Kare Johannesburg 2021
Punch needle, Art and craft, Rose Pearlman, Rug hooking, Wool, Tapestry

Not your grandmother’s punch-needling club

There’s a renaissance underway. We take a look at some of the artists who are elevating punch needling from an age-old tradition to a contemporary art form.

Whether you know it as rug hooking or punch needling, this beloved craft began in the United States during the 1800s. Thanks to social media, punch needling is in the midst of a revival with how-to videos and eye candy spread all over Instagram and Pinterest. 

As opposed to the landscape scene you’d find in old tapestry, we love how new-age punch-needling artists are using abstract patterns, geometry and understated palettes to push the craft forward and give it a more contemporary feel. 

We take a look at both international and local artists pushing the boundaries of the craft from a hobby to an art form and find out why it’s so alluring to this generation. One thing is for certain: this is not your grandmother’s punch-needling club. 

Currently based in New York City, Rose Pearlman has been punch needling for 12 years and is an artist we have major respect for. She has elevated the craft by experimenting with contemporary bags, cushions, rugs and fashion items that cross the line between art and function and incorporate unexpected materials. 

With a background in fine art and a love of well-designed functional objects, Rose’s creations blur the line between art and craft and draw from non-traditional techniques and materials. 

“I love how you can use so many different fibres and manipulate them in different ways to make different types of objects. From bags to shoes or cushions and children’s accessories, there really is an unlimited possibility of what you can make,” says Rose. 

Not only has she reimagined what can be created but she also expresses her craft through using recycled materials like plastic bags and hardware store supplies. She’s also looking into combinations of punch fibre with paint, sewing and weaving techniques. 

The piece we can’t get enough of is Rose’s kimono jacket for its innovation and boho-cool vibes. That it’s reversible just makes it that much more covetable in our book. 

“It was created in one piece. So the seams were minimal and I could do it with just a needle. I used hardware store string in combination with rug wool. In that way, it was very much in my style and easy to make,” says Rose.

Just like art, punch needling is ever evolving. Before, punch needling was about pictorial settings and the colours tended to be dark and muted because that’s what was available, she says. Thanks to the availability ofbright hues and large ranges of colour now, artists like Rose can really elevate their practices. 

Having said that, we love her toned down palette and the harmony she creates with her colour choices. 

The local scene

Who’s engaging in the renaissance locally?

Cindy Roseveare, the owner of Cotton Tree, a brand which produces handcrafted cushions, warns us against putting embroidery into the “fuddy duddy” category because it has evolved so much. 

“The creator can really be bold and contemporary in their design, which can work so well into a modern décor scheme,” she says. 

When looking to elevate your punch needling, Cindy explains that texture lends itself to a more contemporary look and feel, adding that the chunkier, thicker yarns are where it’s at. 

In 2018, Keneilwe Mothoa and her business partner founded Neimil. This lifestyle brand features punch-needle designs ranging from scatter cushions to artworks that remind us of embroidery loops. With Neimil, think abstract portraiture rather than a bowl of lemons on your grandmother’s mantelpiece. 

For Keneilwe, punch needling is a medium that allows her to merge the two things she loves most, interior design and art. 

With cushions, Keneilwe is more selective about colour options and how the piece will look in someone’s home. “But with the art, it’s more expressive and I can go as wild as I can imagine,” she explains. 

The world of tapestry has always been contemporary for Keneilwe, but the choice of colour and type of fibre will certainly elevate the look you are trying to achieve. 

The appeal of punch needling may be linked to the resurgence of other textile mediums like weaving and macramé, notes Lize Ford, the founder of City Sessions who hosts punch needle and embroidery workshops in Gauteng and Cape Town.

“The punch-needle technique has a nice balance between traditional tapestry and modern design, and the process isn’t intimidating,” she says. 

Better yet, punch needling is very “forgiving and accessible” allowing people to try it and gain a certain success in a project without a huge commitment. Contemporary art is about the relationship between concept and material, according to Christel König, owner and founder of the Wol Online Store that sells punch-needling supplies and also hosts workshops in Cape Town.  

“The range of fabrics and threads that can be applied to [punch needling] gives you so many variations and colour combinations, the transition into contemporary art was inevitable,” Christel recalls. 

A mindful practice 

Punch needling is far beyond just a fun craft. It’s slow, intentional and promotes mindfulness by allowing one to switch off from the rush of the world – a sentiment echoed by both Keneilwe and Lize. 

Lize explains that not only do you get to experiment with playful colours and textures, you get to punch holes in the fabric with a needle – great for letting off some steam.

We’re always on the lookout for a hobby to distract us from the rigours of daily life and if it promotes mindfulness at the same time, it’s a winner. 

It’s clear to us that punch needling has come a long way from our grandmother’s art and craft box. With its newfound contemporary appeal and stress relieving benefits, we can see why this craft is on the rise. 

Words: Rachele Button 
Production: Mila Crewe-Brown and Rachele Button
Images: Supplied with hero image by Rose Pearlman