The Old Tattered Flag

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Let's learn how to Punch!

I've been noticing a lot of people on facebook lately struggling to understand punch needle.  Though I made a tutorial video many years ago I thought I'd take time to delve into a bit more and start from the very beginning.  
**Please understand that these recommendations and opinions are mine.  I have been punching for 15 years and these tips are what work best for me.  I encourage you to do all the homework and watch as many videos as you can.  This is a wonderful craft and lots of people have great tips.

Punch needle embroidery is the art of creating a design out of thousands of tiny loops of thread.  Punch needle designs are on the smaller side and many people ask what they use them for.  Well, they are pretty decorative accents for your home, but you can also make coasters, ornaments, pictures, etc.  The most important thing is that this wonderful craft becomes our friend.  We look forward to seeing this friend at the end of a long day, or maybe it greets us early in the morning.  We gain comfort from our punch needle and you can feel the stress of your day just melt away when that needle goes in your hand.

So, let's get started. 
The needle.......
There are many punch needles out there are the market.  The main reliable three are the Ultra or Cameo punch needle (left), CTR Punch Needles (Middle) or the Iglochky Russian Punch Needles. (Right)

All three punch needles are very good and reliable.  I started off many years ago with the Russian punch needles.  There are actually 3 to a set, much like the CTR, a 1 strand, 3 strand, and 6 strand or small, medium and large.  For me, though I used this punch needle for many years, it hurt my hand.  The other inconvenience for me was that you need to insert a rubber piece onto the shaft of the Russian and CTR needles to regulate your loop height. 

You can see in the pictures below the way you hold each needle.

For me, I have big fingers, the Russian Punch Needle was just way too small, it caused my hands to cramp.  (yes, I do bite my nails)

The CTR needle feels a bit better, but is still too small for me..

The Ultra Cameo is just perfect for my hand.  I like to hold my punch needle like a pencil.

I was introduced to the Ultra (Cameo) quite a few years ago and fell in love with it.  This pencil type punch needle comes with all three tips that are interchangeable on the needle with a simple twist and your loop heights are controlled by the number adjusters on the side.  The Ultra is my go to needle.
Edit ~ March 7, 2019 ~ I liked this needle so much that we bought the company in October of 2018, well after the date that this blog was first written.  

In picture one below you can see that once you easily twist off the top level of the needle you are met with your needle with a spring on it.  This spring is for use with the small and medium needle.  (see how it is tapered at the top).  When you purchase the 3 set needle you will receive a large spring for use with the large tip. 

Slide off the spring....

 Twist off the needle.  See the slot where the needle simply fits in.  Twist to set in. 

Now on to threading.  This, for most, is the hardest part of learning how to punch.  When you purchase your punch needle you will be provided with two very long threaders.  Let me warn you, cats love these things and they are hard to find once they are gone.  Keep your threaders in a safe place (we do however have replacements at our website...all links will be at the end of this blog.)
So, you want to insert the tip of your threader into the tip of the punch needle.  The needle is essentially a long, hollow shaft of metal.  Insert the threader all the way down the shaft so that it comes out the bottom of the needle.  

Boop!!  There it is! 

Insert your strand of thread/floss into the threader and pull it back up the needle.  

When you pull it back up, you will see it come out at the tip, right where you started with your threader.  

 You are not done, now you need to actually thread the needle.  See how the thread came right up that shaft?  Now you want to continue the thread on out the eye.  I do not need a threader to do this.  I simply moisten the thread and pull it through, but if you need the threader, remember to insert the threader into the eye from the back.  The back of your needle is the straight edge, not the beveled end.  
So, to recap, up the shoot and out the eye.  

There we go!

 Side view of your threaded needle.  The thread comes out to the back.

~ Threads ~ 
So, you want to punch and you know how to thread the needle.  What threads should you use.  Well, this is the fun part.  Most punchers use DMC and Valdani, but the sky is the limit.  This is where you get to experiment.  Try everything!  The important thing to remember is the thickness of your thread.  If you are using a fine thread you will want to use the small tip.  If you are middle of the road, using 3 or 6 strands of DMC or a 3 strand of Valdani or the #8 Valdani you will want to use your medium tip.  You can run fingering weight sock yarn through your large tip and other thicker threads.  This is the experimental and fun part.  

Most of use have skeins and skeins of DMC around the house.  We use a lot of it at The Old Tattered Flag (our house thread is actually called Sullivans a sister thread to DMC).  I use all 6 strands and run it through my medium tip.  Some ladies prefer to use the large tip.  Try both to feel what is best for your hand.  

I recently have added these fabulous Velvet and Alpaca threads to our website.  I find that the large tip works best with the velvet thread and oh my, it's so lush and gorgeous.  The Alpaca thread runs through the medium tip nicely and is equally gorgeous, great for sheep!

 But my favorite thread is Valdani!  A lot of punchers use the 3 strand ball (right).  I started out punching with 6 strands of DMC so when I started using Valdani I wasn't comfortable with how thin it was.  I use Valdani #8 Perle cotton.  I like the look it gives my pieces and it is a better value than the three strand.  Most of my designs are large so value matters when putting kits together. 

Every once in awhile I'll play with a fingering yarn.  There are some beautiful sock yarns out there.  Experiment with these, you won't be sorry.

So, I mentioned that Valdani is my "go to" thread, but in truth the #8 was still not quite the thickness I loved, so one day I thought, "I wonder if you can double it" and sure enough, you can.  I simply pull the strand from the center of the ball (the hole at the bottom of the ball) and grab the strand from the outside of the ball.  I match them up and thread my needle as usual, threading both strands through the medium tip.  You could also use the large tip if you prefer. 

 This is how it looks when it's double threaded.

Oh, and then I stick the ball down the front of my shirt and into my bra for nice safe keeping.  When I need more thread I simply pull both strands.  Another interesting story is about all the Valdani discs I find in my bra at the end of the night.....I digress!

Ok, so you have your needle, you know how to thread it and you know what thread you want to use.  Now......the fabric.  I hear a lot of chatter about this on facebook and it makes me nervous because I hear people recommend muslin.  Please, don't do it!  I speak from experience.  You can be punching along happily then all of a sudden a big tear and you have a hole in your project.  And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
You want to use Weavers cloth.  

Please, use it.....find it!  Many people are selling it.  We have it on our website, you can sometimes find it at Joann's.  All punch needle designers draw/print on weavers cloth.  Weavers cloth is a finely woven fabric that has enough give in it for your needle.  It can handle a lot.  But, that said, don't pull your work out a lot.  Even the best fabric cannot withstand repeatedly punching and pulling out and will eventually tear.  Think about it, you are essentially punching knife through fabric repeatedly.  You want a good strong fabric.  Start with weavers cloth.........then experiment.  After you have learned the feel of the fabric you can then try other fabrics.  You will know the correct feel of the needle going through the fabric.  You will know if a fabric can handle it.  I have used feedsack fabric before with wonderful results and punching through wool......oh, it's like punching through butter!  (with the large tip)
So, now you have the needle, the thread and the fabric.  Do you need a hoop?  Yes you do, but not just any hoop.  You need a locking hoop or a gripper frame.

I recommend and sell the Morgan telescoping hoop 7/9 in.  It's a nice size for most punchers.  It holds your fabric tight........

.....but not as tight as a gripper frame.  I use to say to people, oh try the hoop first, and though I still do, I tell them that they are not going to get the honest feel until they try punching on a gripper frame.  (We have two kinds on our website.)
This one below is wonderful because it provides a large working area and, on the bottom is a swivel so it will spin while you are working.  I am a directional puncher.  I learned to punch in the direction you are going.  Try as I might I cannot go all over the place.  So, I love this spinner frame.  We also have a "Peekaboo" gripper frame on our website that has a cut out window underneath.  Lots of ladies like to constantly look at their work while they are punching.  The Peekaboo is nice for that.

**If your pattern is too small for your gripper frame simply sew some scrap fabric on the sides of your pattern to make it fit.

The reason I prefer a gripper frame is because you want your fabric to be as taut as possible, tight like a drum.  In the hoops it has a tendency to loosen.  It will not loosen with the gripper frame and your needle will slide in and out of the fabric with ease. have your needle, your threads, your fabric and your hoop/gripper frame.  You are ready to start.  Hopefully you have chosen a pattern that you love, or maybe you have decided to draw your own.  I recommend buying a piece of weavers cloth along with your first pattern to practice on, or draw some shapes on the side of the pattern to practice on.  A straight line is the way to start.  
You will be punching from the back.....did you know that?  Yes, the design as drawn on the fabric should be backwards because it is the back of the design.  Your loops will be coming out underneath.  

It's very important to remember to draw direction patterns backwards.  I cannot tell you how many times I've punched a flag backwards.....geez!

Your ready to punch that first loop.  It's going to be harder than you think.  When you punch down the fabric grabs the needle.  You are going to want to pull up fast and since the fabric is grabbing the needle it's going to pop right out.  Punching is a controlled movement.  Punch down.....

All the way down so that the blue part hits the fabric.

The punch needle is designed to work with the spring action by you punching it all the way down to the fabric.  PUNCH IT!  It should be loud, especially if your fabric is nice and tight.  Sometimes it drives my husband crazy.  I digress....  

I tell my students that this is the time to move in super slow motion.  There are no speed records in punching.  You want to pull that needle out super slow, because of the fabric grab and move it over to the next spot, which is right next to the first stitch you've just done.  Not too close and not too far.  If you punch your stitches too far you will see gaps in your work, if you punch it too close you could tear threads.  

You want your needle to work much like a sewing machine needle.  It's hard to find the rhythm at first.  You want your "stitches" to lay nice and flat.  You can see above where one of mine is higher, loopier...that is because I pulled up too high with my needle.  (I meant to do that...wink).  If this happens, and it will, you can pull those loops out and from the top of your needle where your thread is going in, just pull the thread back a bit.  Punch needle is very forgiving.

I have turned my frame and added another row to show you that you want to punch close to the previous row.  Again, not too close and not too far.  Practice, practice, practice to get this right.  It will come to you.

When you are ready to end a stitch, hold your finger on the thread, at the last loop and push down, pull your needle back.....

....and snip.  I have seen people who leave 1/4 inch tails all over the back of their work.  They think that they must do this because the thread will pull out.  It might.  But if it does all you have to do is trim it even with your loops.  All those 1/4 inch tails on your work can interfere with your punching and you might punch one through while your punching anyway.  (I'm a bit OCD on this one, those tails make me shutter) 

           You want to flip the fabric over, you know it....ok, let's look at those loops.....

Tada......lush loops.  I usually punch with my needle on a height of #2 (remember those numbers on the side of your needle).  Experiment with the heights.  Sometimes it's fun to set your height higher if you want fluffy grass or a sheep, etc.  Have fun with the heights.  Bigger height makes bigger loops.
I've also seen on facebook that a lot of ladies think they need to brush glue on the back or iron on stabilizer to hold the loops in place.  I don't and never have!  I'm not sure what these ladies intend to use their punch needle pieces for, but the loops aren't just going to pop out.  They are decorative, not footballs.  Think of a hooked rug, we don't put anything on the back of a rug to hold the loops into place.  It just isn't necessary.  
**One more thing, and I can't get the picture because I've been writing for a long time and I think the blog is telling me enough is enough, but sometimes my punch pieces are so large that they extend over the gripper strips.  I do it all the time and I've never had a loop come out.  You can do it.  You just have to be gentle.  If you follow me on facebook, check in my past videos and you will see me show how I do it. 

So, that's it, that's how to punch.  Once you have punched your first loops you are going to be a woman possessed.  Your going to love your new craft.  Learn all you can and try as many threads as you can, be adventurous.  Remember that none of our pieces were perfect when we first started punching.  Don't be hard on yourself and don't pull out your threads a lot.  You want to look back on that first project to see how far you've come.  

As I'm sure you know, I am Julie, the punching part of The Old Tattered Flag.  I design Hooked Rug and Punch Needle patterns.  We have over 200 punch needle patterns and kits on our website as well as all the supplies needed.  
To see our punch needle designs click here: Punch Needle patterns and Kits
For Punch Needle Supplies Click here: Supplies

Until next time.....


Unknown said...

Thank You..i learned a lot..i have wanted to learn this and now i have a much better understanding of what to do..very informative..

jan said...

I have read that it is possible to use a more loosely woven fabric with interfacing fused on the back, with the design in that case being on the interfacing. Have you ever tried this?

jan said...

... or could you fuse weavers cloth instead of interfacing, I wonder?

moosecraft said...

Thank you! This is the most thorough and detailed tutorial on punch I've seen...EVER! I hope a few more people get "addicted" to such a beautiful craft! :-)

theoldtatteredflag said...

Thank you Janet!

Samplings from Spring Creek said...

Thank you! I am very new to punch needle and am determined to learn and improve and have a finished pieces which looks like a miniature rug. Practice is what I need to do!

Heather said...

Thank you for such a great tutorial! I love the look of punch needle, although so far I've just dabbled in rug hooking. Your designs are so lovely though, I enjoyed seeing it all 'behind the scenes!'

Dee said...

I know when I started punching I had a hard time finding information about the needle, not the style of the punch needle. I really couldn't and had a hard time finding any information about it. What I'm talking about is how does the bevel edge of the needle need to be, facing the fabric, to the side or down. The needle not the part that holds the needle is the most important part of punching. While watching some videos they say hold the needle this way but you can't see what way the bevel edge of the needle is facing. I hope this makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Yes could someone tell how to iron on interfacing to the material for punch needling

Just Me said...

I am so frustrated! I love the uktra needle but I cant get it to stitch! I stitch just fine with other needles but the ultra just comes back out without stitiching!! Please help!!

Diane Swett said...

hi love your blog great instructions. I do have a question the other day I was looking at my cameo pen Needle punch to see needle inadvertently the spring came out and flew somewhere on my floor and got lost I still haven't found it I was at a loss and tried to find replacement spring but couldn't I did finally take a spring from an old pen and used that with my Needle - it works but im sure not as well as the one intended Q: do you sell replacement springs?

Unknown said...

Is punching recommended for pillow cases?

Unknown said...

Thank you very much! Today was the first time I have heard of needle punching, and I was lucky to find you. You explained it in great detail. I shall refer back to you many when I start this craft!

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Unknown said...

so glad that I came across this. I have not punched embroidery yet, and I have only punched one wool rug kit. I ordered a kit, and I am afraid to start it. I am so new at this, and self teaching. There is no one where I live that even knows what punch hooking is. Thank you so very much for this!!!!!

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About Me

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my blog. I am married and just entering the second phase of my life as a Army retiree's wife. My husband and I did 25+ years in the Army. He is now officially a retired Colonel and has just entered the civilian workforce and I am happily settled in our 1830 Stone house. I (along with my Mom) operate www.theoldtatteredflag and currently we are building a small shop in the back part of the house. We live in Northern NY, right near the Canadian border. I have two handsome sons and 2 puggles. Life is busy for us, but I wouldn't have it any other way.