Beginners Punch Needle – FREE online tutorial

beginners punch needle
beginners punch needle

Welcome to me beginners punch needle tutorial and thank you so much for joining me on my punch needle adventures! I am far from an expert but have learnt a lot since I first gave it a try and wanted to share what I’d learnt with you!

If you need some equipment I have a getting started with punch needle kit available to buy here:

The general principle- how does it work?

You use the punch needle to push your thread through the fabric to the back, you then pull it back through to the front and the thread catches in the fabric making a loop on the back and a flat stitch on the front.

The stitch is simply made because the thread catches in the fabric. These loops and stitches make the texture of the picture and you can choose whether to use the effect of loops (in which case work from the back) or flat stitches (worked from the front), or a combination of both (more about that later!) You can also cut the loops to make a tufty pile effect.

beginners punch needle

What you will need:

  1. A punch needle

You can choose whether to use an adjustable or non-adjustable needle.

Non-adjustable punch needles are one size, the size refers to the height of the loops that the needle makes. Each needle size is available in regular (for dk, aran, chunky or super chunky yarn) and fine (for embroidery floss and other fine thread). A 9 or 10mm punch needle is a good starting point. These tend to have wooden handles and feel comfy and sturdy to grip.

Adjustable needles can be adjusted to make different size loops and have several settings. On the plus side they save buying lots of different size needles but I have found them to be a bit flimsy and the plastic one I first worked with fell apart in about 5 minutes!! Having said that, I have now invested in a Milwards one and it is much sturdier. So if you are going to buy one perhaps get a reliable brand.

  • Monks cloth

Monks cloth is a special cloth which is perfect for punch needle. It comes in different count sizes (which refers to the number of stitches per inch) and 12 count is ideal as it is a good size to hold the thread when it is punched through. You can also try fabrics such as loose weave denim. Bare in mind that if a fabric is too tight the needle will damage it, if it’s too loose it won’t catch the thread and the stitches will just come straight out.

  • Embroidery hoop or frame.

This is used to stretch the monks cloth tight so that you can punch the needle through. You can buy different sizes of embroidery hoops and frames to suit your needs. Non-slip ones are good and the wooden ones make nice frames too. If you don’t want to buy a hoop you can make use of old photo frames at home- simply stretch the fabric around the frame and use a staple gun to staple it to the back. Or if you are good with a hammer and nails you can make your frames!! (I haven’t convinced my husband to help with me with yet but I’ll keep trying!!)

We stretched the cloth across an old frame to make our poodle.

  • Thread/Yarn

Here comes the great news- if you are a crocheter or knitter punch needle makes the perfect stash buster!! You can use any thread or yarn you like and can have a lot of fun trying out different types. A thicker yarn is good for bigger, chunkier stitches or loops and thinner for smaller stitches and loops. So if your picture is quite detailed you might need to try a thinner yarn. If you haven’t got a chunky yarn don’t worry because you can double up thinner yarn to make it the thickness you want.

Wool has a nice finish to it but I have had a lot of fun stash busting with anything I can get my hands on including cotton, acrylic and wool and have loved all of the results. As with crochet and knitting the slidier the yarn the easier it is (cotton can be splitty but just takes more patience). Anything with bobbles in is going to be trickier to work with (my llama was a labour of love with the bobbly turquoise yarn I chose!)

  • Others

Masking tape, a felt tip pen or dissovable fabric pen and a pair of scissors are also useful!!

  • A design to work from

I have included 3 designs at the end of this handout, all suitable for use on a 20cm frame. These all make a great starting point, although having tried them all I can confirm that the cloud picture is the easiest so might be the best one to start with.

Let’s get started!!

Prepare your work:

  1. Cut out a piece of monks cloth to fit your frame. Allow an overlap of around 2-3cm to ensure it fits.
  • Put masking tape around the edges of the cloth, folding it over from one side to the other so that the edge in encased. This is not essential but really helps it not to fray as you work.
  • Trace your design onto your cloth. The easiest way to do this is to tape the design to a window then tape the clothe over the top, you will then be able to see the outline through the cloth. This technique is called light boxing. Trace with any felt tip pen (or dissolvable fabric pen if you have one). We are going to cover all of the fabric with yarn so don’t worry if you go wrong! When you’ve finished take it down and check whether you have got all of the details, you might want to use your pen to make the outline clearer.
  • Take your embroidery hoop apart. Place the cloth over the bottom ring, then put the top ring (the one with the metal adjuster) over the top, making sure the design is central. Stretch it out by pulling the edges as much as possible and tighten the adjuster.
beginners punch needle
  • You are ready to punch!! I have explained how to do this is the next sections.

Prepare your punch needle:

  1. Choose a needle size to match your yarn size- regular needles work with dk, aran, chunky and super chunky, fine needles work with embroidery thread, 2ply and 4ply. Remember the measurement (i.e. 10mm, 9mm etc) refers to the size of the loop it makes, not the width of the yarn. It’s the regular/ fine that refers to the thickness of yarn to use with it.
  • Choose your yarn. Have a think about what effect you would like to achieve remembering that chunky yarn makes big stitches or loops and thinner yarn makes smaller stitches or loops. You can use different yarns to create different effects in one piece of work.
beginners punch needle

For my llama picture I chose to use some yarn my friend had given me that she was threatening to throw away because she couldn’t think of a use for it! I chose the bobbly turquoise acrylic in loopy stitches for the body, pink wool in flat stitches for the details, beige bobbly acrylic for flat stitches in the background and black cotton for the eyes and nose.

For the cloud picture I used my Drop Nepal aran weight woolly stash

  • Thread your needle- push your needle threader from the tip of the needle (the bit that looks like the nib of a fountain pen), down and out of the other end. Put your yarn through the loop and gently pull back through, pull the yarn out of the metal loop. You then need to thread the yarn through the eye of the needle (the hole in the bit that looks like a fountain pen nib). Push the threader through this, put yarn in the loop of the threader and pull back through.

How to start punching

  1. Make a plan!

Decide which colour and texture you would like for each part of your design. You can choose to punch from the front or back of your fabric. Working from the front will produce flat embroidery stitches. Working from the back produces loopy stitches. Or you can choose to use a combination of both.

TIP: Look at your design and try to see it as a series of shapes that need filling in. Which shapes will you fill with flat stitches and which will you fill with loopy stitches? For example with our poodle we decided that his hair and ears would be loopy and the rest of him would be flat stitches. For the cloud picture I wanted a fluffy cloud and for the rest of it to be smooth.

beginners punch needle
  • Start with the outline. Choose a colour for your outline. You will start by outlining all of your design, working from the front, exactly as you would with a normal drawing.
beginners punch needle
beginners punch needle
  • Hold the punch needle with the open part of the nib facing in the direction that you would like to punch, so the tail of yarn will be at the back.  *Push the needle straight down through the fabric all the way until the handle hits the fabric. Now slowly pull the needle back up through the fabric, STOPPING as the nib comes to the surface. Do not lift the nib above the surface of the fabric. The trick is to keep the nib of the needle in contact with the fabric.
beginners punch needle
  • Slowly move the nib forward (with open part facing forward and tail of yarn coming out the back) along the fabric in the direction of the outline, keeping it in contact with the fabric at all times. Look carefully at the fabric, you will see it is divided into tiny squares. Move your pen nib approx. 2 squares in the direction of the outline. Push the pen back down through the fabric and repeat from * in step 3.

TIP Keep the end of yarn coming out of the top of the punch needle slack. If it tightens up the yarn will simply pull out of the cloth and fail to make a stitch.

  • To turn your work you need to keep the needle pushed into the work, turn the frame, make sure your needle is facing the right way and pull it out to make a new stitch.
  • If you need to fasten off and restart in a different place simply pull your needle out of the fabric so that there is a couple of centimetres of yarn, snip it, then use your closed scissors to push the yarn end down through the cloth (in exactly the same place as it’s coming out) to tuck it out of sight on the reverse of the cloth.
  • Once you have completed the outline you can start filling in the spaces. Now you need to choose whether you want to work from the front (to get flat stitches), or the back (to get loopy stitches). I chose to do the body of the llama next and wanted it to be loopy so turned the frame over to work from the other side.

Use the outline to guide you as you fill in the spaces. Make the stitches in the same way as before, working around and around the inside of the outline and keeping them as close together as possible. If you are working from the back of the work check that the stitches are coming out ok on the front.

An example of working from the back to make loops.


Take your time getting to know your punch needle and don’t worry if things go wrong!!

Here are some common problems:

The stitch keeps coming out

There are several things that might be causing this:

  • Check the yarn has enough slack on the top of the pen. Pull some loops off of the ball of yarn to keep this loop and check that you haven’t caught the end of the yarn on anything/ My daughter kept leaning on her yarn end which pulled it out of the stitch.
  • Also check that you are pushing the needle all the way into the cloth until the handle meets the cloth, then slowly pulling the needle back up.
  • Your stitches might be too far apart, try making smaller stitches.
  • Try slowing down! Go really slowly and gently at first.

I lifted the nib of the punch needle off of the cloth and now there’s a big loop

Gently pull the yarn at the top of the needle so that the yarn coming out of the nib tightens up a bit, place your nib back on the cloth and try again.

I pulled the loops out and now there’s big holes in the cloth

Gently rub at the cloth on the front and back and you will find that the holes close up ready for you to try working them again.

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