Knocking out artwork

Punch-needle enthusiast to share her technique at Farm Museum

February 18, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Diane O'Connell stretched a woven fabric across a wooden frame. Once the material was taut enough to spin a quarter on it, she threaded a device that looks like a fountain pen with a skein of hand-dyed wool thread.

She positioned the tip of the punch needle - a hollow needle - on the pattern and punched it through the material.

Punch. Punch. Punch.

"That's all there is to it," said O'Connell, punching the needle into the fabric repeatedly. "You work from the back of the pattern, punching the needle through the material until it hits the barrel of the needle." O'Connell was creating a piece of artwork using Russian punch needle, a technique that she will present in one of several traditional art workshops at the Carroll County Farm Museum throughout March. O'Connell was selected to be an instructor along with basket makers, blacksmiths and chair caning experts, who are skilled in art media that would have been used in the 19th century, said Emma Beaver, the activities coordinator at the farm museum.

"We try to offer classes in early art forms," Beaver said. "Punch needle is a new, old art form. It's the latest thing. And Diane's pieces are well done."

To create the pieces using punch needle art, the artisan needs a needle, frame, fabric and threads. The artist selects a pattern, which is transferred onto the material with a permanent marker, O'Connell said.

Then the material is stretched across a wooden frame where it is secured on all four sides with brush bristles that work like Velcro to hold it in place. The needle is threaded, and the punching begins.

The pattern is worked on face down, so the artist can see the piece as it evolves, said O'Connell.

"The bottom of your work has to be smooth," she said. "If it isn't, it can be snagged."

Russian punch needle - named after a little needle - originated with ancient Egyptians who used bones from bird wings as needles, she said.

"Punch needle became popular in the Middle Ages," said the 55-year-old Sykesville resident, who started working on Russian punch needle in 2003. "Then in the late 1800s or early 1900s, it lost its appeal," she said. "Now, it's being revived."

O'Connell said she first saw the needlecraft at a folk art show in York, Pa.

After watching a demonstration by Barbara Kemp, owner of the Hooked on Rugs business based in Mason, Mich., O'Connell purchased a couple of patterns.

Kemp had just released a line of patterns that ranged from log cabins to florals. There were not a lot of patterns on the market at the time. But since then, punch needle has gone gangbusters, said Kemp.

"When people saw it, they liked it," said Kemp, who has created a line of punch needle patterns.

"Punch needle is popular because it's ageless. Even children can do it," Kemp said. "It appeals to people who can't sew or paint, or who have very little artistic ability. And people who have a lot of artistic talent enjoy it as well. People love to create things. It includes small projects that can be completed in one day."

O'Connell was hooked on punching after one short session with Kemp. She purchased some patterns and returned home to teach herself the craft.

"The biggest challenge for me is getting the colors just right," O'Connell said. "Sometimes I will have a pattern almost completed and decide a color doesn't work. I just take it apart and start all over."

Making mostly reproductions of Pennsylvania German motifs of old rugs and pottery designs, O'Connell works on her pieces about two hours a day.

"Instead of sitting in front of a television all the time, I work with my hands," she said. " I knit, make rugs, and I do punch needle. It's simple, and it's quick."

After about two years of making pieces using patterns created by other people, O'Connell started making her own punch needle patterns.

Doing business as The Hidden Garden Inc., the name of the family garden business, O'Connell designed patterns depicting everything from trees, deer, stars and sheep. She sells the patterns for $12 at workshops and fairs around the country.

"Punch needle is a growing art form in the United States," O'Connell said. "I enjoy it so much. People are coming to learn the craft from all over the country. It's easy to learn, and at the same time it allows people to be creative."


Traditional art classes to be offered in March and April at the Carroll County Farm Museum:

Basket making: large bucket basket -- Tuesday, March 6 and March 13 (two-session class), 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., $40; large oval tray -- Saturday, March 10, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., $40.

Blacksmithing: tool and jig making -- Saturday and Sunday, March 10 and March 11, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., $175; cable Damascus -- Saturday and Sunday, March 31 and April 1, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., $175.

Chair caning: Monday through Wednesday, March 19- 21, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. $60.

Hooked handbag: Saturday and Sunday, March 10 and March 11, and a third date to be announced, 9 a.m. to noon, $45.

Knitting: Monday through Wednesday, March 12-14 (three-session class), 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. $60.

Russian punch needle "rabbit": Tuesday, March 6, from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., $45.

Scratched design eggs: Saturday, March 10, from 10 a.m. to noon, $20.

Seat weaving: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, March 12-14 (three-session class), 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., $65.

Weaving: Saturday and Sunday, March 10 and March 11 (two-session class), 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., $115; Monday and Tuesday, March 19 and March 20 (two-session class), 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., $115.

Information: 410-386-3880.

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