Foundation Fabrics – The Good, The Bad, The Pretty

When I first started, backing fabrics was where I got stuck. Needle, not so hard, one site, click, done.

Yarn, definitely not hard. Although it turns out I needed to be smarter about yarn weights. Luckily, most yarns out there are 4 or 5 weight, which works great. The hardest thing about yarn was deciding which colors.

Then it was time to start punching. I have artist canvas and linen at home, I think I’m good. Here we go.

If you followed a similar path, you know it’s not that easy. Nothing I had at home would let me try this out?!?

Some IG searching later, I found a site, bought what the lady said was her favorite and off I went….finally.

A detailed post of everything foundation fabrics was indeed needed. I took what I knew and I learned new things. I now have answers to all your questions about burlap. And I tried my hand at Aida.

So strap on your boots and lets get into it!

Special Fabric is Needed

First off, punch needle does require a special foundation fabric, sometimes called backing fabric. Fabrics found in local craft stores or big online fabric stores (i.e. fabric.com) will not work for punch needle.

Why? The yarn punch needle tool has a large needle (to allow the yarn to feed through). This large needle will tear a hole too big for most non-punch needle fabrics. The yarn will not stick and the fabric will be ruined. 

The Fabrics

In traditional needle punching, there are 4 foundation fabrics: Burlap, Monks Cloth, Rug Warp and Linen (two types Traditional and Primitive). Aida is a fabric being used, I will go into detail on this one at the end.

Fabrics are listed in order of price. Each fabric will list out the Pros, Cons, Price and Where to Buy.

Burlap

Preparing for this post was my first experience with burlap and I gotta say, I was surprised at how well I liked using it. I thought it was too good to be true. Foundation fabric for $5 per yard?! It can’t work. But it really did. And the fabric resistance was minimal.

My favorite thing?! It comes in different colors!!!! I am very excited about this! 🙂

Punch needle foundation fabric burlap
Pros
  • Most cost efficient – Due to the surge of burlap use in weddings, the price is crazily cheap. $5 per yard?! Yes please!
  • Found in local stores – Burlap is currently the only fabric you can find in your local craft stores.
  • Colors – It’s the only foundation fabric I’ve found that comes in different colors. And let me tell you, I found this to be FANTASTIC news!! Look for some fun projects in the future.
  • Easy to work with – Overall, I was impressed with the burlap. There is a bit of resistance with the needle, but it wasn’t bad at all. Working with a black and navy blue background was fun enough for me that I didn’t mind the catch of the fabric like in the past.
  • Variety of premade projects – I was giddy after leaving the wedding decorating aisles at Hobby Lobby. The burlap, oh the burlap!! Table cloths, table runners, banners, bows, etc. Adding a punch needle design to an already beautiful table cloth?!? Yes please!
Cons
  • Uneven weave – The holes vary in size and the strands do not run straight.
  • Stiff – It is a stiffer, scratchier material making it harder to work with if you should want to sew.
  • Messy – In filming for this post, I had bits of fabric everywhere. It’s a very messy fabric. Messy enough to turn me off to the idea of working with it. Strands of itchy burlap in my favorite chair after working on a piece? Nah that’s okay.
  • Least resilient – When I was working with it, I found it to be slightly cheap feeling. The strands moved easily, almost too easily. My yarn moved around easily making me feel like it wouldn’t stand up well over time.
  • Fabric entry resistance – There is a slight resistance with the needle. It is slight, but it is present. Enough to mention it.
  • Shrinks if wet – This is 100% jute fabric and thus when wet, it will shrink, possibly causing your project to warp and change.
  • Possibly confusion when buying – Because of the aforementioned burlap wedding boom, there is a crazy amount of burlap items available in stores and not all of them worked for me.
Price

$5 per yard (fabric.com and Hobby Lobby)

$12 per yard (woolery.com)

Where to Buy

Local craft stores (I got mine at Hobby Lobby) or fabric.comWoolery.com also carries burlap.

Be sure to get the smaller thread. Most of the ribbon options I found, the strands were far too big and did not work. The table cloths, table runners, bows and the per yard bolts all worked.

Fabric in Motion

In an effort to show you the feel, stiffness and punching sensation of the fabric, each fabric has a short video showing you the fabric. Sometimes its hard to convey the feel of a fabric by word. Videos to the rescue! 

Overview

Overall, I was impressed with burlap and I love the choice of colors. However, it was quite messy moving it to my ‘use rarely’ category. 

Monks Cloth

Monks cloth is by far my favorite fabric to use. It is the softest, most pliable fabric with the closest strand count (which means it holds the fabric really well).

It will be your go to for making pillows, purses and anything you will want to sew. And the relaxing feel of the fabric will leave you wanting to come back for more in all your projects.

Important note: There is a Monks cloth used for sewing linens, deck chairs, aprons, etc. available at fabric stores. It’s about $14.99 per yard. It does not work for punch needle. It does have a weave to it, but the weaves do not move making it similar to if you used a cotton fabric. The needle will cause large holes and not hold the yarn. Here is a link to Monks cloth from JoAnn’s, this is NOT what you want for punch needle. DO NOT buy. 🙂 (Funny side note: I knew this and still bought some, duh.)

Monks cloth punch needle foundation fabric
Pros
  • Easy to sew – The Monks cloth is the softest foundation fabric available. The softness makes it the easiest to work with when sewing after punching. The other fabrics are stiffer making them harder to sew. If you want to turn your punch needle project into something when done, you will want to use Monks Cloth.
  • Smoothest entry into fabric – Due to the feel of the fabric, the needle flows in and out very nicely. I find it’s the most relaxing fabric to use.
  • Holds yarn well – The fabric has several strands per inch making it hold the yarn very nicely.
  • Mistakes are easy to fix – The strands move easily in Monks cloth, making it easy to rip out the yarn and reuse it with the same yarn. I had one follower tell me she’s used this when working with kids who pull out the yarn over and over and the fabric still holds well.
Cons
  • Background color – I love this fabric so much, it’s hard to find a con. But I do tend to grab my other fabrics if I want the background to show. The light cream color fabric has white lines throughout. The lines are nice for guiding, but I find them distracting as a background. However, I have seen some needle punchers use this and leave some open for display. Quite frankly, it’s growing on me. I plan to explore this in the future, so watch for an update later.
  • Easily frays – All of the foundation fabrics fray a bit (due to the use of the fabric, it kind of has to), but I would say the Monks cloth frays the easiest. This is easy to account for, so much so, I almost didn’t list it.
Project Examples
Price

$23 per yard

Where to Buy

My store – NorthShoreCrafts.com or Woolery.com.

Fabric in Motion
Overview

Monks cloth is still my favorite by far. You just can’t go wrong with Monks cloth. 

Rug warp

To be honest, I haven’t worked with rug warp a lot. I’ve loved Monks cloth and linen so much, I just never think to grab it.

After some research into the different fabrics, I plan to try it out more. Stiffness can be useful for certain projects.

Pros
  • Even rows – The rows are uniform making it easier to punch straight designs if you so wish to do.
  • Stiffer and sturdier – The fabric and strands are heavy duty. This makes it overall stiffer, but this can be a good thing. I plan to use this when making a foot stool or bench cover. I think it will hold up nicely when I staple it to the wood.
Cons
  • Background color – Similar to Monks cloth, the light cream color isn’t as attractive of a background as linen and burlap.
  • Stiffer – The feel of the fabric has been a turn off for me since day one. The needle doesn’t slide as smoothly. And it is more expensive. Rug warp has been a favorite of many rug hookers due to its durability and strength. So don’t discount it. I plan to try it out more myself.
  • Yarn doesn’t hold as well – I felt my yarn didn’t stay as well in rug warp as it does Monks cloth. Overall, it does a good job, however, Monks cloth holds my yarn the best.
Price

$24 per yard

Where to Buy

North Shore Crafts (www.northshorecrafts.com) and woolery.com

Fabric in Motion
Overview

I typically don’t grab rug warp very often, but in doing research for this post, I’ve found a new found appreciation for the fabric. I plan to utilize it far more and explore what it has to offer. 

Traditional linen

Linen is my second favorite. It is a beautiful fabric allowing it to be part of your design. If I want to use the background, I always grab linen.

In my research, I found that linen is the luxurious choice for rug hookers.

According to woolery.com, ‘Linen is light weight, flexible, and sturdy. The weave is not quite as uniform as rug warp, but it is considerably more uniform than burlap is. Linen is a good choice for any project as it has all the best qualities of the other backings put together. If you want to make a heirloom quality item, then linen is the best choice for that piece because linen lasts.’

I don’t know about you, but reading this made me want to give it another shot.

Pros
  • Pretty background – The fabric has a pretty brown color (think burlap), making it more versatile for different designs.
  • Makes for easy projects – Because you can use the fabric in your design, a project can take very little time. The less you have to punch, the quicker it will be to complete. Think gifts! If you want to use punch needle in gift giving, incorporating the background is a great way to make a lot in much less time.
  • Stiffer material – This is also a con for me, but it can be a pro. I’m planning to do some projects that only fill half the frame (it’s going to be SO cute) and I plan to use this or maybe the rug warp to do so. They are both stiff, allowing for them to stand up better on their own if need be.  
Cons
  • Stiffer material – the stiffer material doesn’t allow for sewing or at least sewing easily.
  • Resistance fabric entry – The biggest reason I don’t grab linen every time is because of the slight resistance felt when working. Overall, it’s not a big deal. For some reason, fabric smoothness with my needle is important. It makes creating that much more enjoyable.
  • Yarn doesn’t hold as well – Again it’s hard to compete with the tightness you get with Monks cloth. It’s doable and it holds well enough. But Monks cloth holds better.
Project Examples
Price

$33 – 38 per yard

Where to Buy

North Shore Crafts (www.northshorecrafts.com) or Woolery.com

Fabric in Motion
Traditional Linen
Overview

I’ve had a special place in my heart for linen due to the fact that it’s a beautiful fabric in itself. After researching the fabric more, I love it even more. It’s quite soft and last for years. 2 thumbs up for sure! 

Aida

I’m still exploring Aida and will have more in the future. Until then, I’ll tell you what I know.

The lower the number Aida count, the large the hole size will be. I tried 11 count Aida purchased at Hobby Lobby and it did not work. I’m ordering 6 count Aida and will let you know what I discover.

I have a sample of a very soft Aida fabric from a supplier and it worked very nicely. I want to find out more about this particular fabric and see if it’s an option.

My Attempt at Store Bought Aida

Summary

  • Different projects call for different foundation fabrics.
  • If you’re on a budget, burlap is a good option, easy to find and comes in lots of fun colors.
  • If you like to punch as a way to relax, Monks cloth is your best friend.
  • If you want to sew it, I highly recommend Monks cloth.
  • If you want a stiffer fabric, try Rug Warp or Linen.
  • Experiment – Some of the best advice I’ve been given is to try out everything and see what works for you (it can basically be applied to any area of life). Try each of the fabrics, see which one you like best.

Until Next Time!

It was a pleasure putting this post together. In learning more about fabrics, I found solutions to some of my burning project ideas and I came to appreciate each fabric in its uniqueness.

I thought I knew everything about fabrics and what I liked. It turns out, I was being biased towards Monks cloth. I still love Monks cloth but I also plan to grab the other fabrics more often.

What questions do you have about foundation fabrics? If I didn’t answer them, please comment below or email me at shawna@northshorecrafts.com.

Warmest,

Shawna

xoxo