If you’re into crafts, chances are you have seen punch needle embroidery popping up all over your Instagram and Pinterest feeds. It’s an embroidery and rug hooking method that has been surging in popularity over the past year, but did you know that you can do punch needling on Spoonflower fabric? Allie Chenille (alliechenille on Spoonflower), a San Diego textile artist and founder of Punch Needle Gang, shows us how!
Punch needle works by pushing yarn or thread through a base fabric using a tool called, you guessed it, the punch needle! Unlike other types of embroidery, you don’t need to pull the needle all the way through the fabric. Instead, the yarn or thread creates small loops on the finished side of your artwork as you stitch from the back side. These loops stay in place thanks to the tension of the fabric weave and the other loops around it. This post will give you a basic overview of punch needle, but if you want more detailed instructions, there are a ton of videos and online courses that can help!
With traditional punch needle rug hooking, you use a large needle such as the Oxford needle with worsted or bulky weight yarn. Using a loosely woven cotton fabric called monks cloth, you can create rugs, pillows, and other types of décor that are full of chunky texture.
Today I’m talking about the other type of punch needle (embroidery), that uses a smaller needle with embroidery floss, cotton string, or very fine yarns such as fingering weight. Since a smaller needle is being used, the weave of the fabric does not have to be as loose as it does with the rug hooking method. And that’s where the amazing Spoonflower fabrics with thousands of designs come in!
For punch needle, you need to use a woven fabric without stretch in order for the loops to stay in place. This means that the Spoonflower knit fabrics won’t work. I have tested most of the Spoonflower woven fabrics with my punch needle (an Ultrapunch), and my favorites to work with are Organic Cotton Sateen Ultra and Cypress Cotton Canvas.
Figuring out which fabrics will work for punch needle can be a bit tricky. You need a woven fabric, as I mentioned above, but it can’t be too thick or too thin. If the fabric is too thin or lightweight, it will rip as you push the punch needle through the fabric. If it’s too heavyweight, such as a denim, it will require too much effort and your hands and wrists will get sore very quickly!
One trick that I learned from fellow punch needle artist Krissia Thaiane is that you can put your needle through a small piece of fabric to test it. If the fabric breaks, it won’t work. If it doesn’t break and you can “fix” the weave of the fabric after you pull the needle out, it probably will work (unless it’s too heavy, as mentioned above). To give you a better sense, the best type of fabric for punch needle embroidery is linen, thanks to its strength and relatively open weave. Keep these characteristics in mind as you pick out Spoonflower fabrics.
When it comes to choosing a design from the Spoonflower Marketplace, there are no right or wrong answers. But I find it easier to work with designs that have bold, contrasting colors and shapes. Designs with fine lines, details, or color shading don’t work as well. The same is true for photo realistic designs.
Remember, you do punch needle embroidery from the back side of the fabric (if you want the loop side to be on the front of your artwork, that is). In order to do this, I hold my stretched fabric up to a window or use my iPad as a light box to trace the parts of the design that I want to embroider using a water soluble marker. The design is a lot easier to trace if it follows the guidelines mentioned above.
For punch needle to work, and so that your loops stay in the fabric, you need to make sure that the fabric is stretched super tightly! A regular wooden embroidery hoop just won’t cut it. The fabric should be stretched as tight as a drum, and you should be able to bounce a quarter off of it! No-slip embroidery hoops, such as the Morgan hoop, work best.
As I mentioned previously, if you want the loop side to be on the front of your fabric, you will need to trace your design on the back side of the fabric using a water soluble marker. Using the loop side is the traditional method, and more common, however you can use the flat stitches on the front side as well. If this is the case, you would work on the front side of your fabric and no tracing is necessary. I hold my hoop with stretched fabric up to a window to trace the design, however you can also use a light box or use your iPad screen in a dark room as a light box (it works!)
Your punch needle should come with a threader and instructions on how to thread it. There are different needles (I recommend the Ultrapunch), but all of them are hollow to allow the yarn or thread to freely pass through the needle. Keep in mind that the size of your thread, or how many strands of embroidery floss you use, depends on the size of your needle. For the Ultrapunch, the large size needle tip works with six strands of embroidery floss, and this is usually what I use.
Once your needle is threaded and your fabric is stretched tightly, you can start punching! To punch, simply insert the needle into the fabric as far as it will go and pull it back out without lifting your needle off of the surface of the fabric. If you lift too high, you will pull your loops out! You also want to make sure you are punching straight up and down, with the needle perpendicular to the surface of the fabric, to keep your loops an even height.
You want to punch in the direction away from the “tail” of yarn or thread that is coming out of the end of the needle. In traditional punch needle, you can outline a shape with stitches, and then fill it in with stitches working towards the center. But when using Spoonflower fabrics where you likely won’t be covering the entire backing fabric, I recommend stitching in straight lines to fill up the shape. This is the method I prefer because I find that working from the outside to the center makes every shape round because there aren’t other loops around the shape to hold it in place.
The length of your stitch depends on the weight of your yarn or thread. The shorter your stitch, the more closely your loops will be packed. I make my stitches short and pack my loops tightly when using the Ultrapunch, so that you can’t see the base fabric underneath. It is possible to pack your loops too tightly, but this is more of an issue when using a large punch needle with yarn.
Adjustable punch needles like the Ultrapunch allow you to change the height of your loops. The instructions included with your punch needle will tell you how to adjust loop height. You can use various loop heights in a single project to give it more dimension.
In addition to adjusting the loop height, there are a few different types of stitches you can do with a punch needle. One stitch (the golden yellow thread in the photo above) is created by simply cutting the loops after you have finished. Another type of stitch you can do (shown in turquoise) resembles the satin stitch in embroidery. You can make this one by working on the front side of your fabric. Also working on the front side of your fabric, you can create flat stitches (shown in red-orange). The traditional loop stitch is shown in mauve.
Chances are your punch needle project will be larger than your no-slip embroidery hoop. No worries — you can move your artwork on the hoop, even if the loops end up getting pinched by the frame. The loops can usually be perked back up at the end if they get smashed. I would, however, hold off on cutting any of the loops until you are done with stitching. And I don’t recommend doing the “satin stitch” if you have to move the fabric on the hoop.
Once you are done with all of your stitching, you can turn your Spoonflower fabric into whatever you choose! Sewing the fabric as you normally would, you can make throw pillows, wall art, zipper pouches, and more! You can iron on the backside of the fabric to remove any marks from the embroidery hoop. No glue is necessary to hold the loops in — they should stay put in the fabric as is. However, take special care when washing your punch needle projects. Spot cleaning is recommended, and you definitely don’t want to put it through any spin cycle – that could pull your loops out!
The possibilities are endless when it comes to doing punch needle on Spoonflower fabric and we can’t wait to see what you make! Tag @spoonflower and @alliechenille on Instagram to share your projects.
About the Guest Author
Allie Chenille is actually Allie Padgett, a San Diego textile artist who creates happy, hand-tufted décor and accessories. Allie is the founder of Punch Needle Gang and the creator of Stitch Frame, a game-changing embroidery hoop that allows you to make ready-to-hang embroidery art in any shape that you can imagine. You can find her all over Instagram at @alliechenille.