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What materials should you use to make a punch needle rug?

by Sara Moore - 15 May 2023

Mini punch needle rug

Mini punch needle rug

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently making mini punch needle rugs in anticipation of a weekend long workshop I’ll be teaching in October.

Mini rugs are extremely satisfying projects. Small enough to be completed within a day or two, they don’t use a large amount of materials, are big enough to feel like you’ve achieved something and are manageable enough not to be overwhelming.

One of the questions I get asked the most from those new to punch needle, is what materials you should use to make a punch needle rug.

Punch needle rug hooking

Rugs were originally made to create warmth in homes with hard floors. They were made economically with scraps of whatever materials were to hand, with old clothes and other textiles cut up into strips to be used with a rug hook.

The punch needle tool was invented to speed up the craft of rug hooking. The punch needle was designed to be used with a similar thickness of fibre to the strips of fabric that were used with the rug hook.

Punch needle tools that are used for making rugs tend to have a wider handle and needle to accommodate thicker yarn. Many rugs are made using 100% wool rug yarn as it is very durable and hardwearing. This rug yarn tends to be chunky in weight and therefore needs a wider punch needle to accommodate it.

Mini punch needle rug on a gripper strip frame

Making a punch needle rug using a gripper strip frame

Materials to use for making a punch needle rug

When making a punch needle rug you need to use a strong foundation fabric for your base along with a hardwearing fibre for the loop stitches. Along with the fabric and yarn you will need a punch needle tool and a frame to stretch your foundation fabric onto. Using high quality materials designed for punch needle rug hooking will enhance your experience and the finished product.

Foundation fabric for punch needle rugs

There are a few different fabrics that could be used for making rugs when using both punch needles and rug hooks. These tend to be made from either cotton or linen or sometimes a combination of both:

- Rug warp
- Primitive linen
- Traditional linen
- Monks cloth

My preference for rugs is monks cloth. Monks cloth is a loose evenweave fabric that is made from 100% cotton. It is available in different counts (the number of holes or threads per inch) and with or without guidelines. I like to use monks cloth with 12-14 holes per inch and white two inch guidelines for making punch needle rugs. The fabric is durable and hardwearing as it is woven with a double strand. This allows you to punch and re-punch particular areas of a design without damaging it. The guidelines are especially useful when stretching your fabric onto a frame. The guidelines enable you stretch your fabric evenly ensuring that you do not distort the design.

Monks cloth punch needle fabric

Monks cloth punch needle fabric

Gripper strip frames for making punch needle rugs

Superior to their carpet tack and canvas stretcher bar counterparts, the punch needle gripper strip frames make stretching your fabric and moving projects a breeze. Gripper strips are a product specifically designed for the crafts of rug hooking and punch needle. The strips are made from a rubber and material layered composite studded with metal teeth. A gripper strip looks like a long bendy ruler filled with thousands of staples. It's these grippy metal 'teeth' that secure your backing fabric firmly in place when using either a punch needle or rug hook.

When using a punch needle taut fabric is essential for allowing the needle to move smoothly through the fabric. The tighter the backing fabric is, the easier it will be to punch your project. If your backing fabric is slack it can make the technique tiring on your hands and wrists.

When making a larger project like a punch needle rug, I find it easier to work on a frame that is smaller than the piece. If you are making a rug which is 60 x 120cm, you could use a frame which is 70 x 130cm but this would be quite an unwieldy frame. I prefer to use a 35cm or 45cm frame and move my work on the frame. This means I can ensure my backing fabric remains taut and I'm not overstretching at all.

Punch needle gripper strip frame

Punch needle gripper strip frame

100% wool chunky rug yarn for punch needle and rug hooking

If you want to make a rug that will stand the test of time), then you need a punch needle yarn that is going to last.

My go to option for projects that need to be hard-wearing is a 100% wool punch needle rug yarn. This is a chunky, bulky weight yarn which is perfect for punching. With its coarse, unrefined texture, rug yarn is very strong and perfect for your punch needle rug hooking projects.

Punch needle loop stitches should be staggered like bricks on a wall. This staggering of stitches allows the loops to interlock like teeth on a zip. The rough texture to the yarn enables this process to happen more easily as well as providing extra grip into the foundation fabric.

Wool also has many advantageous properties over a synthetic fibre. It is a natural insulator, breathable, biodegradable, resilient and renewable. We are yet to manufacture another fibre to match its unique properties.

100% wool punch needle rug yarn

100% wool punch needle rug yarn

Regular Oxford punch needles

The old saying is that a workman is only as good as their tools. I’m not sure that’s always true (!) but when it comes to punch needling, Oxford punch needles are considered by many to be the premium brand available.

The Oxford punch needles are self-threading and are designed to be comfortable for extended periods of use, exactly what you need when making a rug. Sold with a lifetime guarantee they are a very worthwhile investment.

The punch needles are available as ‘boxed’ or ‘unboxed’. Boxed punch needles are a bit more expensive, but include a helpful handbook written by Amy Oxford which has a wealth of tips and tricks to help you get started with punch needle. The 28-page booklet includes illustrations and all the information you need to use your new tool successfully. Also in the box is a stitch guide, which is useful for maintaining consistent stitch length across your project.

My preference when making a rug is to use either the #9 regular or the #10 regular Oxford punch needle. The #9 regular creates just a slightly longer loop height which makes the rug feel plush underfoot and a little thicker. However as the #9 create a longer loop height than the #10 it also uses more yarn.

Oxford punch needle

Oxford punch needle

Materials used for making a mini punch needle rug – 30 x 45 cm

The materials and quantities I used for making the mini punch needle rugs are:

- Monks cloth
– one piece of fabric measuring 43 x 60 cm
- 100% rug yarn – approximately 300g of yarn in total across five different colours
- #10 regular Oxford punch needle - 35cm punch needle gripper strip frame

This is my favourite combination of materials to use when making punch needle rugs.

If you’ve not made a punch needle rug before I’d recommend making a mini rug to start. You’ll use all the same techniques in completing your mini rug that you’ll need to then make larger rugs. Using the durable rug yarn with a gripper strip frame will allow you to make larger rugs by moving your work on a smaller frame. Investing in quality materials will help you improve your technique and give you a better experience when making.

Alternatively come and join me at my mini punch needle rug workshop in October. Booking will be available from mid-July.

Mini punch needle rugs

Learn to make a punch needle rug

I am excited to be bringing you the first, full weekend punch needle workshop where you will make your own mini punch needle rug.

You will be working on an abstract design, using a selection of 100% punch needle rug yarn to create your own punch needle rug. If you've been playing with punch needle and working on smaller projects, this is your opportunity to scale up and learn how to make your own rugs.