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Punch Needle Embroidery Resource Guide

Written by Rissa Peace, July 2002, 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 know as Punch, Punch Embroidery, Punch Needle Embroidery, Russian Embroidery and Bunka.  These terms are not universally interchangeable, but they 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. 

Bunka seems to to be the more universally recognized form, 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:

bulletWith punch needle, what has worked so well for the classes I teach, is this:
bulletThe students rubber stamp their design onto 14, or 18 count Aida cloth,
bulletThen they flip the design over and draw whatever shape on the back of the fabric, by holding the fabric up to the light.
bulletNext they outline the shapes of the rubber stamp image to be punched, with a fade-away pen. 
bulletFor 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.
bulletAlways hold the needle perpendicular to the fabric and barely lift the needle off the fabric as you create the loops.  This is VERY important!
bulletThe tail of the thread is always behind your hand.
bulletPunch 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.
bulletWhich 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.
bulletSo with the small needle, I use 2 or 3 strands of floss, variegated are great.
bulletFor the middle needle, I use  6 strands of floss or YLI Jean stitch
bulletFor the large needle, I combine an assortment of fibers or use ribbon floss (my favorite) or 2mm silk ribbon.
bulletI 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.
bulletI 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.
bulletFor 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.
bulletI 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.

Click to enlarge.

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.

Click to enlarge.

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

Click to enlarge.

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

Click to enlarge.

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.

On-line Resources:

Punch Needle/Bunka articles, information, retailers and suppliers:
bulletBetty's Pretty Punch
bulletBunka Embroidery Australia
bulletBunka Embroidery Kazari West (click on Instructions for information about threading the needle and handling the yarn)
bulletBunka Embroidery International
bulletBunka Embroidery Showcase
bulletBunka Embroidery Unlimited
bulletBunka Punch Embroidery (samples of projects using rubber stamps)
bulletBunka with Flair
bulletEdna Turner's Bunka Site
bulletGail Bird Punchneedle
bulletInternational House of Bunka
bulletKlema's Punch Embroidery (fabulous site with excellent instructions)
bulletLibby Magnello's Punch Needle Embroidery (discusses using this technique with CQ)
bulletMasha's Punch Embroidery Needle (Wonderful site with lots of information and instructions for Punch/Russian Embroidery.)
bulletMissy Stevens Technique
bulletPunch Impressions 
bullet (Sue Gurney, Dancing Needle Designs)
bulletPunch Needle Marketplace
bulletRayline Designs
bulletRibbonSmyth (Vickie Brown teaches classes in Punch, sells punch needles, flosses and threads for use with the punch needle and rubber stamps.)
bulletSophisticated Stitcher Painting with Thread
bulletSuite 101 Punch Needle
bulletWhat the Heck Is Bunka?  (excellent site "from a miniaturist's point of view"0

Print Resources:

Punch Needle/Bunka information in books and leaflets:

bulletBird, Gail.  Russian Punch Needle Embroidery with Instruction and 32 Transfer Patterns.  Paperback.  56 pages.  Dover Publications.  ISBN: 0486402622. (March 1998)
bulletBrown, Victoria Adams.  The New Ribbon Embroidery.  Paperback.  144 pages.  Watson-Guptill Publications.  ISBN: 0-82303-1713. (July 1997)
bulletGurney, Pamela.  Punch Crazy.
bulletGurney, Pamela.  Punch Needle Embroidery

2001 - 2003
Last edited: 12/28/2003