Punch Needle Embroidery Resource Guide

 Rissa Peace Root (2002, 2004, 2007) all rights reserved. 

Background Information

Punch Needle Embroidery is often referred to as thread painting, since it can be used to depict very complex scenes, not unlike an oil painting.  This technique and its variants are known as Punch, Punch Embroidery, Punch Needle Embroidery, Russian Embroidery, and Bunka.  These terms are not universally interchangeable, but all of these techniques use the same tool, a punch needle.   The basic concept is pretty simple, yarn is punched through a fabric with a hollow pencil shaped needle and leaves tufted loops yarn on top of the fabric.  You can create intricate, durable images out of the pile.  The actual technique is more closely related to rug-hooking than embroidery, but the application and end product are better described as embroideries than rugs. 

For many years, bunka was the most universally recognized type of punchneedle work, although it is actually the most specialized. Bunka is considered a form of Japanese embroidery, but it most likely has its origins in Russian embroidery.  Bunka uses unraveled rayon yarn and is worked on the top side of the design.  Bunka kits often resemble paint by the numbers kits. You work the design in sections using the punch needle and the appropriate color yarn.  Many of these designs are landscapes and utilize subtle shading that closely resembles painting.   

Punch or Russian Embroidery, is the broader category encompassing the use of all of different types of materials and variable loop lengths.  Most punch embroidery, excepting Bunka, is worked on the back side of the fabric, so that you see the running stitches while you work, not the pile being created.  Anything that will fit easily in the punch needle will work and since they make several size needles, that mean you can use all sort of different threads, yarns and even ribbon. The needle can be adjusted to make the loops short or long, creating even more dimensionality.  The loops are secure, without any knotting, and there is great potential for creativity of design.  The loops can also be cut and sculpted for added three dimensionality.  One of the more interesting design sources for this technique is the rubber stamp, which seems to be responsible for a recent resurgence in its popularity.   This embellishment technique works very well with Crazy Quilting and blends nicely with other forms of embroidery, especially silk ribbon. 

When I started this resource guide, I had the added advantage of knowing an expert I could contact for help.  She also happened to be the person from whom I purchased my very first punch needle.  Victoria Adams Brown is an accomplished teacher, author of two ribbon embroidery books and several craft leaflets, and owner of RibbonSmyth.  As always, she was very generous with her knowledge.  She briefly covers punch needle in her book The New Ribbon Embroidery, starting on page 58.

Tried and true punch needle tips from Vickie Brown:

  • With punch needle, what has worked so well for the classes I teach, is this:
    • The students rubber stamp their design onto 14, or 18 count Aida cloth.
    • Then they flip the design over and draw whatever shape on the back of the fabric, by holding the fabric up to the light.
    • Next they outline the shapes of the rubber stamp image to be punched, with a fade-away pen. 
  • For punch needle, the fabric must be in a hoop.  I only use Susan Bates 4" with the lip edge. Place the fabric over the lip.  If it is a large piece, I just move the hoop around.  Sometimes I use a large hoop, but for novice punch needle artists, always start out with a 4" hoop.
  • Always hold the needle perpendicular to the fabric and barely lift the needle off the fabric as you create the loops.  This is VERY important!
  • The tail of the thread is always behind your hand.
  • Punch back and forth, side to side, up and down, whatever translates best, and leave some white space between the rows.  If the stitches are punched too close together, the fabric will "bump" up and be bulky.
  • Which fibers you use depends on the type of punch needle you use.  I have a new needle with 3 needle sizes now and I'm crazy about it.  It took me years
    of trial and error to get it.
    • For the small needle, I use 2 or 3 strands of floss, variegated are great.
    • For the middle needle, I use  6 strands of floss or YLI Jean stitch
    • For the large needle, I combine an assortment of fibers or use ribbon floss (my favorite) or 2mm silk ribbon.
    • I really like the YLI Jean Stitch and rayon fibers for the sheen, but I will use any fiber that will hold a loop in the fabric.
  • I will use any type of fabric that will hold the loop, loose weaves linen, damask.  I do not enjoy punching into a knit or a tightly woven fabric, like denim.
  • For my students  we use a topiary rubber stamp and they punch the balls of the topiary and then add pearls and 7mm silk French knots.  They love this project since they finish the entire project in the 3 hour class.  All my students have multitudes of rubber stamps and combining their stamps  with my water-erasable fabric stamp pad ink, just opens up all kinds of doors for them in terms of design and projects.
  • I also will print designs in color on Aida cloth by running the fabric through the printer and then punch areas of the design.  It takes patience and lots of time to run the fabric through the printer, especially if I am making 50 kits, but the results are smashing!

Punch Needle Photos from Vickie Brown.

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Punch needle showing various sizes of needles and fibers that can be used.

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As seen in "The New Ribbon Embroidery"  punch needle chick adapted from a Tiffany's gold chick brooch.  Punched with  YLI crown rayon thread.

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Punch needle free form flower as seen in "The New Ribbon Embroidery". Used 4mm silk ribbon and wool threads.

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As seen in "The New Ribbon Embroidery" punched with floss and 4mm ribbon with Mokuba leaves and Snapdragon hand-dyed bullion lazy daisy leaves

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This is a current class project which the student completes in 3 hours. Features purple Ribbon Floss in the topiary and 6 strands of green floss at
the base of the topiary. Punched on Aida Cloth. Design is a rubber stamp.

This beginner punch needle class is currently being taught at the Ft. Washington, PA Quilt Show September 12-15, EuroExpo LaBourboule, France, Sept. 21-27 and at the Williamsburg, VA. Quilt Show Feb. 26-March 1, 2003 and other locations.

I have some tips of my own to offer.

  • When moving the punch needle, scratch the fabric, never lift it off the fabric, or you will pull your loops out.
  • If it is a garment that will be laundered, use a fabric glue on the back of the design.
  • Denim makes an excellent ground fabric for punch needle work. 
  • There are dozens of different punch needles out there.  Clover produces one that is available at most big box craft stores.
  • Since the stamp is on the WRONG side of the fabric, use a permanent ink in a color that is easily seen.
  • Pick stamps that have deep and distinct lines. 
  • I like to use organic lines when I punch, following the natural flow of the design, instead of all horizontal or vertical lines.  See the example below, which I used on a denim shirt.

On-line Resources:

Rather than try to keep links updated on my website, I would suggest entering the keyword "Punchneedle" in the search engine of your choice.

Print Resources:

Punch Needle information in books and leaflets:

  • Bird, Gail. Russian Punch Needle Embroidery.  Paperback. 56 Pages. Dover Publishing. ISBN-10: 0486402622 (January 1998)
  • Brown, Victoria Adams.  The New Ribbon Embroidery.  Paperback.  144 pages.  Watson-Guptill Publications.  ISBN: 0-82303-1713. (July 1997)
  • Buehler, Amy Bell. Punchneedle Fun: Unique and Colorful Projects. Paperback. 48 Pages. That Patchwork Place. ISBN-10: 1564777545. (July 2007)
  • Charlotte Dudney.  New Punchneedle Embroidery: Basics & Finishing Techniques Plus 20 Original Designs. Paperback.  Creative Publishing International. 96 pages. ISBN-10: 1589232992 (July 2007)
  • Gurney, Pamela.  Punch Crazy. Paperback.
  • Gurney, Pamela.  Punch Needle Embroidery.  Paperback.
  • Gurney, Pamela.  Punchneedle Embroidery: Dancing Needles. Paperback. 184 pages.  Sally Milner Publishing. ISBN-10: 1863513132 (May 2004)
  • Gurney, Pamela. Punchneedle Creations. Paperback. Sally Milner Publishing. ISBN-10: 1863513590. (March 2007)
  • Kemp, Barbara and Shaw, Margaret. Punchneedle Embroidery: 40 Folk Art Designs. Hardcover. 128 pages. Lark. ISBN-10: 1579908896 (September 2006)
  • Repasky, Linda. A Passion for Punchneedle. That Patchwork Place. 80 pages. ISBN-10: 1564777111 (December 2006)
  • Repasky, Linda. Miniature Punchneedle Embroidery: Simple Techniques Beautiful Projects. 64 pages. Paperback. Martingale and Company. ISBN-10: 1564776468 (January 2006)


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The fine print:

This site is intended to be an educational site to share my passions. The images and ideas herein are my sole intellectual property, unless other wise noted, and I reserve and retain all rights. Linking to this site is perfectly acceptable, but reproducing any of the contents electronically or in print, without my express permission, is not.  


 Rissa Peace 1999-2013

This site last edited: 01/01/13