The secret to punch needle: We interview Debbie von Grabler-Crozier

06 April 2023
Debbie von Gabler-Crozier has designed a beautiful punch needle butterfly bag, in issue 142 of Stitch. We found out more about her stitching background…

Debbie von Grabler-Crozier


How long have you been embroidering/stitching?
In some form or another, I have been stitching and embroidering for most of my life! I was very fortunate to have a very able and engaged mother and grandmother who taught me all they knew. I can remember making an embroidered handkerchief with a drawn thread border when I was about eight or nine years old.

What led you to try it for the first time?

I grew up in Australia and we were pretty isolated in the country so I was really interested (in the days before the internet or even great television) in what I could create. Embroidery is a great way to start a child on a creative journey because it needs so little in the way of tools initially. Great things can be achieved with one thread colour, a needle and a piece of recycled fabric.

What are your main areas of expertise?

I love thread painting and punch needle embroidery. I started with cross stitch but quickly outgrew it because it was too limiting. I didn’t want to follow someone else’s pattern. Thread painting and punch needle are about as different to each other as you can get in a technique but both allow me to go off-piste and do things differently. I love the tactile nature of punch needle. It makes the house look so cosy too. I paint and draw a lot so thread painting is a bit of an extension of that and, once I get going, it feels about the same too.

Where do you like to get your inspiration and how do your ideas evolve?

Nature would have to be my single biggest inspiration. I guess most embroiderers say that too! But it is powerful and nowhere else will you find such colours, shapes and unusual things. There is enough subject matter to keep anyone going for several lifetimes. I sketch a bit and plan sometimes and other times I will start with a rough idea and an even rougher outline and allow the project to happen. I am not a great experimenter though and I tend to be pretty conservative in my use of materials. I really admire artists who weave things like real grasses into their work. I haven’t got to that bit yet. Who knows what happens in the future though!

What has been your favourite project to create so far and why?

That is a bit more difficult to answer. I get so invested in each one and I get to know it. I love my punch needle toucan cushion and my thread painted bird brooches. Sometimes I can be really shallow and like something just because it worked! If I had to choose one, that toucan cushion would have to be high on the list. I also love making small things like fridge magnets and brooches. Wearable art is great because you can keep your favourite thing with you all day. I like making small things because I hate to waste materials and embroidery and stitching is perfectly suited to small projects which use every last bit of a resource. It feels very good to see what you can create.
Debbie's toucan cushion


Thread painted brooches

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Any advice for someone who hasn’t tried punch needle before?

Invest in the right products and practice a lot. Find out what works and through practice and trying different combinations, discover your signature style. I love my Clover punch needles and I work on Lilian canvas with sock wool. The butterfly bag has this combo. And for goodness sake, find something that keeps your work taut. If it slips, it is difficult to work on. There are some excellent hoops around but for a larger piece, you cannot beat an old picture frame and a staple gun. My husband has made me a couple of frames now and these make working on a larger piece so easy. Also, a good white glue is essential. I don’t go in for the evil smelling gums and pastes that some artists use – you only have one pair of lungs so be careful what you breathe in. I love Aleene’s Tacky Glue for something that is unlikely to be washed. The trouble with punch needle is that it can hook on things and pull out. Plenty of people say that it won’t but it can and if it does, it is horrific! I glue each section as I finish with it. This also slightly stiffens the embroidery and makes it feel more substantial – very important in a bag.

Where do you work - do you have your own studio?

I have my own studio in my house. We live in a Victorian farmhouse in the German countryside, there is a forest nearby and lovely thatched cottages all around us. The inspiration is almost too much! I have a lovely light studio in a room upstairs with large windows overlooking our garden and the centre of town. My studio also has my cardmaking things, my sewing things and my art things. There is a space for photography, writing and some storage – my yarn is all in the cat’s bedroom next to my studio. He can hardly get in sometimes! 

What is the stitching scene like where you live?

It is pretty robust. A lot of the things that we use for stitching in various styles come from Germany and they are very high quality. A lot of people in Germany are expert embroiderers and enjoy styles from traditional work to very modern. It is a big feature at Christmas too. It is often a skill passed down through many generations and Germany has a lot of regional embroidery styles, totally different to what is found in the Anglo-sphere. In a way, fashion and trend is not as important in the country as are traditions.

What did you enjoy the most about creating the butterfly bag in issue 142 of Stitch?
I am a bag maker so I was very happy to have a chance to make a bag. But I also really loved the image of the butterfly. I also love to create something which has a practical aspect and can be used and enjoyed. A bag is a perfect example of this. I think that is the main point for me. I am not big on things that cannot be used for something. Something that is practical and beautiful is what I aim for.

What are you working on next?

I am trying to make some nicer cushions for my house so my current work in progress is a Calathea cushion. I am using sock wool for this too and I am loving the muted colours that I can buy. The wool is quite fine so it takes a while but it is the perfect activity (nice and quiet) for making while I am talking on the phone to friends. The great thing is that it doesn’t need to have a due date. I put it in my studio while I am doing other things and I can look at it and pick it up and do a bit of stitching when I need a break.


Working on the Calathea cushion 

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