What is Punch Needle Embroidery?

Posted by Patty Clarkson on

Punch needle embroidery is an old form of making quilts, clothing, home furnishings and other items. It's a technique started in the early 1800s. There are two different methods for punch needle embroidery - one with thread, the other using yarn or wool strips.

In this post we'll be discussing the difference between these two forms of punch needle embroidery and how they're used in today's society as well as their history in order to give you all you need to know about them!

Punch Needle is part of a rich history of rug making in America, and to better understand today’s craft, we have to take a look at where it all began.

Rug Hooking began in Maine in the early 1830’s where it was looked down upon and considered a craft of poverty. Women who dreamed of owning beautiful rugs that were becoming very popular got creative and started to make their own rugs. 

Women in farming communities had access to burlap sacks, and they began to use a small metal hook with a wooden handle (similar to a crochet hook) to pull strips of fabric, like old clothing and rags, through the burlap to make their own floor coverings. When these women started out, their rugs were very basic. As time went on they became much more skilled at rug-making, until they could create a beautiful home with an artistic touch to it all!

In 1886, a man named Ebenezer Ross from Toledo Ohio patented the first punch needle tool, as an alternative to the traditional rug hook. “The Griffin”, allowed rug hookers to work faster, punching down from the back of the fabric rather than pulling yarn up through the front.

In the 1920’s, a small selection of prominent rug hooking studios opened.  Hooked rugs from certain communities were so sought after, that in 1930, a pair of rugs from Walderboro Maine sold at an auction for $1,550 which equala almost $24,000 today!

Through the 1930’s and 40’s, custom hand-punched and hooked rugs made in America became some of the most wanted additions for the home. The work of these artists and craftsmen covered the floors of movie stars and politicians, in wealthy New England estates, and obtained by institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian.

More than just a craft, punch needle rug hooking became an American industry for years and provided income, creativity, and the ability to work from home to women and men along the eastern coast.

By the 1950’s, most American rug manufacturing was sent overseas to be imitated by the tufting gun (which is having it’s own revival for personal use these days!) and many of these rug studios were forced to close. There was a brief renewal of the craft in the 70’s due to the popularity of Russian Punch Needle embroidery.  Punch Needle Rug Hooking became a dying art, down-graded to the category of “craft” and it’s great history forgotten.

Punch Needle Rug Hooking is currently having a new revival, thanks in part to social media, and creatives all over the world experimenting with the possibilities for the craft, as a hobby, as a business, or as fine art.

Punch needle embroidery is the same process as rug punching, but with a smaller needle. The punch needle makes it possible to stitch on anything from t-shirts and jeans to blankets and pillows.

I love this technique because I can make my own designs for projects that are one of a kind - not like most store bought items out there that have been mass produced in factories overseas.

So what are you waiting for? Check out some of the available designs now. 

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