From Laura’s Studio
Technique/materials: Punch Needle Rug Hooking, cotton “monk’s cloth” backing, punched with wool yarn
Height: 15 Width: 15: Depth: 1
Fully mounted with dowel, ready for hanging.
Punch needle rug hooking has been a newer fiber medium for me. After taking a one-on-one intensive session at the home studio of Amy Oxford (pioneer of the Oxford Punch Needle), I was soon poke-poke-poking wool yarn into a deeply textured pictorial form.
Since that first folk art heart with blossoms begun in that class, I’ve completed five additional pieces–some in the thicker rug style, others in finer detail with worsted and sport-weight yarns. My latest piece brought this new medium for me into the stream of my ongoing exploration into the narrative and symbolism of the unicorn.
I started by drafting and drawing out the design on paper, transferring it then to the monk’s cloth backing using our farm’s bakery case as a handy light table. This backing is then stretched tightly over the loom frame (shown above with the padded cover to keep the tension-providing barbs from poking my wrist). The backing should feel like a drum head when fully mounted. This high tension allows the punch needle to glide through the backing with minimal effort.
Not unlike the Gothic tapestries, punch needle rug hooking is worked from the back side of the piece. But completely unlike tapestry, you can start pretty much anywhere on the design. No methodical bottom-to-top process. Curves are graceful and natural, lending the medium well to pictorial designs. Outlines, I found, are a little tricky if you’re looking for a thin line, but they are more convincing than the stepped approach of tapestry. This is why it’s so fascinating for me to have fluency in many mediums–each have their strength and weaknesses. Each medium can take the same idea and say it so differently or, most importantly, one might lend itself better to the expression of the idea than another.
Once the punching process begins, the piece comes to life with the colors and textures chosen. Woolen yarns work best, but I have used wool-alpaca, wool-mohair, and wool-silk blends with success as well. When blending or shading colors, the process is somewhere between theories you might use in embroidery and pointillist painting.
For this project, I was playing with a fusion of Celtic (the Trinity knots, deep greens and royal purples) with an Art Nouveau approach to the “bust” of the unicorn. The creature is looking out from a portal–part joining us on this side, part obscured. It’s fitting for the state of the known and unknown elements of its story today. The mane is quite whimsical, which adds to its magical allure.