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How To Transfer An Embroidery Design To Fabric

There are a number of ways that you can transfer your embroidery design on to the fabric. After a while most stitchers find their favourite way to do this, but you may need to vary your method depending on the colour and type of fabric you are using.

I’ve outlined the most common methods, give them a go and find out which one works best for you.


If the fabric you are using is fairly thin and pale coloured, you can trace the design directly on to the fabric using a good light source, such as a window or light box. For this method you will also need a chalk-based marking pencil or water-soluble pen or pencil. You could even use a standard pencil but bear in mind that this may not wash out from your fabric once you have finished stitching.

Tape the pattern to your light source and cover the pattern with the fabric. You should be able to see the design clearly through the fabric and trace the lines with your marking pencil or pen.


Heat Transfer Pens and Pencils 

Heat transfer pencils or pens can be used for marking an embroidery design on fabric and will work on both light- and heavier-weight fabrics.

Transfer pencils and pens are available in different colours and thicknesses, and the ink is activated by the heat of an iron.

However, these markings are often permanent (check when buying your pencil or pen). If your pencil or pen is permanent, the pattern lines will not wash out, and you will need to make sure you completely cover the marked lines with stitching, so they are not visible. Look for fine tipped transfer pens or make sure your transfer pencil is well sharpened before using.

To use a heat transfer pen or pencil, start by tracing the design onto a sheet of tracing paper.

To now transfer the design on to your fabric, place the paper against the fabric and press with a hot iron. Be sure to lift the iron off the paper before moving it to the next location, do not drag it as that can distort the image. 

Transferring your design using this method will reverse the image as the pressing process reverses the image. To avoid this, make sure you have reversed the image before printing and tracing.  This can be easily done using most computer software products and instructions should be available under ‘Help’.


Water-Soluble Stabilizer 

If you are using a dark fabric or have a detailed pattern, the water-soluble stabilizer method can be a good option. With this option, you print the design directly onto the stabilizer, then attach it to your embroidery fabric and stitch through the fabric and stabiliser.

Once you have finished stitching the design, soak your fabric in warm water and the stabilizer simply dissolves away. 

Because this method requires the use of water, you will need to make sure that your fabric is washable and that both it and the embroidery floss is colourfast.


Dress-makers Carbon Paper

Designs can also be transferred using dressmakers’ carbon paper. This lightweight transfer paper is coated on one side with a powdery, coloured ink that is made specifically for use on fabrics and will wash out of the finished piece.

Dress-makers carbon paper comes in many colours, so make sure you pick one that is a good contrast for your fabric - using a light-coloured piece of carbon paper for darker fabrics, and a darker colour carbon paper on lighter fabrics. 

To transfer a design using this method, place the fabric face-up on a hard surface, such as a kitchen worktop and stick in place using small pieces of sticky tape on each corner. Place the transfer paper over the fabric with the waxy side facing the fabric and place the pattern on top of the transfer paper. Again, fix these in place using sticky tape. Transfer the design to the fabric using a stylus or ball-point marking pen. Be sure to press hard enough with the stylus to transfer the design to the fabric through the layers of paper.

I find it useful to use a cutting board to attach the fabric and design to when I use this method. That way, you can rotate the design as you go making it easier to trace all the detail as accurately as possible.

Each piece of carbon paper can be used two or three times before it becomes too faint to be able to see the design on the fabric.


Tracing Paper 

Another method that works well on fabrics that are difficult to trace onto, but that you don't want to soak, is the tracing paper method.

To use this technique, trace your pattern onto lightweight tracing paper such as tracing paper or tissue paper. Lightly stitch the paper onto your fabric and then stitch through the paper and fabric. Depending on the size of your design, it may be necessary to use several lines of stitching rather than just stitching round the edge.

When you're finished, carefully tear away the paper.


Printable Fabric

These days it is possible to buy fabric sheets that can be used to with an inkjet printer to print a design directly on to the fabric.

This is a really simple and quick way to transfer the design onto fabric, but does have its limitations as the choice of fabrics and fabric sizes are still quite limited.

Always follow the instructions that come with the printable fabric.

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