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Artists Are Using “Punch Needles” to Create Fuzzy Embroidered Illustrations

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Embroidery is a large field that encompasses a number of techniques. From cross stitch to thread painting, there are many diverse ways that you can explore the world of stitching. One approach that’s had a recent resurgence is called punch needle embroidery and creatives from across the world are using it to create bold and beautiful designs.

What is punch needle embroidery?

The difference, as you might’ve guessed, is in the type of needle you use. More conventional embroidery uses a thin needle that’s small enough to fit between your thumb and forefinger. A punch needle, however, is much larger and features a hollow needle attached to a handle. There are some stitch limitations with this technique; because of its shape and the needle, it produces loops (aka piles) of thread that sit on top of the fabric. If you’ve ever seen a hooked rug, punch needle embroidery looks very similar.

How is punch needle different from other types of embroidery?

Aside from the difference in needles, there are other idiosyncrasies you need to be aware of when working with punch needle embroidery. One is the way in which you must format a punch needle artwork. This style of embroidery is worked on the back of the fabric—meaning that you’ve got to work in reverse, as the image on the other side is going to be a mirror image. When complete, the “wrong” side will compose running stitches while the “right” side will have loops.

Another difference is how you hold a punch needle. Unlike the thumb-and-forefinger pose of the standard thread needles, the punch needle is held like a pen and positioned perpendicular to the fabric. The slanted edge of the need faces in the direction you are moving across the fabric.

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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