You may remember that back in February 2021 I took a Zoom class at the Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, PA on the subject of punch needle embroidery.
I created this small rug:
…and I wrote a post that describes the process, the tools, and the class in some detail. I won’t repeat all that here; instead, take a look at the post for background info.
Since that time, my burst of enthusiasm for this new craft has steadied into a nice warm flame. I bought a small frame, some yarns, and the kind of cloth that is needed to form the base of the embroidery.
I’ve done a little experimenting. Some things did not turn out so well – I tried using doubled worsted weight knitting yarn and it made too dense a fabric (I need to invest in a different sized punch needle – which I feel sure I will do fairly soon).
I’ve been learning how to design for the punch needle experience. I need to remember to be less detailed, at least with my current sized needle and yarns.
And…I have learned that I need to remember that as I work, I am seeing the back of the project, which looks quite different from the front, and in fact, any design you make will be reversed, too, in the final product.
OK, let’s see some photos. In March, after the failed worsted weight yarn attempt (I threw it away half-done), I assembled my supplies:
bulky weight yarn
monk’s cloth of the proper density stretched on my new frame (which is 11″ x 11″)
paper to cut out shapes from (that is how we designed our image in the class)
After shredding a lot of paper I came up with something and drew it on the fabric with a Sharpie pen. (You may wonder about the pool view on the computer screen – from my dining room I was also attending a swim meet in North Carolina, 400+ miles away, in which my cousin’s grandchildren were participating.)
Here is my yarn selection and my faithful patient punch needle ready to go.
Later I decided not to use the variegated yarn. Instead it got made into a knitted table mat and…this bunny for my granddaughter…
But I digress. Over the next couple of days I worked on the project. Here you see it in the frame. The “wrong” side is shown first; that is what I see as I work. The “right” side is next, and then a closeup view. You may notice that I eliminated part of the original design – things were getting too crowded in the fiber piece.
Some people prefer the top side as the final image. I like it as well and it gives a crisp look. But, unless I keep the image stretched in a frame like this, it can’t be finished – it’s pretty much impossible to stretch the waste edge cloth around to get a clean edge.
Here’s where I need to explain something. When you punch through the backing cloth, a length of yarn is carried through equal to the length of the needle. When you bring it back out, it forms a loop of half this length on the “right” side, the one you can’t see. The needle I have makes these nice fluffy loops. It’s pretty long. I can get needles in shorter lengths (= smaller loops) and a smaller size shaft (uses thinner yarns).
Later in my punch needle career I am sure I will add to my needle collection. Because, you know, you can mix and match yarns and loop lengths and get different looks.
But I am not there yet. I am currently working on consistency. In any craft, after gaining the initial skills, that is the first thing that has to be mastered.
All right, here is the finished “rug”. It’s about 9″ x 9″.
Sink your toes into that! Yes! And if you are a Barbie doll, maybe, all the way up to your ankles!
If you are wondering what the back looks like on these pieces, here is an example. I fold the waste cloth under the rug and hand-sew a fabric backing on it to cover the interior.
And for your info, I have given up on the cutting out paper designing method. I do better sketching something out on paper. My vacuum cleaner heaved a sigh of relief when I mentioned this – it had had a lot of work picking up all those tiny snips I kept producing.
Since that project, I have made two more pieces. They are both about 9″ x 9″.
With each one I have gained more skill and a better understanding of what I am doing.
I have just gotten some new yarn and I believe I will be starting on my next project very very soon…
A while back I signed up for an online class at Contemporary Craft , an arts organization in Pittsburgh, PA. Some years ago our family visited there (in person) in their previous building while we were on a visit to our son, who was living in the city at the time. I’ve never forgotten the experience and when I was looking around for virtual classes to attend this winter, I took a look at their site.
I’ll let the organization describe themselves in their own words from their website:
Presenting contemporary art in craft materials by international, national, and regional artists since 1971, Contemporary Craft offers innovative exhibitions focused on multicultural diversity and contemporary art, as well as a range of hands-on workshops, community outreach programs, and a store.
I enter the situation via the workshop option. On their site I had noticed this event:
VIRTUAL: Matisse-Inspired Wall Tapestry with Kirsten Ervin
and was drawn in by the image shown ( I don’t know who to credit for the photo, but I took it from the center’s site).
Wow! I read more and I found out we’d be exploring punch needle art. I was so excited. I’ve been interested in this kind of work, similar to but not the same as rug hooking, for a long time. I’ve looked over quite a few books on the subject over the years, but I’ve never found a class or instruction.
Obviously the time had come. I signed up right away.
Wait a minute, you say. What exactly is punch needle art? Well, it’s a form of embroidery, and it uses a special tool and some kind of fiber, such as yarn, to create work on a fabric background. What we were going to do in this class was design our own image and then make it. Just as simple as that.
Time passed and then, about a week ago, I received the kit of class materials, prepared by the presenter, Kirsten Ervin. Everything I needed was included – the stretched cloth background, yarn in the four colors I had chosen, and the punch needle tool, among other items for our session. I was very impressed by the obvious care and thought that had gone into making up this kit amd I was even more anticipating the class once I saw what I’d be working with.
On February 20 I set up my materials, fired up the Zoom, and arrived virtually in Pittsburgh for the class, ready for a four hour session.
After introductions, we got to work. Kirsten had provided each of us with a couple of pieces of heavy paper. The idea was to take scissors and cut shapes, quickly and freely, and arrange them to fit the @ 9″ x 9″ square that our work would cover.
Here are some of the shapes I cut.
They look pretty good now laid out on my dining room table. In reality, I didn’t use any of them. I kept cutting shapes and revising them and trimming them and they became paper slivers mostly falling to the floor. My head did not wrap itself around this method of composition at this stage of the game, though I think it’s a really good way to go about it.
I think that since I was unsure of how the shapes would translate into the fabric work, I felt confused. And you know that I don’t plan anything in my artwork; I just start in and let things take their course. But…it all worked out. I salvaged a few shapes from the disaster, laid them on my background, and traced around them with a sharpie pen. I drew in some random things. Then we got to work.
We learned how to thread the punch needle. Here is the tool, facing up, in the way that you use it:
And here it is, threaded. You poke the yarn through the eye and then lay it along the slit. You sort of wiggle/yank/pull/push and the yarn goes right into the channel. It’s as if the tool resists for a while and then gives in and settles into being ready to work.
My four yarn colors were orange, blue, black, and white. Since I had no set design, exactly, oops, I would have to figure out things as I went along. Other people did things differently – they had a color scheme planned and marked it on the fabric. It depends on how you like to work – either way can come out fine, I learned.
Since I didn’t take photos of the fabric and frame set-up when they were empty, I will now show you what I made in its final form and explain all the parts. Here is the final image I came up with. It’s about 9″ x 9″ square.
And here is what it looked like as I was working. You can see the fabric background, which is something called monk’s cloth. Its loose weave allows the punch needle to slip between the weave pretty easily.
It’s stretched very tightly on a wood frame because the fabric must be taut for this process to work. Let me show you the back view and you will understand.
Kirsten put the cloth/frame assemblage together for each of us. This took some work, all right, even down to the stitching needed around the edges of the very prone to fraying monk’s cloth. I really appreciated this effort. It was very easy to work with this set up.
OK. Now how about some details of the work process? To do the actual task, it is really pretty easy. Stick the punch needle in up to the hilt, and then pull it out at a 45 degree angle or so. Don’t pull it up away from the fabric; keep it close to the surface, and slide it a short distance in the direction you want to go. Stick it in and pull it out. That’s it!
I started with this orange circle, shown below. I worked from the outside in. I did very many messy stitches. Just because it’s easy to do this, well, that does not mean it is easy to do it well. It took me a lot of time to grasp the beginnings of how far apart to make the stitches (I thought of them as “dives” as I dived below the surface with my needle…), and how not to pull the tool too far away from the fabric on the upstroke, and so on.
Know why there is a black dot in the center of this circle? Because when I was finished with the piece and had used up all my orange yarn, well… oh dear, I noticed that it was as if this circle was balding – I had left too much space and left a bare spot. Voila, a black hairpiece and all was well.
Here is more detail of the work. Lots of irregularity. Well, you know, there is something called “practice” and we have that concept for a reason, right? I will improve if I keep on trying.
I also learned that, if a stitch did not satisfy me, just pull it out and redo it. Because this is not an art where you can say…ooops, look at that way back there in line, and fix it. And it’s very easy to remove stitches. So go ahead and do it.
You may be wondering, how does this whole thing hold together, if it is so easy to just pull it apart? Well, it’s an interesting question. Let’s look at the back for some answers. I don’t think my photos show it too well, but the back is fluffier and there is more yarn cramming itself together. It mimics the pattern on the right side, but is different, too, isn’t it?
You might see it better when I contrast the front and back views.
What makes it work is how tightly the loops are packed in with each other. Yes, grab hold of one and start pulling and things can disintegrate. But you are not going to do that, and so the piece’s elements will work together to stay intact. Interesting, isn’t it?
Last bit of construction information. You might also be wondering how the tail ends of the yarn are managed, the ones left when you start or finish a color or area or whatever. Kirsten told us we could just clip the tail ends right to the surface of the work. I almost could not believe her, because in every other fiber art I’ve done, oh my goodness, you must do knots or weave ends or somehow hide them in the work. Not here. Just get your tiny embroidery scissors and carefully clip. Fantastic!
Let’s look at the final result again, now that you know how it is made.
There are a variety of ways to finish it. I could leave it on the frame, for instance. But I like the idea of carefully cutting it from the frame and then folding the monk’s cloth edges to the rear, then covering it with a hand-sewn backing.
And guess what – there is really no wrong or right side to this work. You can choose the one you like best. I can see how different compositions would favor one side or the other. I guess you could turn it over halfway, too, and work from the opposite side, and then get the effects of both looks? (Get me some paper, I must write that idea down…)
So that’s the story of how I learned to punch needle. I haven’t said anything about the class itself, and I will now. Kirsten was a great teacher; I’ve mentioned her good organization and I appreciated her clear plan for the class. We covered all the topics necessary for us to work on our own. She also showed us examples of her work and of various other rug and tapestry-making tools and materials, all of which were helpful in giving ideas and perspectives on the craft.
Plus, she was just a lot of fun to learn from – she has an obvious enthusiasm for the craft and caught us up in it with her. I also enjoyed seeing the WIP and the conversation with my other classmates – which included participants from Pittsburgh and a college student from her dorm room in the middle of the state, besides me.
I want to say thank you to Kirsten Ervin and to Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, PA, and to my classmates for such a good class and for a lot of fun. I also want everyone to know that I am getting ready to order some punch needle supplies…you can tell I really enjoyed myself by the fact that I finished up this piece last night, I was so full of enthusiasm! I will be doing more punch needle art, you can count on it.
Here is a small fabric piece made in August, 2020. It is about 6″ x 6″.
Just for fun, here is a photo of the back of the piece. You can see the stitching and you can also see where in my careless haste to keep moving along I sewed scraps of fabric to the back. No idea I did that until I looked, later.
You may remember that I recently wrote about doing some fabric art, in a return to a medium I worked in 20 years ago or so. (Look here if you want to see that post.) I’ve tried out a bigger work, roughly 24″ x 24″, and I’ll show it to you today and discuss its composition.
All right. Here is the fabric art. It’s called “Mother Nature Greets You”. You will notice its edges are still raw – I have not yet decided how I will finish it, or how it should be displayed. But I can discuss that later. First, take a look.
Here’s how I constructed the piece. It’s the same method I used in making the many fabric wall hangings I created and sold in the 1990’s-eaerly 2000’s.
I take a piece of lightweight canvas (in this case I cut it to about 24″ x 24″). I compose the image as I go – I don’t usually draw anything out or make plans. In this case, I chose a selection of fabrics and started off on the right side of the image. At that point I didn’t have an idea for how it would end up – in fact, my plan was to sew a little area, then see what it was looking like, and then sew some more.
I lay the fabric pieces on the backing, making sure there is overlap with adjoining pieces, and then I pin them. I know there are adhesives and so on for this purpose these days, but I used pins in the past, and I am comfortable with them. Also, I do not want additives or stiffening or anything of that nature in the piece – just fabric and thread. That’s just how I feel about it.
Next, using the regular machine stitching settings, I sew around the fabrics, catching all of them just enough to keep them in place. I choose thread color as the idea strikes me – sometimes I match the fabrics and sometimes I contrast and sometimes I just choose a color I like. I remove pins as I go.
Jumping ahead, after I have the entire piece laid out and sewn this way, I then move on to free-motion stitching. Here is a close-up of how that looks:
All right. Back to the process of making this particular piece. I sewed down the fabric you saw in the earlier photos, and I meant to progress slowly through the image, thinking the idea for what it would be would come along sometime. But, as it was, I got an inspiration and I did an area much bigger than I planned:
And then I just went on from there… I think I did the rest of the piece all at once, after this point.
It’s awkward to handle a piece of this size with all the pins and so on, but… I just move on and handle things as they happen. If gaps appear between fabrics or there are other glitches, I just stick on more fabric or sew down the folds or whatever it takes. It all ends up ok.
It’s interesting to take a look at the back. For the bobbin threads, I usually use white or black, but I don’t really care. At the moment, after having reviewed my thread collection which was based on projects I did in the past (a more muted color time in my life!) I am using the “ugly” colors as bobbin thread.
Look, you can see the ghost image of the face in thread.
Which brings me to a design point. I think that some open areas in the composition are essential – in this piece the face is my example. I also considered using a closely-spaced zig-zag stitch to outline the face and hands, but decided not to, as I wanted them to emerge from the chaos of colors and shapes rather than to be set apart.
The point I’m making is – the type of stitching is as much as design element as the fabric placement.
After finishing the entire image, I let it rest for a few days, and I made some adjustments and revisions by adding fabric as needed. For example, if you compare the earlier photo of the face with the finished on, you can see I changed it to achieve a different expression. It’s very much a collage process that I go through.
Finally I think I have an image I like. Here it is with its edges cropped.
I am not sure how I want complete the piece now. In the past, I would simply add a backing by sewing a piece of fabric to the image, right sides together, and flipping it (like making a simple pillow) – then topstitching around the piece and adding a hanging sleeve.
Somehow I’m not wanting to do that anymore. The smaller pieces I made, shown in the earlier post – I sewed a piece of watercolor paper to the back with a machine stitch all the way around it. That method will not work with this piece, too large.
I’ll give it some thought. In the meantime, here are some more detail shots. Thank for reading and going along this process with me
After reading that long post title I am sure you are exhausted. So, just sit down, and I’ll do some talking.
First thing: We held another Art 451 day (so named by the participants as that is the street number of my house, where the event takes place, and I think it sounds very elegant, Art 451…) on July 30. You can read about the first outdoor Art Day here.
It was a very hot day, so we got started around 9 AM. I set up the tables outside:
with some supplies, a bucket for cleaning brushes, etc., and of course the hand sanitizer table.
We worked on individual projects until about 1 pm, and then we went on to the rest of our day, re-energized. I feel I was singled out by a lucky star when I was asked to teach the mixed media class at the art center last winter, because it led to me meeting these two friends, Andy and Mary Ann. I am grateful, and looking forward to our next session.
Second thing, part one: I’ve been thinking about doing some fabric art again, the impulse spurred by sewing masks in the spring. It was before this blog began so there is no record of it here, but my art career started off as an outgrowth of my experience in sewing. I made quilts, in traditional styles at first, and then moved into applique and pictorial work. (Look here for a post I did about a past art piece in fabric.)
I moved away from fabric art around 2001. I gave away all my fabric but kept my threads, tools, and sewing machine.
Where is this all going? Well, first of all, two friends have been generous in giving me fabrics to work with. Shout out #1 to Tierney at Tierney Creates. A few months ago she put together an assortment of fabric for me and sent it in the mail:
And shout out #2 to Mary Ann (participant in Art 451) who gave me this bag of fabrics at our recent get-togther:
Let me say right now that both of these artists do wonderful fabric work, and I hope some of their influence has infiltrated these fabric gifts, to help me along my own art path. Thank you both for your generosity and support.
Second thing, part two: So where is all this fabric talk going, you might ask. Here’s what I have been doing.
First of all, I bought some other fabrics myself, and I had some small yardage from mask making and a couple of other little projects. I assembled machine needles, bobbins, and found my sewing shears; I dug up my seam ripper, I organized my threads, and I brushed up on some sewing topics.
I do not use a rotary cutter since having a serious accident with one 20 years ago in which I cut off part of my finger and had to go to the hospital in an ambulance. (I just can’t face a rotating blade, not even a pizza cutter, anymore). So I did NOT let a rotary cutter enter my planning.
Then I refelcted on my history in fiber arts, focusing on sewing (I say this because you may remember I knit, also, and I think I’d like to do more of that, too, but…that’s another topic and another post, someday.)
I’ve made clothing, I’ve done piecing, hand sewing, machine and hand applique, hand embroidery, and I’ve dabbled in painting or dyeing fabrics. I’ve been letting ideas float around in my head, and I’ve practiced a few techniques, to refresh my skills and to see which things I might like to be doing.
One such experiment led to these small 6″ x 6″ fabric…images…somethings…?
This work is done in the same applique techniques I was using when I left off fabric art – I stitch fabrics to a light canvas background using machine stitching.
I am coming to the feeling I would like to be making something using the above-mentioned style of construction.
And, I also want to sew seams. Yes, for some reason, I just want to sew seams. That means piecing, to me. Some kind of pieced work.
So…we’ll see. I am very close to starting in on a project. Or, I think two projects, side by side, but different. I feel the day approaching when I will begin.
I will let you know what happens. Until then, I will leave you with these views of me at Art 451 day:
And let’s end on an artsy note. Here I am, pared down to my shadowy essence, in my backyard on July 30, 2020.