Punched work looks like drawn thread work but it’s much quicker to make because you don’t actually have to draw out threads! 😀 Punched work – also called Rhodes embroidery, pierced work or four-sided stitch – is a pulled thread embroidery from the Edwardian era.
Related: How To Make Drawn Thread Work
Punched work is ‘done in the background and the forms and figures are left in the linen. At first sight this work seems difficult, as it suggests the drawing out of threads. There is, however, in this work no drawn thread. […] this is by far the easiest, most quickly done and most effective of all the openwork backgrounds.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912) ‘The threads are simply forced apart with a very coarse needle, and then bound with a strong linen thread.’ (The Cult Of The Needle, 1915)
Materials For Edwardian Punched Work
To make Edwardian punched work, you’ll need a rather open weave fabric. Linen fabric was traditionally used but you can also use cotton fabric or other types of fabric.
‘Use a rather open mesh round weave linen […] it is, of course, perfectly possible to do the work on handkerchief linens, lawns, and voiles, but very straight, correct and even work is more necessary on the fine materials than on the heavier ones.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912) ‘Hardanger canvas is a very suitable material for the white and ecru work, and so are the new shirting canvasses of mercerised cotton.’ (The Cult Of The Needle, 1915)
You’ll also need a strong thread: linen thread was traditionally used because it’s a strong thread that doesn’t break easily. But you can also use strong smooth cotton thread. Linen thread stiffens the embroidery more, while cotton thread turns out softer. The thickness of the thread should be similar to linen sewing thread: thicker than cotton sewing thread but thinner than cotton embroidery floss.
‘The work is done with fine linen thread, after having first outlined the design in coarse working cotton. It is necessary to use linen because there is a good deal of wear on the thread which must be so firmly pulled.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912)
And the most important thing for Edwardian punched work is a large needle – called Rhodes needle in the 1900s. You can use a large blunt point needle. But if you can find it, a large sharp point needle works even better!
‘The secret of the work is in the very large round needle used.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912)
Linen Vs. Cotton Thread
‘Punched work must be done in fine linen thread, because cotton is not strong enough. There is a good deal of wear on the thread carried in such short stitches and having to be pulled so tight as this thread must be in order to open the mesh. The cotton becomes fuzzy and soon wears out, moreover, it is not crisp and clear in the stitch which it lays.
The stitch in the linen thread shows very little and it binds the hole firmly. The linen thread works without twisting and without knotting. On the other hand, the cotton lays the outline very much better than linen thread would do. It should be a rather coarse cotton in order to produce as much effect as possible in the simple outlining.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912)
How Long Should The Thread Be?
‘Do not take a very long thread of cotton because it loses its freshness before it is finished. Short threads of cotton and rather long threads of linen are the rule. It is an advantage to carry as long a linen thread as possible, because knotting in this work is not desirable.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912)
How To Start & End The Thread In Punched Work?
‘To start the punched work it is a good plan to bring the needle out on the first dot, send it down on the second, and then tie the thread firmly on the back to fasten it, rather than to attempt any kind of knot. As you approach the design it is often possible to run the thread into the back of the outline cotton work, and in this way fasten the linen thread.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912)
Pulled Thread Work & Puckering
Depending on the fabric, pulled thread embroidery tends to pucker, especially after washing. Also, punched work always needs to be pressed.
Punched work ‘is likely to blister or at least fail to be sharp on its edges. The worker need not be discouraged on finding that her punched-work borders draw up the material very much. A great deal of this puckering may be corrected by proper pressing.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912)
Another way to prevent puckering was to cut out the punched work and join it to another piece of fabric with embroidery stitches hiding the join.
Uses For Punched Work
In the Edwardian era, punched work was used to embroider household items such as doilies and pillow covers. But it was also used to embellish Edwardian neckwear such as jabots and collars.
‘Beautiful trimmings for dresses […] can very easily be made in this popular style of fancy work. […] Collars, revers, and cuffs […] will give a very dainty finish: to the costume made of linen, and of course, may be, with advantage, worked on a coarser material of a contrasting colour, or white.’ (The Cult Of The Needle, 1915)
How To Make Edwardian Punched Work – Pulled Thread Embroidery
- openweave (linen) fabric
- linen sewing thread – for the punched work
- cotton thread – for the embroidery
- large needle
Thread a large needle with linen or strong cotton thread. And tie the thread to the needle to keep it from slipping out.
Mark a dotted grid on the fabric.
Bind The Treads Together
Then bind the threads together between the dots. Bind the threads together so that there are always two threads in every stitch on the right side of the fabric. And make all slanting stitches on the wrong side of the fabric.
Work row by row: first horizontally, then vertically. Work the first row from left to right, the next row from right to left, the third row from left to right again and so on. After you finished all horizontal rows, rotate the fabric by 90 degrees and bind the threads together in the other direction working row by row again.
‘It is better to do the work in one direction first over the entire piece and then turn the fabric and work the same stitches at right angles to the first.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912)
Punched work is usually a floral or figurative embroidery: The holes are the background highlighting the motifs. To make motifs in punched work, outline the motifs with stem stitch. Then work punched work around the motifs.
‘Where it is not possible to take a whole stitch in the punched work one can make a half stitch, and so keep the outline clear.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912)
Add Embroidery Stitches
Punched work was sometimes combined with other types of embroidery such as surface embroidery, cutwork and whitework embroidery like broderie anglaise.
Use Up Fabric Scraps
In the Edwardian era, punched work was also used to use up fabric scraps. Small fabric rectangles, squares and triangles were embroidered with punched work and then joined together with scrap pieces of insertion lace or filet crochet.
‘By the way, bits of damask or little scraps of good quality of linen, which we hardly know what to do with, can be so prettily put together with strips of linen insertion and edged with lace to match.’ (Priscilla Punched Work Book, 1912)
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