Punch Needle Yarn – Let’s talk about yarn!

To be honest, I felt intimidated when trying to write a blog post on yarn. There are a lot of knitters out there that know a lot about yarn. And not just know a lot about yarn, they have an insane amount of knowledge around it.

I recently became friends with one such yarn expert. She combs wool, she spins the wool into strands, she winds the strands into plies and she even dyes her own wool. (If your head spun from some of those terms, no worries, I explain it all later.)

The yarn she sells in her shop doesn’t even have yarn weights listed on the packaging (this is the only way I know how to choose yarn).

And if you are one or you know one, you know they are a tiny bit picky about yarn (tiny bit picky = very, very, very, very, very picky). They have no problem dropping $100 on yarn to make half of a sweater. Yarn is their life and they will not stand for mediocre yarn.

This shook my world for a few days. I doubted my journey. I doubted being a leader to others in the punch needle realm. If I didn’t know anything about yarn, then how could I possibly teach others about it.

Then I remembered, yarn is only a part of punch needle. And you don’t need to use the best of the best in yarn for punch needle. Art can be created with multiple mediums and the yarn used by knitters may only be one of these mediums.

In fact, right at this very moment I’m slightly obsessed with velvet yarn. I’m not sure it works for knitting. I’m not sure it would work on a purse. But it is fantastic in every way. So you bet I’m going to use it. And you bet I’m going to put it on a purse design. If it doesn’t work, I will have learned something and enjoyed a fabulous purse in the process.

I tell you this story to let you know I battle my creative mind all the time. It’s normal. I had to learn not to let the battles win. Not to give in. I had to learn to lean into the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing and do it anyway. If you are at a point in your life where you might be in the same boat, I’m hoping my story will give you bravery and hope.

Shawna’s 2 cents: If you ever want to talk about your road to creativity and mental blocks, shoot me an email. I’m obsessed with making something from the heart and finding love in the making. I’d love to hear of your path.

Back to yarn talk.

If we’re speaking from the heart, the most expensive yarns are not always necessary. Art can be anything you want with whatever you want. And because of this, my yarn knowledge is enough. I will continue to learn more and I will continue to share with you. And I am filled with joy because of this.

If you know nothing about yarn, you are welcome here. If you are an expert, you are also welcome here. I will try my best to share what I have learned about yarn over the last few months. Others will know more and that’s okay.

Punch Needle yarn choices picked by color only

My First Foray Into Yarn Choices

When I first started, I based all my yarn decisions on color. I didn’t care what kind, the cost, what yarn weight it might be or what store I purchased it from. I went to the store I thought had the most variety of color options. I walked up and down the aisles multiple times until I found just the right color.

I stayed away from the huge bulky yarn being used for arm knitting. I knew that would be too thick. And I had a feeling I didn’t want the super thin yarns.

Those were my restrictions. And you know what?? It worked just great! Every single yarn I chose worked for my project. Some worked better than others. I learned what yarns I didn’t like to use. But at the end of the day, each of the yarns worked fine.

So if you are in the yarn picking stage, don’t fret. Dive in, pick pretty colors (not too thin, not too thick) and create art.

If you like a little more guidance, I’m here for that, too. Let’s get started.

Yarn lingo

Before we get into the specifics of how to choose yarn, I felt it was good to have a brief overview of some yarn lingo terms. I tried to keep this simple and basic, but then I found myself writing the words and there was no other way to better explain it. So bear with me. I’ll try to make it short and simple.

Ply – fibers twisted together to make one strand of yarn. 2 ply is 2 fibers twisted together. 3 ply = 3 strands. (See Video at the end of the post.) Photo below shows a 4 ply 100% knitting wool.

Skein – An oblong center pull bundle of yarn. Seen most often in big craft stores (Hobby Lobby, Michael’s).

Punch Needle Yarn Skein

Hank – A long loop of yarn twisted into a bundle. Seen most often in yarn specialty stores. Big box stores are starting to carry hanks, as well. It’s the pretty yarn twisted into what looks like a braid.

Yarn hank

Cakes – A cylinder shaped bundle of yarn with a center pull made with a yarn winder. Becoming more popular in big craft stores with the multi – colored yarns. Cakes are found and sold in my shop.

Yarn cake

Donut – Looks like a donut. Yarn is center pull.

Shawna’s 2 cents summary of yarn – Choose by yarn weights, I’ll summarize what works best below. Yarn hank = twisted yarn found in knitting shops, kind of fun to work with, feels fancy. Yarn skein – the yarn bundles you’re used to seeing in Hobby Lobby, often a lot easier to work with, carries and stows away easily.

For more information on yarn bundling options (skeins, cakes, balls, hanks), check out this website https://www.shinyhappyworld.com/2012/10/what-is-a-skein-demystifying-names-for-yarn-bundles.html

Yarn Weights

What is yarn weight? It’s a standardize categorization used to signify yarn thickness. It basically tells us the thickness of the yarn.

As mentioned above, I tend to reference yarn weights for choosing yarn. I’m not a knitter and thus know nothing about the knitting needle sizes, mm options or any of the R’s, Sts Str abbreviations.

I’ve learned what works for punch needle by the yarn weights. The yarn weight is listed as a symbol (see below) found on most yarn labels. It shows a bundle of yarn with a number in the middle. And also comes with a name label (fine, medium, bulky, etc.).

Yarn Weight Standard Chart

A lot of the big box stores do not carry yarn weight 0, 1 and 2. I bought some to test for this post and it was hard to find. This is good news. This means most yarn in any store will work for you (except the 7 Jumbo arm knitting yarns).

My adjustable handle tool and the Oxford Regular Punch needles both held and worked with the Super Fine (1), Fine (2) and Light (3) yarn weights. (I was under the assumption at one time that certain punch needle tools only worked with certain yarns. After doing research for this blog post, I proved myself wrong.)

The Adjustable Handle tool and the Oxford Regular Punch needle also work with the thicker yarns (4 – Medium, 5 – Bulky, 6 – Super Bulky). However, I have come across some Yarn Weight 6 Super Bulky yarns that did not work with the Adjustable Handle tool nor the Oxford Punch Needle. Some 6 Super Bulky yarns worked with my Oxford but not my Adjustable Needle. And some 6 Super Bulky have worked in both. So be aware yarn weight 6 may not work.

Shawna’s 2 cents: I find that yarn weight of 4 (medium) or 5 (bulky) work best for punch needle. I have had mixed results with yarn weight 6 (super bulky). Some of my 6 weights work okay, some I have to fix several times as I work (yarn loops are too small and I have to go back) and some won’t stay at all. With that said, I have a beautiful grey 6 weight yarn that works great and it’s one of my favorites. So don’t shy away from it, but do be aware it might not work as easily as you would like. A yarn weight 7 (jumbo) would be too big and would not work at all. On the flip side, yarn weights 1 (super fine) and 2 (fine) will work, however, they are very thin and require double the punching to fill in the area. I have used yarn weight 3 (light) and it works fine, however, you do have to close your stitch length (go every 1 or 2 holes in your fabric) so the fabric can hold it and it fills in. I tend to stay away from weight 3 for this reason, but it would work if you find one you love.    

Yarn Types – Is 100% wool necessary?

100% Wool Yarn 4 Ply

Wool, acrylic, alpaca, cotton, bamboo. So many types! And it gets even more complex, because they blend all of those types together. It’s easy to be overwhelmed. It was for me.

So what type do you use for punch needle? Is wool yarn truly necessary for punch needle?

The short: Any yarn. No.

The long: Punch needle was birthed from rug hooking. In the late 1800’s, people made rugs. They developed the punch needle to help make rug making a lot easier. Smart people! 🙂

It has hung around since that time. There is a community of women out there that still use punch needle to make rugs for their homes. Beautiful, ornate rugs with an amazing amount of detail.

Then some wonderfully brilliant artist came along recently and decided this wonderful punch needle with these beautifully textured yarn loops would make an amazing medium for their work. (Well that’s how I imagined it happened, I don’t know this for sure.)

And boom! Punch needle is the new big thing! And thank you universe for this! Popular artists are using punch needle as a new medium (i.e. Lisa Congdon). It’s wonderful in so many ways.

I’ve also found some of the major punch needle influencers (Arounna Khounnoraj @BookHou on IG, Rose Pearlman @rosepearlman, Lisa Congdon @lisacongdon) are using wool. So it’s easy to think wool is required.

But I’m here to tell you, it is not. Wool does have its uses and works wonderfully when used. But it’s also quite expensive and monotone in texture (if you ask me, don’t hate me knitters of the world).

I’ve been drawn to trying different textures of yarns, including metallics in my pieces, and love the dreamy fluffy look in felting wool. Not all of my yarns are 100% rug hooking certified. But at this time, I have no desire to ever make a rug. I feel myself wanting to attend a class to learn the art behind this wonderful craft, but I’m not going to be making rugs on a regular basis.

I’m giving you permission to buck the traditional rules. I’m giving you room to explore. I’m giving you confidence in doing whatever makes you happy. Try it all.

Rug Wool Yarn vs. Knitting Wool Yarn

Now if you’re anything like me, you weren’t even aware there was a difference between rug wool yarn and knitting wool yarn. For months, I thought 100% wool was rug wool yarn.

I’m here to tell you, it is not. Rug wool yarn has a rougher texture to touch and is a stiffer, sturdier yarn. It is made specifically for use in making rugs. Rugs withstand a lot of wear and tear so the yarn has to be sturdy.

Knitting wool yarn is softer than rug wool yarn and more pliable and flexible to use. Because of this, I find it more enjoyable to use.

You’re now asking, so do I have to use rug wool yarn for punch needle? The answer is No. In fact, I’ve never actually used rug wool yarn in my projects.

If you want to make a rug, yes use rug wool yarn. If you’re making anything else, I recommend using knitting yarns. They are softer, more enjoyable to use and I would say easier to use.

Yarn Descriptive Terms

Yarn lingo explained some of the packaging definitions. Yarn Descriptive Terms are more about types of yarns and some of the terms used to differentiate them from other types. I came across these terms with talking with my knitting friend. Knitters use them often to refer to yarn types.

These terms don’t coincide with the Yarn Weight chart, leaving me confused for quite some time. If you are going to a specialty yarn shop, these terms will come in handy.

I’ve been told most knitters like worsted or DK yarn weights. Worsted yarn is a yarn weight 4.

They also like superwash wool which simply means it is a wool that washes nicely.

Chunky yarn is a yarn weight 5. It is a thicker wool yarn.

Knitters love 100% wool yarns, alpaca is even better. Alpaca is a type of wool coming from an Alpaca.

There is a felting wool (pictured below) on the market (sold in my store, in fact). It is 100% wool. When I found felting wool at the large craft stores, I thought “Yes, I’ve found the wool yarn finally!’ Since then I have found this is not typical punch needle/rug hooking wool yarn. It is typically the only 100% wool yarn you will find in big craft stores as it’s not quite as expensive as the knitting 2+ ply 100% wool yarns.

A hank of 100% wool yarn will run about $9.99 and it seems the big craft stores don’t find a lot of profit in them and thus do not carry them. They typically carry yarn blends (50% wool, 50% acrylic) or 100% acrylic yarns.

The difference between felting wool and knitting wools (worsted, DK and chunky) is that felting wool is not spun into plies. (Quick reminder: A ply is 2 or more strands of wool twisted together. 2 ply is 2 strands of wool twisted together.)

Felting wool (or Wool Roving) is a single wool fiber left as a simple open strand of wool. While felting wool is not the yarn used by traditional rug hooking punch needlers, I’ve found it to be absolutely beautiful and love working with it.

Felting wool grabs the foundation fabric nicely, making it enjoyable to use. And it is stunningly beautiful. It has a warm fuzzy look to it that I think is dreamy. The cream and golden yellow in the completed project below are done with felting wool.

Completed Punch Needle Project Using Felting Wool (Cream and Golden Yellow)

One tip to note: Felting wool tends to pill easily. For this reason, I like to stay away from it when working on a heavy use project (i.e. purse, pillow, foot rest cushion, etc.).

Play With It!!

Okay, now we’re done with all the stuffy yarn lingo. This is where I tell you to try it all!! Have fun with all the possibilities!!

Different types of Yarn on the market

I’ve found some wonderful 100% acrylic yarns. The big craft stores have a large color variety due to the cost savings in stocking it (you can get a huge skein for $2.99!). And because of the variety and low cost, I feel you can play around more and develop your artistic style.

100% Acrylic Yarn with Metallic Strand

Some acrylic yarns have a small strand of metallic strung throughout that is beautiful when punching.

The large craft stores also carry a large variety of different textures that opens a whole new world to punch needle.

And heck why stop there! Upcycle old clothes by cutting them into strips and using them. Cut plastic bags into strips and use it! The lovely Rose Pearlman loves to upcycle. She used a black plastic bag once to do the outline in one of her pieces. Moody Loops (@moodyloops on IG) from TX cut up an old shirt and made a beautiful flower.

I’ve been bitten by the “we are SO wasteful’ bug lately and plan to do this far more often! I’m excited to play! And I’m excited to share with you!

Video Time

And because it’s always easier to show you, here is a short video explaining most of the terms we went over. You’ll get to see rug wool vs. knitting wool, a close up of ply and some fantastically fun acrylics!

Until Next Time!

Whew! I made it! My heart is still beating. LOL. That’s all my yarn knowledge to date. I hope I gave you confidence to let your heart guide you. And reminded you to stop comparing and be happy with where you are.

Main takeaways:

  • Adjustable Handle needle – Yarn weight 4 and 5 work best.
  • If wall art is on your mind, any yarn will work.
  • If you want to use your project a lot, splurge on 100% wool 3 or 4 ply yarn.
  • Buy at least one hank of yarn in your life. The romantic in you will love it.
  • Play with anything and everything – Have fun!

Quote for today: ‘The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.’ – Dorothy Parker

Warmest,

Shawna

xoxo