Article in the Litchfield News (Oct. 1, 2010) about a class at the Litchfield Historical Society by Missy Stevens on punchneedle embroidery (Oct. 16, 2010):
The technique uses yarn or embroidery thread attached to a hollow needle that is "punched" back and forth through a fabric to create a surface of thread loops. It was practiced by the ancient Egyptians using hollow bones of bird wings as needles. In the Middle Ages it was called the "punch stitch" and was used for decorating ecclesiastical clothing. In the 17th to 19th centuries it was popular with sailors who would use their spare time to make what look like miniature hooked rugs. Also known as Russian embroidery, the technique continues to be used by a conservative Russian Orthodox splinter group known as the Old Believers, who broke with the church in the 17th century.
Most are familiar with the resurgence in the past few years with punch needle. Some remember punch needle's popularity back in the 70's when it was commonly known as Russian Embroidery (think Igolochkoy needles). But this technique really has an interesting past. It would be nice to find a source that offered patterns from its Egyptian roots or when it was practiced in the Middle Ages. All I ever see is the prim look, and frankly I've seen enough of it. Today the punch needle technique has been used quite successfully as faux turkeywork on canvas. I recommend the Igolochkoy or CTR needles for anyone interested in giving it a whirl. It works up fast and uses up tons of left over thread. Also, don't limit yourself to cotton floss, anything you can get through the needle will work. Wildflowers (or any pearl 12) , Kreinik, Whisper, Renaissance Crewel wool.