Punch Needle Embroidery

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.


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