Transferring embroidery patterns to fabric doesn’t have to be difficult at all, but there are a variety of methods to choose from. The texture and thickness (and colour) of your fabric will often dictate which transfer method you use, as well as the materials you may have on hand. The three main methods of transferring your embroidery pattern to your fabric are tracing, transfer, and using a stabilizer.
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The tracing method is easiest to do on smooth fabric, and fabric that is light coloured. The first step is to print off your embroidery pattern (or trace it onto paper or tracing paper). If the fabric is fine enough, you might be able to place your fabric directly over your paper pattern and start tracing.
Usually though, you’ll need a light source behind your embroidery pattern so it’s easier to see through your fabric. You can either tape your pattern to a bright window, then tape your fabric over top, or you can use a lightbox. There are lightboxes that range in price and size (an inexpensive option is the Crayola Light-Up Tracing Pad), or you can use a tablet. In the photo below, you can see I’m using my iPad (using a free app called TracerBoard). Putting a sheet of glass between your tablet and your embroidery pattern will help prevent damage to your screen from pressing too hard while tracing the design. Tape your pattern to the glass, then tape your fabric to the pattern (or hold it in place carefully).
For the tracing method, there are a variety of tools you can use. Water soluble pens, Frixion erasable pens, and pencils all work well. Do check your transfer method before marking up your entire fabric though, as there is the possibility of marks not erasing fully or coming back (in the case of water soluble or Frixion pens). You can also trace your design using a permanent marker such as a fine-tip Sharpie, but obviously you’ll have to make sure your stitching will fully cover your lines. With pencil, it’s recommended to draw lightly, just hard enough to be able to see your lines.
For the Frixion pens, the lines are removed by running an iron over the pen marks after stitching. There may be residual “ghosting” of the lines, and usually these can be removed by also washing your project once you’re finished stitching. Washing can also prevent the lines from reappearing if your project ever gets cold (like in your suitcase in an airplane), but it can depend on your fabric as well.
An alternative to tracing your pattern directly onto your fabric is to transfer your design. Sulky Iron on pens and iron on pencils are a great way to use the printed embroidery pattern directly. To use this method, trace with the iron on pen/pencil on the back of the pattern, flip it onto your fabric (pen/pencil marks down) and iron until transferred. Be careful about keeping your iron still while ironing to not smudge the lines, and you can pull up your paper to check how much of the lines have transferred. You can also use tracing paper to first trace your embroidery pattern, then redraw the lines with the iron on pen/pencil on the back. Make sure you’re drawing on the back of the pattern, otherwise your design will be reversed when you flip it to iron it onto the fabric. To be safe, it never hurts to mark which side of the pattern is right side up, then you won’t accidentally reverse the design when transferring it. This method is sometimes not as delicate in the linework that gets transferred to your fabric (particularly if your fabric isn’t very smooth), and these methods can be permanent on fabric. Check the instructions on your particular pen/pencil, and do a test on a scrap piece of fabric first.
Another transfer method is using dressmaker’s carbon paper. There is a variety of different colours available, I got this Clover Chacopy paper from my local needlework shop. The variety of colours means you can use it on any colour or pattern fabric. To use it, place your carbon sheet face down (coloured side down) onto your fabric, place your embroidery pattern (face up) on top, and trace your design using a hard pencil, pen, or tool. You can carefully lift up the carbon paper to see if it’s transferring well, or if you need to press harder. The dressmaker’s carbon is washable, the Clover brand washes cleanly away. Do NOT use carbon paper from an office supply shop, that will be permanent on your fabric.
If you’re using a fabric that is a bit textured, or you’re not wanting to trace your design, using a photocopier is a fantastic alternative. Products like Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy make transferring your design so easy. You can get it in many different sized sheets or even rolls, but if you want to use your printer use letter sized sheets. There are several varieties, such as water soluble vs sticky & soluble vs tear away. In the tutorial video, I’m using the sticky water soluble kind — you simply print onto the “fabric” side of the stabilizer. You can also draw onto the stabilizer directly (or trace your pattern onto it), but the great thing about it is the fact you can put it into your printer. Do a test of your printer first and make sure you will be printing onto the correct side of the stabilizer. Once printed, cut out your design, peel off the backing paper and stick it to your fabric. Make sure your fabric is stretched in your hoop or frame before sticking on the stabilizer, otherwise the design could get buckled once you put your fabric in a hoop. You stitch right through the stabilizer, and when you’re done, simply put your stitching under running water and wash the stabilizer away. Keep rinsing it until you can’t feel any of it left on the fabric or under the stitches. Let your embroidery dry naturally, or you can gently iron it (face down onto a towel to protect the shape of the stitches).
- Be careful to not reverse your design when tracing or transferring (particularly for text)
- There is the possibility of marks not erasing fully or coming back, so do test your chosen method
- The texture and thickness (and colour) of fabric will dictate which transfer method you use