripping your work out. And, honestly, the end result is really nice even if it is bargain yarn.
Choosing a Fabric to Punch
Monk’s Cloth is a very popular fabric for punch needle and it’s what I’d recommend when just starting. I purchased 2 yards of white Monk’s Cloth from JoAnn and while the weave is looser than what is normally recommended for punch needle, you can wash and dry the fabric to shrink it down and make the weave tighter. Monk’s cloth easily unravels and can be prepared for use (or washing) by sewing a simple stitch around the edge of the fabric with a sewing machine.
I have also punched 14-count Aida. Using the fine version of the punch needle that uses worsted weight or finer yarn will pass through the tight weave, albeit with some resistance. It’s doable but will take longer to punch and would be a hard intro to punch needle. Burlap fabric is also recommended for punch needle and is a good option because it is inexpensive. It is also scratchy, however, and might not be the most comfortable for you to work with. Unfortunately my burlap got lost in the mail so I don’t have personal experience working with it, but I think it would be easy to punch if slightly uncomfortable on the skin as you work.
Threading Your Punch Needle Tool
Pull your thread from the center of your skein if possible. This will help prevent some tension problems as you punch.
Turn your needle upside down with the eye facing upward and the groove in the tool facing away from you. Run the end of your yarn through the eye hook and pull through.
Turn the tool so that the groove is facing you. Next thread the yarn through the eye of the metal tip of your punch needle.
At this point your threaded punch needle should look like this.
Gently pull the yarn down into the groove leaving a tail sticking out of the eye that is 0.25-1 inch long. Your tool is ready to punch!
Preparing Your Fabric to Punch
To get the best results you’ll need for your fabric of choice to be stretched tightly while you work. You can use a snap frame, a gripper frame, or an embroidery hoop. The least expensive option is the embroidery hoop and what I’m using in this tutorial today.
First, cut your fabric a few inches larger than your embroidery hoop. Unscrew the outer ring of the hoop and place the solid ring beneath your fabric. Place the adjustable ring on top of the fabric and pop over the covered ring. The outer hoop will sandwich the fabric between itself and inner ring. Turn the screw on the outer ring to tighten the outer hoop.
As you tighten the outer ring pull the fabric taut until it is tight as a drum. Make sure the ring is finger tight before beginning. As you work, if the fabric becomes loose, unscrew the outer ring just a bit and pull the fabric taut again as you tighten the ring back up.
*NOTE* Monk’s cloth unravels like the dickens. You can prevent unravelling by stitching around the edge of your fabric with a sewing machine. If you’re not much of a sewist, you can also hold the edges together with masking tape. Be sure you have excess fabric around your project if using tape in case you need to cut the tape away.
Using a Punch Needle
Rather than sharing a pattern for you to follow today I’d like to show you how to freehand a marble-like design. Freeform means that you’ll have the freedom to try different things as you learn to use your punch needle.
Freehand a random shape onto your monk’s cloth using a pen or marker. Anything that’s just a totally random blob-like thing will work :)
Punch the needle into the fabric along your drawn line. Push the needle into the fabric as far as it will go, all of the way to the wooden handle. Point the groove in the punch needle along the line of your drawn shape as you intend to follow it.
Carefully pull the needle straight up and away from the fabric, removing the tool just barely from the fabric itself. Drag the needle’s tip along your line and punch down into the fabric again approximately a quarter of an inch away. Again, make sure to punch the needle all of the way down, seating the wooden handle on the fabric’s surface.
Pulling the needle too far away from the top of the fabric will pull out one or more of your previous stitches. Be sure to keep the needle close to the fabric as you move on to the next stitch.
Continue to punch along the line, barely removing the needle out of the fabric, down a quarter of an inch or so down the line back into the fabric. As you work try to make your stitches similar in length.
As you punch, the front side of your punch needle work will have little loops. Don’t worry that there is space between each of the loops. As we fill in the back of the piece with stitches, the front will fill out as well.
If at any point you are unhappy with your stitches, simply pull either end of the yarn up to quickly remove the stitches.
Filling with Stitches
To begin filling in your shape, create a row of similarly sized stitches directly beside the first row of stitching. For this row (and every row after the first) stagger the stitches so that you’re pushing the needle through the fabric along the center of the previous row’s stitch.
As the staggered stitches take place, the line where the 2 meet will start to fill in the gaps.
When you’re ready to change yarn it’s a really simple swap. After you’ve made the last stitch push your finger onto the needle and yarn beneath as you pull out the punch needle. Be sure to keep constant pressure on that last stitch as you pull the needle free of the fabric. (If you’ve ever gotten a shot or had blood drawn it’s similar to how they apply pressure with a cotton ball as they remove the needle <— gross but totally similar)
Use a pair of very sharp scissors to trim the yarn as close to the fabric as possible. Next trim the tail at the point where you started stitching, also as close to the back of the project as possible.
Front and Back of the Work.
It always helps me to see what the front and back of a piece looks like so I know if what I’m doing is what’s supposed to be going on.
The top image shows the back of the work with smooth stitches and the bottom shows the front with the loops.
Note, I’m not calling it the “right” or “wrong” side. If you prefer the smooth stitched side, let that be your front. If you dig the fluffy berber-like loops, that can be your front. And if you want, you can even mix it up and have both textures in the same piece!
Tips to help as you work.
If as you work you notice sections where the stitches aren’t taking hold, you’ve likely had an issue with the tension of your yarn. Pull the needle out of the fabric and slowly pull the yarn back through the end of the the tool, tightening the yarn as you go. Continue stitching to repair the mistake.
Common reasons your yarn might have gotten too tight to properly stitch include accidentally putting pressure on the yarn as it comes out of the skein. Watch that you don’t run your yarn along armrests and keep an eye that pets don’t plop down on your yarn as you work. Another reason you might have lost the slack in your yarn is if it has started to wrap around the tool as you work. When you’re stitching along making occasional turns this will happen naturally.Unwrap the yarn as this happens to get loose tension again.
If you are pulling out stitches as you try to cut the yarn when switching your scissors might be too dull. Dull scissors will pull at the yarn and might pop out your stitches. Switch to a sharper pair and see if that helps. If sharper scissors don’t help you’re likely pulling the scissors up as you make the cut. Keep the scissors still and flush with the fabric to keep from pulling the stitches out.
Continue Your Freehand Design.
I think the most fun part about this particular punch needle project is the freedom of it!
Switch colors frequently, stitching around the initial shape you drew on the fabric.
Switch colors frequently, stitching around the initial shape you drew on the fabric.
Take a quick look and go back over any areas with obvious bald spots, if necessary. When the entire piece is filled, you’re done!
How to Use a Punch Needle
- Monk's Cloth
- Secure your monk's cloth in an embroidery hoop. Pull the fabric taut and make sure the screw on the outer hoop is finger tight.
- Freehand a random shape or transfer a design to the cloth.
- Punch the needle into the fabric along your drawn line.
- Carefully pull the needle straight up and away from the fabric, removing the tool just barely from the fabric itself.
- Continue to punch along the line, barely removing the needle out of the fabric, down a quarter of an inch or so down the line back into the fabric.
- To begin filling in your shape, create a row of similarly sized stitches directly beside the first row of stitching. For this row (and every row after the first) stagger the stitches so that you're pushing the needle through the fabric along the center of the previous row's stitch.
- When you need to change yarn, use a pair of very sharp scissors to trim the yarn as close to the back fabric as possible.
- Switch colors as needed.
- Remove from hoop once complete.