The best punch needle fabric a.k.a monks cloth
What the devil is monks cloth?
Once upon a time, there was an upcoming craft called punch needle. The people loved it, it was relaxing, satisfying and quenched the peoples need to make something beautiful out of yarn. It was welcome all across the crafting land. Modern makers were lining up at markets to get their crafty mitts on the latest punch needle product. But lurking in the corner, was a strange monk. Clothed in a cream, loosely woven cloth. The people were wary of him and his magical cloak.
If you hear the words monks cloth and this is where you end up, fear not. I am going to tell you all about monks cloth; what it should look like, stretching it, frogging and how to get a perfectly straight line. As an aside you'll learn why I think it is the best fabric for your punch needle project. (I'll try to steer away from anymore fairy-tale whimsy but I'm not making any promises, I was really enjoying myself there for a minute!)
When you use a punch needle, you need a base fabric to punch into. The base fabric you use with your punch needle needs to be strong in order to withstand the constant pressure from your punching. The most common base fabric for punch needle is called monks cloth. Monks cloth is a loose even-weave cotton fabric which is specifically designed for punch needle. The loose, equally spaced holes are wide enough to allow the punch needle through, yet tight enough to hold the loops in place. Monks cloth has a double thread running through it which makes it very hard-wearing. Monks cloth will often be listed as having a certain number of threads or holes per inch. The preferable count has 24-26 threads per inch, also referred to as 12-13 holes per inch.
Stretching your fabric
Getting your fabric as tight as possible will make your punching easier. When you stretch your fabric, you are stretching all of the small holes within the weave. The opening up of these holes will allow your punch needle to move through the fabric. As the fabric is under tension, once you remove your piece from the frame or hoop the fabric will contract and grip the loops in place.
The fabric has two inch white guidelines running through it. When stretching your fabric with the design on use the guidelines on the fabric to ensure that your design does not distort.
Sometimes you will find, if you are working on a large project, that your fabric will ‘grow’ when stretched. For some projects this won’t matter too much and you can measure your finished piece before cutting any backing fabric etc. If you need your finished punched piece to be exact, consider drawing your design a little smaller to compensate for the stretching.
One of the best properties of this hard-wearing fabric is that you can ‘frog’ your work. To frog your work, means you can pull it out and do it again. This makes the fabric very forgiving and great for beginners. I always encourage students to have a go at pulling out stitches and re-punching, it can be very satisfying.
Drawing a straight line
Drawing a straight line on monks cloth. Press your pencil down and drag through the channel.
The channels formed in between the threads are perfect for drawing straight lines on monks cloth. If the outline of a design is a square or rectangle, here is a little trick to help you get a straight line. You will see on the monks cloth that there are slight dips in between the rows of threads, almost like a channel. If you press a pencil down firmly, and drag it through one of these channels it will give you a perfectly straight line.
Monks cloth is not the only punch needle specific fabric, but it's ideal if you want your project to be hard-wearing. Other fabrics for punch needle include primitive linen, rug warp and traditional linen. Monks cloth can seem expensive and when I first started to punch I was determined to find a cheaper alternative. However, it's one of the things I believe you shouldn't scrimp on. Using good quality materials will make your punching experience much more enjoyable.
If you don't mind not being able to frog your work and you aren't making something that needs to be super hard-wearing, I have found a loose even weave cotton fabric that works with both the adjustable punch needle and regular Oxford needles. If you're just learning though, I'd advise to invest in some monks cloth to begin with.
Once you become familiar with the properties of monks cloth you can look for similar fabrics to work on, however if you are making a rug or another project expected to take a good deal of wear and tear, you would be best to use a fabric designed for punch needle.
Happily, ever, monks cloth
How do you feel? More enlightened with the ways of monks cloth? Hopefully this has helped to clarify things for you. You've learnt what it should look like, how it is listed, how to get a super straight line and why it is important to stretch it tightly. If you're ready to try some, head over to the shop and pick up a yard or half a yard. If you'e still not sure check out the personal note from Amy Oxford about monks cloth, she is the Queen of punch needle after all. I source my monks cloth from the same place as Amy so you can rest assured that you're getting the best.