Punch Needle 101, Thread vs. Yarn Confusion

Objective: This Question and Answer page was created to help clarify much confusion about the term “Punch Needle” and to provide helpful information about the two different forms of Fiber art, commonly referred to as Punch Needle.  I hope to offer you some guidance and valuable information along with a list of supply resources for the equipment and materials needed to get you started on your journey creating with the Textile Punch Needle.

What is Punch Needle?  Understanding the difference between the two types of Textile tools commonly referred to as Punch Needles.

PUNCH NEEDLE Q&A- What is a Punch Needle?

  1.  What is all the confusion about the use of the term “Punch Needle.”
  2.  Learn the difference between “Thread Punch Needle” vs. “Yarn Punch  Needle.”
  3.  What are the differences in the finish created with each type of Punch Needle?
  4.  The Equipment & Materials needed for each type of Punch Needle.
  5.  Understanding the importance of pattern design when working with Punch Needles.
  6.  List of Supply Resources.

    What is a Punch Needle? This is a descriptive name used for a textile art tool with a hollow handle and a long needle with an angled tip and an eye. These tools were designed to “punch” thread(s) or yarn through the backside of a foundation fabric and create a loop on the front side of the material. Currently, two different types of Textile Punch Needles are available, and both use different materials and create different forms of textile-finished artwork. The general term Punch Needle is used to describe both tools interchangeably, creating confusion for someone trying to learn about Punch Needle textile art.

    1. What is all the confusion about “Punch Needle”? Two types of Textile Punch Needles are both popular but create very different types of artwork. They use the word “Punch Needle” because the tools essentially do the same function, but they are very different tools and create different textile finishes. Each Punch Needle tool uses different materials and produces different types of textile artwork. So you can understand how the term “Punch Needle” has created so much confusion, especially for the beginner student.

    2. Learn the difference between “Thread Punch Needle” vs. “Yarn Punch Needle.” To help clarify each type of “Punch Needle,” I will refer to the first type of “Punch Needle” as a Thread Punch Needle and the second type as a Yarn Punch Needle.

    The “Thread Punch Needle” is sometimes referred to as Miniature Punch Needle or Punch Needle Embroidery, or by its name from historical use like the Igolochkoy Needle, The Original Russian Punch Needle Embroidery,” or sometimes by the name of the tool itself, for example, Ultra Punch Needle, a very popular punch needle set or Clover Punch Needle. There are other manufacturers of punch needles currently on the market. Still, I will focus mainly on my experience with the Ultra Punch Needle, which I consider my favorite because of the quality, comfort, and ease of use; this tool has also stood the test of time with all the designs I have created.

    Thread Punch Needles can be used with many popular threads like DMC Floss or Valdani Threads and even a wool thread like Rustic Moire Wool Threads and many other thread companies. The Thread Punch Needle uses a tightly woven foundation fabric like a quality Weavers Cloth fabric which is a combination of 55% polyester and 45% cotton fabric. This fabric is the gold standard in foundation fabric for this type of punch needle artwork. Thread Punch Needles can also be used with and punched through various types of tightly woven fabrics like tightly woven linen, wool, flannel, quality muslin, and some denim fabrics. Weavers Cloth fabric can also be fused using a lite fusing material onto other fabrics to create the background for a design.

    The Yarn Punch Needle”  can also be referred to as Rug Punching or by the name of a popular needle called the “Oxford Punch Needle,” which was created by and named after Amy Oxford, the owner, and manufacturer of the Oxford Punch. This is a very popular punch needle collection used by many artists. This type of Yarn Punch Needle is offered in different sizes and lengths so that you can use different types and thicknesses of yarn or wool strips (used in Rug Hooking Art). These needles are sold individually in various sizes allowing you to create different-length loops and use different thicknesses of yarn. They can also be purchased as a complete set of Punch Needles. The Yarn Punch Needle uses a foundation fabric like a quality Monks’ Cloth or Primitive Linen, which allows the yarn to be punched through easily but still holds in the yarn between the fibers. This type of Yarn Punch Needle is popular with Rug Hooking patterns that use Monks’ Cloth or Linen.  Just be mindful that in Rug Hooking, you work from the front side of the design, and in Punch Needle, you will work from the backside. So, if the pattern has words or is directional, you will need to reverse the design to work from the backside of the finished side will be backward.

    3. What are the differences in the finish created with each type of Punch Needle? It is just the difference between using yarn versus using fine threads. Yarn takes up more space than thread, so that the pattern will reflect that difference. Thread Punch Needle patterns create a very fine detailed finish, more like an embroidery design, whereas Yarn Punch Needle patterns tend to be much larger and make less fine details in the finish, more like a rug hooking design. Many rug hookers also enjoy using the Yarn Punch Needle as a substitute for the typical rug hook and use the wool fabric strips with this needle as a substitute for the yarn.

    The type and size of a pattern created will vary. You would not want to use a Thread Punch Needle to create a floor-size rug, but you could easily use a Yarn Punch Needle to create a large rug.  I have made tabletop runners using the Thread Punch Needle, but that is the most significant size pattern I would personally want to make using Thread Punch Needle.

    The finished look of a design using the Thread Punch Needle will usually have some sheen and can be done using solid or variegated colors depending on the type of threads chosen. Creating color variations can also be done by combining thread colors while using your Punch Needle. This is also a great way to get different and unique colors in the design. The most common type of thread used with the Thread Punch Needle is cotton or pearl cotton thread. One exception I have worked with is using a wool thread company Rustic Moire Wool Thread which is 100% wool and creates a more matte or subdued look and feel to the finish of the pattern, more like a miniature wool rug. It is fun to experiment with different types of threads and combinations of threads. When using a Thread Punch Needle.

    The type of finish Yarn Punch Needle creates a more mat-type finish to the design, mainly if the wool yarn is used in the pattern. Wool yarn will make the design very durable and is great for pillows and rugs. Yarn Punch Needle can also use solid and variegated yarn colors along with cotton or a combination of different materials like alpaca, wool, and even wool fabric strips along with various types of yarn textures. Once again, have fun experimenting with different textures and color combinations.

    4. What Equipment & Materials are needed for each type of Punch Needle? There are different manufacturers for each type of punch needle that we have discussed. I will provide you with my experience and opinion based on the kinds of punch needles I have tried and why I recommend them.

    THREAD PUNCH NEEDLE- Information 

    Favorite: The Ultra Punch Needle Kit   General Kit Cost: USD 26.00

    Availability: Easy to Find- online / orphanedwool.com

    The Ultra Punch Needle Kit includes three different needle sizes: small, medium & large, two-needle threaders, 12 different length settings, and instructions.

    The Reason: Ease of use, flexibility, quality, comfort, and cost.

    This is my favorite punch needle. I have used this needle to create my Orphaned Wool Punch Needle Designs.  It has withstood the test of time and is a well-made tool with easy-to-use length setting options on the actual needle. Ultra Punch Needle Includes three different needle sizes for different thread thicknesses and two needle threaders. So it is the complete package, everything you need to start your “Thread Punch Needle journey.

    Why do Thread Punch Needles have different size needles?

    When I talk about different needle sizes, I am referring to the width of the needle, not the length. This allows you to use a single thin thread or threads to use multiple threads or a thicker thread, and it will move easily through the needle shaft.

    Some “Thread Punch Needles,” like the Ultra Punch Needle, come with three different needle sizes (small, medium, and large) that are easily inserted into the same hand-piece. A good rule of thumb is that you want your thread(s) to slide easily through the needle without any drag. If the thread(s) don’t easily slide through the needle while you are punching, the loops will become shorter or not create a loop. So using the correct size needle is very important. Needle size is also essential because you want to make the tiniest hole opening in the foundation fabric for the thread size used. This will help hold the loop in the material better and help prevent the loops from pulling out as you work. Note: Some Thread Punch Needles companies have individual full-size punch needles for each of the different size needles they offer, so you would change to another size needle if you need to change the thickness of the thread(s) that you are using.

    Why do Thread Punch Needles have different length settings? The length settings create different textures by creating other length loops in your design. The Ultra Punch Needle has 12 length settings options on the handle of the punch needle itself. This is highly convenient and easy to adjust. Some “Thread Punch Needles” have guards which you slide over the needle itself and will change the length of the loop by stopping the needle at the fabric. As I mentioned, the Ultra Punch Needle has these 12 settings that allow the needle length to change from #1, which is a very short loop, to #12, which will create the largest loop possible with that tool.

    What Equipment and Materials are needed to use a Thread Punch Needle? You will need a Punch Needle, a Gripper Frame, or a Hoop that can hold your foundation material “Drum Tight.” You will also need your favorite threads and a foundation fabric like Weavers Cloth.

    I use a gripper frame which I use for my Rug Hooking artwork.  If you choose to use a hoop, I strongly recommend a lip or locking hoop like a Morgan Hoop. The problem is that even with a lip hoop, the fabric loosens over time, making punching much more difficult.

    I recommend you look into a gripper frame that consistently holds the fabric “drum tight” while you work. There are many different types of gripper frames available. I recommend one that can tilt and possibly spin, allowing you to work without constantly turning your frame. Also, I would recommend a frame with an opening of at least 12 inches square or around that size. This way, you can create larger patterns, and the threads don’t lay on the gripper strips. If the design is smaller than your gripper frame, you can sew another fabric on the edges to make the pattern fit the frame. I like to work on my lap, so also think about how you want to work because some frames come with a lazy-susan base, some as lap frames, and some are handheld.

    You will need to decide what you think about what is essential to the way you like to work. There are many places to purchase gripper frames, from Etsy to Rug Hooking Stores. This is a significant purchase to your  Punch Needle success. Also, the gripper frame can be used for “Yarn Punch Needle” and Rug Hooking artwork.

    Threads from these familiar companies are commonly used with your Thread Punch Needle, including DMC Floss (6-strand). Note: I typically use 3 of the six strands of DMC,  Anchor Threads,  Valdani Threads #8-#12 Pearl Cotton or 6-strand, Rustic Moire Wool Threads, or other similar thread types.

     YARN-PUNCH NEEDLE: Information

    Favorite: The Oxford Punch Needle

    General Cost Starting from - $36.00 to a complete Oxford Punch Needle kit $279.00

    Availability - Easy to Find online- / amyoxford.com

    The Reason: Ease of use, quality, and comfort

    The Oxford Punch Needle is an excellent quality Yarn Punch Needle developed by Amy Oxford and comes with excellent instructions for use and threading and a Lifetime Money Back Guarantee and made in the USA.

    Understanding the Oxford Punch Needle Sizes.

    When you purchase the Oxford Punch Needle, you will first want to choose the needle width.

    The Regular Size can be used with a 3-ply rug yard and bulky weight knitting yarn or triple up a finer yarn, or if you are a rug hooker, you can use an #8 cut.

    The Fine Size can be used with worsted wool, sock weight, baby weight, tapestry, and needlepoint yarns or for a rug hooker #3 cut wool strips.

    Understanding The Oxford Punch Needle Lengths. You will need to decide on the length of the loops you want to create with the Oxford Punch Needle. They generally come in sizes from #8- #10, but they also have a #14 Mini Fine size.

    #8= 1/2” loop

    #9= 3/8” loop

    #10= 1/4” loop

    #13= 3/16+ Mini with heels

    #14= 3/16” loop

    They are all available as either a Regular or Fine size, except #13 & #14 are only offered in a Fine Punch Needle. These Needles are available individually or in different sets- see the website- amyoxford.com for more details.

    What Equipment and Materials are needed to start using a “Yarn Punch Needle”? You will need a Yarn Punch Needle, a Gripper Frame, or a Hoop that can hold your foundation material. You will also need your favorite weight yarn or wool strips and a foundation fabric like Monks Cloth or Primitive Linen.

    A good quality gripper frame is essential for the “Yarn Punch Needle.” As I mentioned, I like using a gripper frame for my Thread and Yarn Punch Needle and Rug Hooking artwork. You will need to investigate what you think is essential to the way you like to work. There are many places to purchase gripper frames, from Etsy to Rug Hooking Stores, and Amy Oxford offers her type of gripper frame. So decide what you think would make the most sense and offer you the most options that you would like in a frame. Some tilt and spin, and some work best on a table or your lap. Some require you to hold the frame; some are floor frames, not to mention all the different sizes they come in, so a little bit of time spent investigating is worth it before you make a significant investment into your frame.

    5. Understanding the importance of pattern design when creating with a Punch Needle. Both Punch Needle types work the design from the backside of the pattern, whether using the Yarn Punch Needle or the Thread Punch Needle. So you need to be mindful of the direction of any design or if it has lettering in the pattern.  You will need to reverse a pattern if it has lettering so it is correct from the finished front side of the pattern or if you want your design to go in a specific direction. Many people use standard Rug Hooking patterns for a Yarn Punch Needle design; make sure that the design is something you will like in reverse or have it reversed when drawn on the foundation fabric, so it is correct from the finished front side of the pattern.

    6. Supply Resources-

    Orphaned Wool- Ultra Punch Needle, Paper Patterns, Patterns on Weaver's Cloth, Thread Kits (Valdani & DMC), Weaver's Cloth, Punch Needle Tips & Technique Booklet, DMC Stitch Bows & Stitch Bow Inserts

    The Woolery- Weaver's Cloth, Gripper Frames & Hoops.

    Old Tattered Flag- Ultra Punch Needle, Floss Threaders, Weaver's Cloth, Valdani Threads, Punch Needle Frames & Hoops.

    Olympic Wool Works -  Rustic Moire Wool Threads

    Hattie and Della - Valdani Threads

    Olympic Wool Works - Valdani Thread

    Valdani Threads - Valdani Threads (all sizes), Valdani Thread is located in Canada. 

    Joann Fabrics -  DMC Floss

    Michaels - DMC Floss

    Hobby Lobby - DMC Floss

    ETSY- Other thread and gripper frame resources are available through different shops on Etsy.

    PNPS - Punch Needle Primitive Stitcher Magazine - This PNPS magazine offers excellent punch needle and Cross stitch patterns, information, and resources. Orphaned Wool is proud to be one of the featured designers for the magazine subscriptions.  

    I hope this information has helped clarify any confusion on the different types of Punch Needles and will help start you on your Punch Needle journey.

    By: Kelly Kanyok- Artist & Owner of Orphaned Wool

    Specializing in Thread Punch Needle & Rug Hooking Patterns

    Copyright © 2022 Kelly Kanyok / Orphaned Wool

    All Rights Reserved/ Information may not be reproduced without prior permission from the copyright holder/author.