Q&A with Punch Needle Experts – The Modern Crafter

This Autumn 2022, we’ve paired up with punch needle experts “The Modern Crafter” to run a couple of exciting guest workshops at our rag rug studio in Hertfordshire. As a little appetiser to those classes (which you can book onto here if you’re interested), we thought it would be nice to find out a little more about the women behind the brand and showcase some of their beautiful work. Here’s our textile artist Q&A with The Modern Crafter – enjoy!

HI RACHEL & SIOBHAN, OK, FIRST THING’S FIRST, WHAT IS PUNCH NEEDLE?

Punch Needle is a traditional craft for rug making done with yarn (wool). However, rather than hooking or latching strips of yarn, the punch needle tool creates continuous rows of loops. By matching the correct tool with wool, fabric and a frame you can create all sorts of projects from cushions and toys to bags or wall hangings! There are various sizes of punch needle tools and we like to create our projects with a chunky yarn punch needle tool and a tapestry yarn punch needle embroidery tool. Below is how punch needle looks…

Beginner punch needle designs by The Modern Crafter
You can combine the front of the punch needle and and the back to create different effects.

WOULD YOU MIND TELLING US A LITTLE ABOUT THE MODERN CRAFTER, YOURSELVES AND YOUR BACKGROUND PLEASE?

The Modern Crafter is a design-led craft brand that provides high quality punch needle and embroidery kits for all abilities. It is run by sisters Rachel & Siobhan who strive to inspire their customers to be creative and let their minds relax whilst crafting, with a finished make they can be proud of.  Everything is carefully designed by hand, made by hand and has a focus on sustainable materials.  Siobhan studied fashion and textiles and has been a designer for many high street brands.  Rachel previously worked in an office role and, whilst on maternity leave, fell back in love with crafting. Rachel asked Siobhan to design her some things to make for relaxation and the pair launched their products at a small indie fair in Walthamstow and that’s how the business began! 

Rachel and Siobhan from The Modern Crafter
Rachel (left) and Siobhan (right) from The Modern Crafter

COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW YOU GOT INTO PUNCH NEEDLE?

I (Rachel) went on a course with Arounna of Bookhou at Loop in London and started to experiment with the technique myself.  We were lucky to become a stockist for Amy Oxford’s punch needle tool who is known as the queen of punch needle! We found that Siobhan’s print design skills and eye for bold abstract designs really lent itself well to punch needle so that’s when we launched our first patterns. We then developed our own 100% super chunky British Wool for punch needle and are now authors of “Punch Needle 15 contemporary projects” which we are super proud of! In the book you can learn to make many practical projects from bags to rugs to cushions.

Punch Needle - 15 contemporary projects by the Modern Crafter
Punch Needle – 15 contemporary projects by the Modern Crafter


CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS, WHAT STEPS DO YOU TAKE WHEN STARTING A NEW PROJECT?

Siobhan will spend a couple of days trying out her ideas, hand drawing sketches before transferring into Illustrator. The design process takes time and this is a part of the kit that people don’t see to be able to appreciate it fully but there is a lot involved before a design goes to the launch stage.  The designs don’t just appear, these are created using years of experience, skill and an eye for design. Once the design is passed over to Rachel she carefully makes the design and then feeds back any tweaks before making the pattern again taking photos for the step-by-step instructions. 

Designing for punch needle kits
Siobhan hand draws the designs.

WHERE DOES SIOBHAN GET HER INSPIRATION FROM? DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS ON DESIGNING?

Siobhan is inspired by abstract design taking inspiration from Matisse and is also inspired by William Morris.  Siobhan is lucky to live near to the William Morris Gallery in London where she visits a lot to draw or view the many exhibitions.  Some of our embroidery kits such as the Magical Heron and the Twin Fox have been taken from inspiration from William Morris symmetry patterns or the gardens where she initially sketched the Heron that lived by the pond.  We both have a love of the outdoors from growing up in Scotland and nature and the outdoors also inspires Siobhan.  The Winter Forest embroidery, Desert Mountain and Sunset punch needle patterns have all been created whilst thinking about previous experiences and travelling.  

The Modern Crafter punch needle and embroidery designs
Siobhan from The Modern Crafter is hugely inspired by nature.

WHICH OTHER ARTISTS DO YOU LOVE? ARE THERE ANY THAT INSPIRE YOU PAST OR PRESENT?

Vera Neumann, Sonia Delaunay, William Morris and Matisse.

William Morris house embroidery design
The beginnings of an embroidered piece inspired by William Morris

WHAT MATERIALS DO YOU MOST LIKE TO WORK WITH? DO YOU HAVE ANY ONES YOUR ACTIVELY AVOID OR TIPS? 

We love to work with our super chunky 100% British Wool.  It’s an exceptional quality wool to make lots of projects, especially cushions! It’s amazing to think that our punch needle creations are made from a natural material, sheep roaming around in the local fields and we are able to turn this biodegradable and renewable fibre into lots of cool stuff! We also love to work with linen, another sustainable material.  We can’t live without our stretcher bar frames or punch needle tools especially the Lavor punch needle and Oxford tools!

The Modern Crafter super chunky 100% British wool

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PIECE YOU HAVE CREATED SO FAR?

I absolutely love our punch needle bag that we created for the book, Siobhan made and designed that one!  It’s super stylish and gets a lot of comments!!! My second favourite would have to be our punch needle Sea Turtle that always makes me smile!!

The Modern Crafter punch needle bag
This bag gets a lot of compliments!

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON? ARE YOU ABLE TO SHOW ANY IN-PROGRESS PHOTOS?

We’re currently working on our Christmas range, photographing these in 30+ degrees heat was pretty challenging!!! Hopefully we managed to just about get into the festive spirit on the day and capture the magical new designs! One of my favourites is the snow globe embroidery and the punch needle embroidery decorations! We can’t wait to hear what our customers think, we really hope they enjoy them.

Punch needle Christmas stocking
Rachel and Siobhan have Christmas on the brain at this time of year.

WHATS NEXT FOR YOU IN TERMS OF PROJECTS? IS THERE A PROJECT THAT YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO MAKE?

We’d like to experiment a little more on the prospect of combining embroidery and punch needle together on one project.  We’ll shortly be launching our first kit in this range which is an Abstract pattern made using the fine Lavor punch needle, an embroidery needle and DMC stranded cotton.  The textures combining these two methods together are beautiful! 

WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT PUNCH NEEDLE?

We love the creative freedom this craft offers, it’s drawing with wool.  The textures you can make are something you can’t possible not love!! Quick to see you results which is very satisfying and you can turn Wool into pretty much anything! All you need is fabric, wool, a frame and a punch needle tool to get going.  To make a good sized cushion it will take you around 4 hours  and you don’t need to worry about dropping a stitch or concentrating too much.  Let your mind relax as you create with your hands or sit and watch a film and before you know it you have something great to show for relaxing!!

Christmas punch needle kits from The Modern Crafter
Some of The Modern Crafter’s latest Christmas punch needle kits

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE LOOKING TO GET INTO PUNCH NEEDLE FOR THE FIRST TIME?

I always recommend buying from someone who is a punch needle artist themselves.  There are a lot of kits that the bigger companies sell that come from overseas and unfortunately the tools and materials often used in these kits break or don’t work very well together.  It’s important to understand what tools and materials to use together to give you the best experience.  The design is also a critical part, not all designs are easy for beginners to make.  We combine high quality tools and material together thinking about sustainability and where our materials are coming from together with thinking about making the designs suitable for beginners.

Buying quality tools is key to success with punch needle

WE’RE TRYING TO BE A BIT MORE ECO FRIENDLY. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS OR TRICKS TO BE MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY IN OUR DAY TO DAY LIVES?

Think about where your kit has come from, our wool was produced only a few hours drive away rather than it being flown half way around the world. We also have full transparency on the animal welfare. British Wool standards are one of the best in the world. What materials are in your kit? Synthetic yarns contain microfibres which don’t biodegrade fully unlike wool which is not only naturally 100% renewable but also 100% biodegradable. Which means that should the synthetic yarn end up in landfill these microfibres which are harmful to the environment could end up polluting water.  How much energy and pesticides does your fabric take to make, we only work with linen and organic cotton. Fabrics which are kinder to the environment by using less water to make.  

WHERE CAN PEOPLE FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR WORK?

www.themoderncrafter.co.uk

@the_modern_crafter

rachel@themoderncrafter.co.uk

Thanks ladies, it was a pleasure chatting with you!

LEARN HOW TO PUNCH NEEDLE:

Feeling inspired? If anyone is interested in learning how to punch needle, we are running two workshops on Sunday, 2nd October at our Ragged Life HQ in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. To book a place, click through to our “Book a Class” page here.

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