Punch needle and rug hooking is making a comeback, and it’s not surprising because this craft is so fun and relatively easy to learn! I learned how to punch needle a year or so ago, and I wanted to share some tips to learn this fun craft quickly and easily.
When I first started, I had a lot of questions about what materials I needed, how it actually works, and how does it stay?! We’ll go over all of this so that you can get started with confidence.
Disclaimer: This post has some affiliate links in it. I receive a small commission from purchases at no additional cost to the buyer. I only recommend products I would use and are of good quality.
How To Punch Needle
How Punch Needle Works
Using a tool called a punch needle, yarn is “punched” through the fabric and loops are made. The loops of yarn become densely packed into the fabric, which makes the fibers secure so that they don’t unravel.
There is a front side and back side to your work. While you are punching, you ware working on the back side of the work. The working/back side forms smaller stitches that don’t have any height to them.
The front side of the work is where the loops are formed and the pile of the fibers is taller.
While there is such as thing as the front and back of the work, there is no “right” and “wrong” side. You can alternate which side of the fabric you punch on to create variation and different textures in your work!
Punch Needle Tools
There are a few different types and sizes of punch needle tools out there.
You can purchase punch needle tools at most craft stores. They are usually plastic and come with a variety of needle sizes. Different sizes are nice if you’re working with a variety of different weights of yarn. I haven’t personally used the plastic ones, so I can’t recommend any particular one.
Then there is the Oxford Punch Needle, which I personally use. This tool is a little on the pricier side, but it’s totally worth it in my opinion because it’s made of high quality wood and metal and it’s easy to hold and use. These come in different sizes, but the needles are not interchangeable, so you’ll have to buy each size you want to use. This needle doesn’t require a threading wire like some of the plastic tools need, so it seems to be a bit simpler to thread.
You can buy the Oxford Punch on Etsy
Sizing can vary across products, but here are some general rules of thumb. The needle size is determined by the needle length and the needle width.
The wider the needle is, the heavier the yarn you can use. Heavier yarn will give you a “chunkier” look to your work. Finer needles use more delicate yarn or embroidery floss. Oxford punch needles come in “fine” and “regular” needle widths.
The needle length determines how high the loops or pile will be. Oxford punch needles come in sizes 8-14. The smaller the number, the longer the needle length / pile will be. The larger the number, the shorter the needle length/ pile will be.
For the tutorials below, I’m using a #9 regular needle.
Yarns and Threads to Use
You can use a wide variety of different fibers for punch needle. For finer needles, you can use thinner or finer yarns and embroidery floss. For thicker needles, you can use heavier/chunkier yarns. Wool and acrylic yarns are both fine to use. When it comes down to it, I like to experiment with different weights and types of yarn to get a feel for what weight looks best with whatever size needle I’d like to use. If you want to learn even more, check out this post about yarn lingo and sizing.
There are a couple different fabrics that work well. Linen, monks cloth, and burlap are all fabrics you can use. You may have to test out a fabric with whatever punch needle and fibers you are using to make sure it works okay. This process was a bit of trial and error for me.
I personally have only used monks cloth, and I had a really hard time finding the right kind when I first started learning. Initially, I bought some monks cloth off of Amazon, but the holes / weave of the fabric was too loose. I would definitely advise against buying from Amazon or going to Joann Fabrics and instead buy the monks cloth through an actual rug hooking or needlecraft store!
I finally found the RIGHT monks cloth here.
North Shore Crafts has a really informative post all about the different fabrics and what to look for.
In summary, use a fabric that has a tight enough weave to hold the stitches in place, but not too tight to where you’re having to force the needle through and tear the fabric.
You’ll want tension on the fabric you use to punch needle, so you’ll want to get some sort of frame or hoop to do this. The main thing you’ll want out of this frame is something that will evenly grip the fabric and doesn’t slip. I personally use a q-snap frame. Plastic no slip embroidery hoop works well too. You can also make your own punch needle frame.
How Does Punch Needle Stay?
I was slightly surprised to learn that there aren’t any knots involved with punch needle. Punch needle stays in place by the tension of the weave of the fabric and the loops that are made when you are punching. The loops get packed together enough that the punch needle stays securely in the fabric!
How To Thread a Punch Needle
Threading varies a bit depending on the tool you are using. Both types of needles work the same way, but the process of threading them is a bit different. Some require threaders to pull the yarn through and others, such as the oxford punch needle have a slit in the handle so you don’t need to use a threader.
Using a Threader Tool
I don’t have a plastic punch needle, so here is a video of how to use that one!
Threading the Oxford Punch Needle
- Place the yarn through hollow opening of the needle and then through the round hole of the needle.
- Leave a tail dangling out of the needle and hold it securely as you pull the rest of the thread through the slit in the wooden handle.
How To Use a Punch Needle
- With your threaded punch needle, punch down through the fabric, all the way to the base of the handle. It is important to punch all the way down to the base of the handle each time so that the loops on the back are even heights.
- Make sure the opening of the needle is facing towards the direction you want to go.
- Pull the tail of the thread so that it is hanging on the back of the fabric.
- Carefully lift the punch needle back up but make sure to keep the tip of the needle touching the front of the fabric. Lifting up too high will make your stitches loose and uneven.
- Skip slightly ahead and then punching the needle back down through the fabric.
- When you want to change directions, be sure to keep the opening of the punch needle towards the direction you want to go.
- Flip the fabric over and trim the piece of thread that is coming out of the tip of the needle.
- Take your tool out of the fabric.
- You can then trim both tails to be the same length as the loops you’ve made so that they blend in.
- If you make a mistake, it is important to catch it quickly and fix it! You’ll have to unravel the punch needle until you reach the mistake.
- Take your punch needle out of the fabric, but keep the tool threaded. I normally just place it on top of the fabric while I’m undoing the stitches.
- Carefully unravel the stitches until you are at a point where you’d like to start again.
- Run your finger over the holes where the previous stitches were to make them smaller.
- Pull the thread from the back of your punch needle until it is tight and there is no slack between the punch needle and the fabric.
- Then begin to stitch again.
How to Finish Punch Needle Projects
There are many ways to finish a punch needle project!
- You can keep the project in the hoop or frame you made it in.
- Make it into a rug
- Make a pillow out of it
Punch Needle Kits and Patterns
A great way to put your skills to practice is by using a kit or pattern! You can buy a variety of kits like this beetle kit that has everything you needle to complete the project, including the punch needle. Also, check out this post about free punch needle patterns.