Tag Archives: Pittsburgh PA

In Which I Punch Some Fabric and Then What Happened Next Surprised Me

A while back I signed up for an online class at Contemporary Craft , an arts organization in Pittsburgh, PA. Some years ago our family visited there (in person) in their previous building while we were on a visit to our son, who was living in the city at the time. I’ve never forgotten the experience and when I was looking around for virtual classes to attend this winter, I took a look at their site.

I’ll let the organization describe themselves in their own words from their website:

Presenting contemporary art in craft materials by international, national, and regional artists since 1971, Contemporary Craft offers innovative exhibitions focused on multicultural diversity and contemporary art, as well as a range of hands-on workshops, community outreach programs, and a store.

I enter the situation via the workshop option. On their site I had noticed this event:

VIRTUAL: Matisse-Inspired Wall Tapestry with Kirsten Ervin

and was drawn in by the image shown ( I don’t know who to credit for the photo, but I took it from the center’s site).

Tapestry fiber craft workshop - Kristen Ervin - Pittsburgh artist

Wow! I read more and I found out we’d be exploring punch needle art. I was so excited. I’ve been interested in this kind of work, similar to but not the same as rug hooking, for a long time. I’ve looked over quite a few books on the subject over the years, but I’ve never found a class or instruction.

Obviously the time had come. I signed up right away.

Wait a minute, you say. What exactly is punch needle art? Well, it’s a form of embroidery, and it uses a special tool and some kind of fiber, such as yarn, to create work on a fabric background. What we were going to do in this class was design our own image and then make it. Just as simple as that.


Time passed and then, about a week ago, I received the kit of class materials, prepared by the presenter, Kirsten Ervin. Everything I needed was included – the stretched cloth background, yarn in the four colors I had chosen, and the punch needle tool, among other items for our session. I was very impressed by the obvious care and thought that had gone into making up this kit amd I was even more anticipating the class once I saw what I’d be working with.

On February 20 I set up my materials, fired up the Zoom, and arrived virtually in Pittsburgh for the class, ready for a four hour session.

After introductions, we got to work. Kirsten had provided each of us with a couple of pieces of heavy paper. The idea was to take scissors and cut shapes, quickly and freely, and arrange them to fit the @ 9″ x 9″ square that our work would cover.

Here are some of the shapes I cut.

They look pretty good now laid out on my dining room table. In reality, I didn’t use any of them. I kept cutting shapes and revising them and trimming them and they became paper slivers mostly falling to the floor. My head did not wrap itself around this method of composition at this stage of the game, though I think it’s a really good way to go about it.

I think that since I was unsure of how the shapes would translate into the fabric work, I felt confused. And you know that I don’t plan anything in my artwork; I just start in and let things take their course. But…it all worked out. I salvaged a few shapes from the disaster, laid them on my background, and traced around them with a sharpie pen. I drew in some random things. Then we got to work.

We learned how to thread the punch needle. Here is the tool, facing up, in the way that you use it:

And here it is, threaded. You poke the yarn through the eye and then lay it along the slit. You sort of wiggle/yank/pull/push and the yarn goes right into the channel. It’s as if the tool resists for a while and then gives in and settles into being ready to work.

My four yarn colors were orange, blue, black, and white. Since I had no set design, exactly, oops, I would have to figure out things as I went along. Other people did things differently – they had a color scheme planned and marked it on the fabric. It depends on how you like to work – either way can come out fine, I learned.

Since I didn’t take photos of the fabric and frame set-up when they were empty, I will now show you what I made in its final form and explain all the parts. Here is the final image I came up with. It’s about 9″ x 9″ square.

And here is what it looked like as I was working. You can see the fabric background, which is something called monk’s cloth. Its loose weave allows the punch needle to slip between the weave pretty easily.

It’s stretched very tightly on a wood frame because the fabric must be taut for this process to work. Let me show you the back view and you will understand.

Kirsten put the cloth/frame assemblage together for each of us. This took some work, all right, even down to the stitching needed around the edges of the very prone to fraying monk’s cloth. I really appreciated this effort. It was very easy to work with this set up.

OK. Now how about some details of the work process? To do the actual task, it is really pretty easy. Stick the punch needle in up to the hilt, and then pull it out at a 45 degree angle or so. Don’t pull it up away from the fabric; keep it close to the surface, and slide it a short distance in the direction you want to go. Stick it in and pull it out. That’s it!

I started with this orange circle, shown below. I worked from the outside in. I did very many messy stitches. Just because it’s easy to do this, well, that does not mean it is easy to do it well. It took me a lot of time to grasp the beginnings of how far apart to make the stitches (I thought of them as “dives” as I dived below the surface with my needle…), and how not to pull the tool too far away from the fabric on the upstroke, and so on.

Know why there is a black dot in the center of this circle? Because when I was finished with the piece and had used up all my orange yarn, well… oh dear, I noticed that it was as if this circle was balding – I had left too much space and left a bare spot. Voila, a black hairpiece and all was well.

Here is more detail of the work. Lots of irregularity. Well, you know, there is something called “practice” and we have that concept for a reason, right? I will improve if I keep on trying.

I also learned that, if a stitch did not satisfy me, just pull it out and redo it. Because this is not an art where you can say…ooops, look at that way back there in line, and fix it. And it’s very easy to remove stitches. So go ahead and do it.

You may be wondering, how does this whole thing hold together, if it is so easy to just pull it apart? Well, it’s an interesting question. Let’s look at the back for some answers. I don’t think my photos show it too well, but the back is fluffier and there is more yarn cramming itself together. It mimics the pattern on the right side, but is different, too, isn’t it?

You might see it better when I contrast the front and back views.

What makes it work is how tightly the loops are packed in with each other. Yes, grab hold of one and start pulling and things can disintegrate. But you are not going to do that, and so the piece’s elements will work together to stay intact. Interesting, isn’t it?

Last bit of construction information. You might also be wondering how the tail ends of the yarn are managed, the ones left when you start or finish a color or area or whatever. Kirsten told us we could just clip the tail ends right to the surface of the work. I almost could not believe her, because in every other fiber art I’ve done, oh my goodness, you must do knots or weave ends or somehow hide them in the work. Not here. Just get your tiny embroidery scissors and carefully clip. Fantastic!

Let’s look at the final result again, now that you know how it is made.

There are a variety of ways to finish it. I could leave it on the frame, for instance. But I like the idea of carefully cutting it from the frame and then folding the monk’s cloth edges to the rear, then covering it with a hand-sewn backing.

And guess what – there is really no wrong or right side to this work. You can choose the one you like best. I can see how different compositions would favor one side or the other. I guess you could turn it over halfway, too, and work from the opposite side, and then get the effects of both looks? (Get me some paper, I must write that idea down…)


So that’s the story of how I learned to punch needle. I haven’t said anything about the class itself, and I will now. Kirsten was a great teacher; I’ve mentioned her good organization and I appreciated her clear plan for the class. We covered all the topics necessary for us to work on our own. She also showed us examples of her work and of various other rug and tapestry-making tools and materials, all of which were helpful in giving ideas and perspectives on the craft.

Plus, she was just a lot of fun to learn from – she has an obvious enthusiasm for the craft and caught us up in it with her. I also enjoyed seeing the WIP and the conversation with my other classmates – which included participants from Pittsburgh and a college student from her dorm room in the middle of the state, besides me.

I want to say thank you to Kirsten Ervin and to Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, PA, and to my classmates for such a good class and for a lot of fun. I also want everyone to know that I am getting ready to order some punch needle supplies…you can tell I really enjoyed myself by the fact that I finished up this piece last night, I was so full of enthusiasm! I will be doing more punch needle art, you can count on it.

Train Trip and the Scenery Zips By the Window

All right, I really should be saying that the window zips by the scenery, but…that’s not how it seems to the traveler sitting in the seat, does it?

Here are some photos I took during my June trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from the train window as we left town. I did nothing to them – they are just as the phone camera recorded them.

I like the dreamy blurry quality they have.

Assorted Photos from Pittsburgh PA

Here are a few photos from my (very short) trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in June.  Just a few things that caught my eye in various ways and made photos worth talking about, I thought.

All of the pictures were taken with my phone camera.

First photo. A picture inspired by a book I read recently – the tip was to hold the camera at hip level and just take what you got. Like this:

Legs PGH 6-196

Interesting and bringing up a lot of questions and story lines, right? I think so too. I’ll be doing more of this technique.

Next group. I liked both of these photos and I didn’t know why. Upon reflection, I think it is the small figure in the middle of a big environment that caught me.

The bird photo, I tried straightening it out, but by doing that, it changed the dynamics of the picture and I no longer liked it. The tilt is essential, I think.

The restaurant worker on his smoke break, well, I liked the random glimpse into the interior of another’s life, a part that is behind the scenes – a peek down an alley, in more ways than one.

Next photos. I love reflections and taking pictures of them. The layering of worlds intrigues me. This one is of a shop window and the man in the picture is my husband, waiting for me on the street.

Bob in window reflection PGH 6-198


I turned a different view of the same store window into black/white. Ghostly, I think.


Store Window 6-19 PGH BW9

If you want to read about the trip to Pittsburgh, I wrote several posts about it on my personal blog, Sometimes You Get So Confused. You can look here for the last post – in the intro to the post,  you will find all the links relating to the trip.


Art Diary 2018 – Week Ending May 4

Art Diary. A weekly wrap-up of art activities. For earlier posts, search under the category Art Diary.

Art! That says it all. Art!

Saturday, April 28 – Here’s a TV time artwork I completed last night – it’s the finishing of a page in my current Large Artist Sketchbook. Before and after: (I used the photo from an exhibit I visited at Arcadia University as my reference).

In the afternoon I worked on the various clay items again. I continue to add color using Velvet underglazes.

AD 4-28 #2006

Here’s the large squarish figure I worked on yesterday – I’ve straightened out his troubles as mentioned in the last post and he looks ok now.

I finished another little animal and another cylinder guy – the small square figure needs more work, but here he is so far.

And more tiles. Those rectangular ones are going to be people, once they get their eyes and some more work done on their faces.

AD 4-28 #7001

Sunday, April 29 – This morning my husband and I decided to take a walk. We started off at Norristown Farm Park and into the state hospital grounds, circled for a while, and came back – about five miles. I decided to leave a couple of stick ladies (like these) along the route. I remind you that I have decided to resume dropping off small art pieces here and there – something I used to do in the past. These small figures were made some years ago. It’s a new art goal to make items I can leave behind, but I’m starting with ones I have.

One was left in the wishing well near the parking lot:

and then we went through the park to the hospital grounds. I will not repeat information about Norristown State Hospital beyond saying the farm park and the hospital were once one institution; now the farm is a county park and the hospital is almost closed down, awaiting repurposing, and in the meantime hosting a number of operations besides the medical ones – community garden, social service agencies, etc. But most buildings are closed and many crumbling. For more info and photos, look here.

I set another lady here.

On the way home we passed a church near us with a new sign – Labyrinth. I love labyrinths and did not know this church had put one in. I left another lady in the center.

In the future I will write about my art drop-offs in my Confused blog, where I did so back in earlier days, but I thought I’d mention this new art resolution here in my art world. I have neglected this particular aspect of my creative life,  the writing about everyday things that are to me, not so ordinary, but spring is here. A new start for a lot of things.

At home, I worked on clay. I finished up the remaining square guy from yesterday:

AD 4-29 #14

some tiles, including these rectangular ones I’ve made into people:

and I put Jet Black Velvet underglaze on the remaining figurines so as to have them ready to color. Somehow the tall ones reminded me of nuns in old-fashioned black habits.

Monday, April 30 – More work on clay items. The pictures say it all.

Tuesday, May 1 – More clay work. I finished up a rectangle person and started on a cylinder person:

I also managed to knock over a jar of light green underglaze (no photos!) – just ugh. I then cleaned up my work area and reorganized my underglazes – a messy workspace has consequences. Once I got back into action, I colored these two tiny — whatever they are.

You may have noticed that I usually position my figures with uplifted faces. I think a slight uptilt makes the face a lot more visible than one looking straight ahead, especially since the items I make are pretty small and you’d likely be looking down at them wherever you put them.

I also finished up the “self-hugger” (thank you, Sharon Mann! for that great name). I had the idea to leave her (as I see it, she is a her) in a plain black outfit once I saw her in the initial black coat. She has plenty of visual interest with her crossed arms and I did not want to distract.

Wednesday, May 2 – at the risk of getting boring, more clay work. These two are done:

This large one is in process:

AD 5-2 #3

and here are small tiles.

AD 5-2 #4

The last couple of nights I’ve been drawing (TV time, again). This image is a page in my current Large Sketchbook. I combined two photo inspirations into one scene,  an image not necessarily making sense. The photo of Megabus came from Philadelphia last summer; I was fascinated by how the bus just pulled over on Market Street at about 10th, maybe, in the middle of the city, and then this roil of people getting on, off, suitcases, bags, went into action.

The man leaning on his office window was from Pittsburgh in 2015.

I might color it. Haven’t decided yet.

Friday, May 4 – This week has been a difficult one to get to concentrate on art. I have had some family issues to deal with and that have taken time all week,  and today, we had a new front door installed (the old one was losing pieces off the bottom, so…) I did a couple of small things today – first, I gessoed some 6″ x 6″ boards with black gesso.

AD 5-4 #4

Two things. First, I wanted to try working with black gesso; I’ve always used white. I have the vague idea of doing a series of small paintings, different images but with similar colors, and see if I can tell a difference.

Second, I am using these hardboard panels that I buy from Dick Blick; these are the very most inexpensive ones (this size, they cost less than a dollar each) and I can use them as if they were paper, not worrying about the investment in the surface.

AD 5-4 #1

Also (now I’m on to three things and more, I know) – they do not take up much room, if I kept them – they are saleable as they are, as paintings on paper would not be – and, they are easy to give away or mail, if I want to do that. Anyway, here is the first set of them gessoed:

AD 5-4 #3

The door guys were still working so I got out some more of those ATC-sized claybords and turned them into future trees. I will need to do more to these, but there is only so much time you can put into something this tiny before you turn it into muddy colors. I set them aside to dry to finish another day.

AD 5-4 #2

Well, then the door guys left, I let the cat out of the basement, and I went there myself to continue clay work. I have these three figures almost done:

AD 5-4 #5

and here are some small tiles and clay “rocks”:

AD 5-4 #6

All right. That’s it for this week!

See you next week! Thanks for following along with me.

Clay Tiles 6″ x 6″ – Food, Everyday Life, and Memories

These tiles were inspired by photos I took last Thanksgiving at the Hotel Bethlehem in Bethlehem, PA, where we had lunch.

And some more…from here and there.

More Paintings from the Fall of 2015

Here are some more paintings from last fall. These are all 8″ x 10″, done in acrylics on board that I gessoed myself to a slightly rough texture.

Once again, each painting comes from some scene in my life – read the captions to find out more.

Lots of Art Lined Up and Waiting

The Small Landscape Giveaway has occupied the painting space on this blog for a long time – all winter, in fact, right? So I have a lot of paintings that I’ve worked on since the fall to show you and I’ll start in right here.

These paintings are all 6″ x 6″ and done in acrylics on board – some with an applied gesso surface with a texture, some with smooth, and some that I gessoed myself with a slightly rough surface. I see that I was using up the tail ends of a lot of categories of board, wasn’t I?

These paintings were all done around the time of October, 2015. Many of them refer to actual sights I saw – look at the captions for more information, if you are interested.