Helpful Hints

What is Miniature Punchneedle?
Miniature punchneedle embroidery uses a small hollow needle and threads to create a series of tiny loops on the surface of fabric. The loops are placed close to one another, and as their numbers increase, so too does the lush textured surface they create. By changing the colors of the threads used, both simple and elaborate designs can be created. This form of embroidery most closely resembles traditional hooked rugs, although on a much smaller scale. Some people use this embroidery to make miniature hooked rugs for dollhouses. But many others use miniature punchneedle embroidery to create artwork and jewelry.

Is this a new technique?
Miniature punchneedle embroidery has been around for a very long time. Ancient Egyptians were among the first to use this technique, by using the hollow bones of birds’ wings as needles. The technique was used throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, often to elaborately decorate ecclesiastical clothing and panels. In modern times, it has been associated with embroidery work done by Russians, particularly immigrants belonging to a religious sect called “The Old Believers” who settled in the United States in the early 1900’s.

What supplies do I need to get started?
Miniature punchneedle supplies aren’t elaborate. You can easily get started using many materials that you have at home. Here are the five essential supplies that you’ll need:

  • Punchneedle  You’ll want at least one miniature punchneedle (sometimes called a Russian punchneedle). These needles come in several sizes, usually ranging from the 1-strand size (for very fine threads, equivalent to one strand of cotton embroidery floss) to 6-strand size (for thicker threads, like six strands of floss).
  • Embroidery hoop or gripper frame  Because it is critical that the fabric is held very taut, punchneedle artists use a gripper frame, or a hoop with a special lip to lock the fabric into place without slipping.
  • Backing fabric   Nearly any tightly woven fabric can be used for miniature punchneedle work, and even unwoven (knit) fabrics can be used if they are backed with woven interfacing.  The premier fabric for punching is weaver’s cloth, made of cotton and polyester fibers.
  • Floss or thread   Just about any thread which will smoothly flow through the hollow punchneedle can be used. Some miniature punchneedle work is done using cotton embroidery floss. You can use “regular” flosses (such as DMC and Anchor brands), as well as some of the specialty flosses, such as overdyed flosses which have irregular coloring and produce variegated areas when they are punched. A wide range of other fibers can also be used for punching, including silk, rayon, wool, and metallics. My favorite fiber for punching is wool (very fine wool threads).  But try out all kinds of threads to see how you like them — if the thread flows through the needle without snagging or catching, you can probably use it!
  • Scissors   You’ll need a pair of small, sharp embroidery scissors to clip threads close to the surface you’ll be working on. The smaller and sharper, the better.

Do I need perfect vision to do this?
Absolutely not! Contrary to what you might think, you do not need to have perfect eyesight to do this small work — much of it is done by feel, and it does not require the precision of other forms of needlework, such as cross-stitch and needlepoint. Having good lighting is far more important than having perfect vision. People of all ages and skill levels can readily learn to do miniature punchneedle work.

How can punchneedle pieces be used?
The sky’s the limit.  Here are a few ways that people use finished punched pieces:

  • framed pieces to hang on the wall
  • Christmas ornaments
  • embellishments for clothing
  • jewelry — wearable pins and pendants
  • applied to the covers of photo albums, journals, and other books
  • displayed on the tops of wooden boxes

This is by no means an exhaustive list!  You can surely find many more ways to display and use finished punched pieces.