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How Does Punch Needle Rug Hooking Work?

The Oxford Punch Needle forms a continuous loop stitch. Every time you push The Oxford Punch Needle down, it pushes down a long end of yarn. When you bring The Oxford Punch Needle back up, it folds this end into a loop. There are no knots used. The tightness of all the loops packed together keeps it from unraveling. You work from the back side of the rug, so as a novice keep turning over your work to check that your loops are all the same length on the front side of your work.

Can you please explain your crazy punch needle size numbering system?

Crazy isn’t it? Maybe this will help to clear it up: When I first designed my punch needle, I based my numbers on my favorite punch needle, The Craftsman’s Punch Needle , which I had used for many years. This is an adjustable tool with ten different settings so you can use it to punch ten different loop heights ranging from ¼” to ¾.” I chose the settings that I used the most, and decided to make my punch needles in those sizes (see illustration below). In addition to the #8, #9, and #10 settings found on The Craftsman’s Punch Needle, I also make two shorter needles, a #13, and a #14.

How do I know what punch needle size I have? There is no number on my punch!

Look at the needle with the metal point facing you and you will see the number. You can go over it with a pen to make it show up better or write your number with a Sharpee® pen somewhere else on the tool if you want to.

Look at the punch needle with the metal point facing you and you will see the number.


My stitches keep pulling out! What am I doing wrong?

  • Make sure that you always punch your Oxford Punch Needle ALL THE WAY DOWN as far as it will go into the rug backing.
  • When you move forward to punch your next loop DON’T LIFT YOUR NEEDLE UP TOO HIGH! If you do, that will pull your loops right out! Instead of lifting your needle up, drag it along the surface of the monk’s cloth.
  • Remember that your yarn needs to be able to flow freely through the Oxford Punch Needle at all times! Check for the following problems: Do you have a knot in your yarn? Is your yarn getting caught on your frame, under your arm or hand? Is your yarn tangled? Try putting your ball of yarn in a coffee can to keep it from rolling all over the floor.

My loops are all uneven heights, what am I doing wrong?

Make sure that you follow steps 1-3 above. If you do these things and your loops are still uneven try tightening your monk’s cloth on the frame. Tighten it a lot! Loose monk’s cloth can cause uneven loops. Your monk’s cloth should be as tight as a drum! We make every effort to manufacture the best punch needles possible but regret that every once in a while our Oxford Punch Needles do break. It is highly unlikely, but there is a slight chance that your needle has come unglued – that the metal needle has slipped in the wooden handle. If this happens to you we apologize and hope that you will send it back to us for an immediate replacement or for your money back. We are proud of our tools and offer a lifetime guarantee, no matter how many rugs you’ve made, or how many “miles’ you’ve put on your punch needle.

I’m a beginning puncher and the right side of my rug is a complete mess! I hate it! There are long threads sticking out and I can’t even see my design. I like the wrong side better! Help!

Don’t panic! Take a deep breath! Because we work on the back side of our rugs (the wrong side) we don’t have that much control as to what is happening on the right side. It is common for loops to punch through other loops – splitting them and making them look uneven or pushing them out of place. Also, because we push all of our finished ends to the right side, the right side will be all hairy! After you punch you need to clean up the right side of your rug. Everyone does it – you haven’t made a mistake at all! Here’s how to clean up:

  • Cut off all of those long ends so they’re level with your loops. We call this “snipping.” When you do this, the cut ends will blend right in. Cut them off one at a time, don’t cut clumps of them together or they will show.
  • Clean up your lines and outlines. Take control of your rug! We call this “poking.” Do this with your closed scissors or another pointy tool (like an awl or the end of your punch needle). Poke your loops around and don’t be afraid to really maneuver them into place. Push them into place until each loop is where you meant for it to be. This can take some time but is really worth the effort. A well-made rug should be beautiful on both sides. It is a good idea to “snip” and “poke” as you go. My book includes some before and after pictures. The results are dramatic.


I want to punch using fabric strips. What size punch needle should I use? How wide should my strips be?

To get the look of traditional primitive hooked rugs, use a #10 Regular Oxford Punch Needle and 1/4" wide strips of wool fabric.

In rug hooking, 1/4" wide strips are called #8 cut. Why, you might ask? Good question! Strip cutting machines come with different size cutter heads. The sizes are based on thirty-seconds of an inch, so a #1 cut is 1/32" wide, a #2 cut is 2/32" wide, a #3 cut is 3/32" wide, etc. Thus a #8 cut strip is 8/32" wide. If you remember your fractions from school 8/32" is the same as 1/4".

For the traditional look, some rug hookers prefer using #6 cut strips instead of #8 cut. The #6 cut strips are a bit narrower and glide more easily through the punch needle.


Yes! You can punch with fabric strips! Top: #14 Fine Oxford Punch Needle (“The Mini ) threaded with a #3 cut strip. Bottom: #10 Regular Oxford Punch Needle threaded with a #8 cut (1/4”) strip.

When I’m punching with strips my loops are all twisted. How do I fix this?

When using strips in the punch the loops can come out like "crooked teeth!” When pulling loops with a traditional rug hook a precise rug hooker can keep loops from twisting and make them line up perfectly like ribbon candy. With the punch, loops can come out less perfectly aligned. I have customers who love the look of punched loops and others who don't because they only want the "ribbon candy" look. I am able to keep my loops from twisting by following these tips:

  • Always learn to punch with yarn first. It’s much easier to work with and will help you get the hang of punching before you move on to fabric strips.
  • Make sure your stitches aren't too close together. If you are using monk's cloth and a #6 cut strip punch in every 2nd hole. When putting your rows side by side, space your next row 2 holes over. When using #8 cut strips punch in every 2nd hole but put your next row three holes over.
  • After you've threaded your strip into the punch but before you start punching - pull your strip back and forth several times to make sure that your strip lays flat in the channel of the punch needle and isn't twisted to begin with.
  • Longer strips will tend to make twisted loops. Shorter ones don't have the opportunity to get so twisted up.
  • Keep an eye on your strip at the point where it is about to enter into the punch. You will notice that it can start to twist there. You can untwist it every once and a while and this will help.
  • Punching more slowly will help keep your loops from twisting.
  • Turning to make right angles will make your loop twist. You can end before you turn to avoid this.
  • Finally, straighten any twisted loops that are bothering you after you punch! Some people do this with tweezers.

Can I use strips in “The Mini?”

Yes, #3 cut strips work really well. Anything thicker than a #3 cut strip won’t feed through the needle. I suggest using lightweight wool such a flannel. Coat weight wool is often too thick.

Can I jump over other stitches when I’m punching?

You can, but I wouldn’t! It will weaken your rug. I got a rug to repair once and whoever made it had jumped hundreds of times. Most of these stitches pulled out and I had to re-punch all of them. For a wall hanging it would probably be OK to jump, but don’t jump far!

I’d like to hang my rug on the wall instead of putting it on the floor. How do I do this?

Here are some of your options:

  • At the Shelburne Rug Show we hang rugs by attaching carpet tack strips to the walls and we hang the rugs directly on the strips. (Carpet tack strips are available at flooring stores.) Putting up rugs and taking them down again is quick and easy to do with this method. This is also how we hang the rugs at The Oxford Rug Hooking School. If the sides of the rug flop forward we carefully use a few small brads to nail the bottom corners of the rug to the wall. Wait to use brads on the bottom though! Often the rug will flatten out after it's been hanging for a while.
  • If you don't want multiple nail holes in your wall from the carpet tack strips you can create a lightweight wooden frame for the rug. Then attach the rug to the wooden frame with small brads and the frame can hang from the wall on a single nail or picture hanger.
  • Sew a sleeve across the top of the rug and insert a dowel to hang the rug.
  • Sew 2" wide velcro to the top of the rug. Sew a backing to the rug first if necessary. The stiff side of the velcro gets attached to the wall and the soft side is sewn to the rug. Sometimes more velcro is needed on the sides to make the rug lie flat. This is often done with more fragile antique rugs.
  • Attach the rug to the wall with a few small brads only.


There are no knots in hooked rugs? Why don’t they pull out?

Hooked rugs have so many loops packed in tightly together that the tension keeps the loops from pulling out. Also, the small holes in the rug backing grip the loops and help to keep them in place. In addition, when you’re punching, loops tend to punch through other loops. This helps to hold the rug together. The only thing that unravels these rugs seems to be puppies that chew them, or cats that knead them with their claws. Beater bars on vacuum cleaners can also be dangerous. 

My cat (or puppy) has been pulling out the loops of my hooked rug! Is there anything I can put on the back of my rug to keep it from unraveling?

If the pulled out yarn is still in tact you can fix the damage with a crochet hook by pulling the loops back up through the rug backing. Some people put latex on the back of hooked rugs to protect them but personally, I don't. I repair a lot of rugs and many of the older ones that have been treated with latex are a disaster! The latex actually crumbles with time and eats away at the yarn. Some brands of latex contain formaldehyde that is harmful to the environment, to us, and our pets. If you have a rug that is a valuable antique, applying latex will greatly diminish the rug’s value. Dogs and cats can pull out loops in rugs even when there is latex on the back. Instead of latex, I choose to put under-padding underneath my rugs. This is available at Home Depot, carpet stores, and many stores that carry household items. Pet stores often sell sprays to discourage pets from this kind of activity. Test first on a small area on the back of the rug to make sure it doesn’t discolor your work.

How long does it take to make a hooked rug?

A fast puncher, using bulky weight rug yarn, can punch a square foot in approximately three hours. This doesn’t count all the time it takes to figure out what colors to put where! I tend to spend a lot of time taking things out and re-punching until I’m happy. Obviously, the more detailed and complicated the rug, the longer it will take. I haven’t had a chance to time myself using the new “Mini” needle yet! Everything I’ve made has been kind of complicated and I think I’ve spent more time pulling things out than putting them in! I did punch the 5 1/2" square to see how far one ounce of worsted weight rug yarn would go. It took me about 40 minutes to punch, but I was chatting with a friend, watching TV, and eating snacks at the same time…

Is there anything special I need to know if I design my own rug?

Remember that your design has to be backwards because you are working on the back of your rug! Be especially careful about this if you are doing lettering.

Does my punch needle ever need to be sharpened?

No, they just get better and smoother with age. The only time you might run across a problem is if you drop it on a cement floor and get a “burr” on your needle. If this happens, mail it back to us and we will replace the needle for you at no charge. You can also try removing a burr by filing it carefully with a metal nail file.

How do these rugs hold up?

If you use wool, a good rug backing, and good technique – your rugs will last for generations.