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
Want to see more recommendations of stitching materials and tools, as well as stitchy books? Head to the Peacock & Fig Amazon page! 😀
Hi There and thanks for this great advice. I tried the transfer pens but it didn’t iron on well so I used a light table and a coloured pencil which worked. I’ve only transferred a few times but I find whatever method I use the pattern fades as I stitch and I have to keep redoing the design. Do I have to use a ballpoint pen or is there a way to fix the pattern so it doesn’t fade. I’d rather not use a sharpie. Thank you.
Hi Seema! Never use a ballpoint or a Sharpie or anything else permanent unless you’re 100% sure you’re going to fully cover all the lines, otherwise you will see them in your finished project and it’ll not look nice. Also be aware lighter floss colours may show something heavy and dense like a Sharpie, and certain pens (like regular ballpoint gel pens) may leach dye onto your floss as you stitch which is less than ideal. Water soluble pens shouldn’t fade as you work (air soluble ones will, they’re designed to fade over time), and the printing method of using something like the Sulky sticky sheets like I show will work every time. Hope you figure out a solution that works for you. 😊
That’s a cool idea to print the pattern directly onto the fabric. That way you could just cover up the ink with the thread to make it easy to follow the pattern.
Yep, exactly Malissa! 🙂
My mother made us a dresser scarf for an anniversary present but only one. Would like to have a second one cannot find that pattern. How would I transfer to a blank scarf?.
Hi Barbara! I’m not sure what a dresser scarf is, but you’d have to make a new chart by hand (like on trace the design onto tracing paper), transfer it to fabric like I show, then stitch from that. 🙂
Which transfer method would you recommend for felt?
You’ll have to experiment Carol, likely the Sticky Fabri-Solvy method, but felt isn’t fantastic to embroider on (unless it’s high quality wool felt) as it can stretch out of shape so easily. 🙂
What size needle do you recommend for 40ct linen? Thanks
Hi Vickie! You can use any size needle you want, it’s more about how many strands of floss you’re using — the fewer strands, the finer the needle. 🙂
I intend to start cross stitching and am a beginner. I watched your tutorial for beginners but unfortunately the video was not clear enough.
Is there any other version with a better quality?
Hi Bahaar! That video was filmed almost 5 years ago, so that’s the best quality it’s going to get. But over a million people have watched those introductory videos and been able to follow along, so maybe you just need to change the resolution in the YouTube settings? If you want a newer video, I do teach a full cross stitch beginners class on Skillshare. It comes with a pretty free pattern, and you can get a free 2 month trial using my class link — https://skl.sh/2PBuPuv. That’s tons of time to do that class (and all the other ones I’m teaching on Skillshare if you want). Hope that helps! 🙂
Doris M Martin
Hi. I just bought a 10×11 cross stitch kit. I got a paper picture of the design and the material. I assumed the design would already be on the material. I am confused as to what do I do now? Thank You.
Hi Doris! Cross stitch and hand embroidery are completely different in the way they’re stitched and the patterns. Cross stitch uses a grid with symbols (each symbol represents a colour of thread), and each grid square on the pattern represents one “grid square” on your fabric (as cross stitch fabric is a really open weave). Hand embroidery kits sometimes come with the pattern printed on the fabric, sometimes not (thus this particular tutorial), hand embroidery fabric is much finer than cross stitch fabric. If you’re brand new to cross stitch (and if it’s 10″ x 11″, that’s pretty big for a first project), I’d recommend either this roundup of some of my best tutorials for cross stitch beginners — https://peacockandfig.com/2017/05/cross-stitch-for-beginners/ — or you could check out my full introductory cross stitch class on Skillshare here — https://skl.sh/2PBuPuv. That class comes with a free pattern (you have to supply the materials), and will teach you absolutely everything you need to know to tackle your kit. It’s not a problem if you don’t have a Skillshare account, you can get a free 2 month trial by clicking the class link, which is tons of time to do the class. 🙂
This was really helpful, thank you! As someone just learning about embroidery, I’m still in the ‘stupid question’ stage and wasn’t sure how to go about creating patterns. I thought you just had to use digital ones 😂 would love to give this a try.
Nah, you can totally do it on your own. 🙂 If you’re looking for good reference photos you can trace or use for inspiration for designs, there are free public domain sites like unsplash.com, pexels.com, pixabay.com… those are **actually** free and you don’t have to give credit to the photographers. Pretty much anything else you find falls under the creators copyright and you need to get permission to use it. Or using your own photos you take is a great way to go too, simplifying the shapes can make for some really pretty designs. 🙂
Hello. If I am printing a pattern from a PDF, would it be fine to do the “mirror print” option and then just trace that onto tracing paper to iron on the fabric (rather than tracing the back of a regularly-aligned pattern)?
Hi Shawn! Usually you can’t iron on tracing paper to fabric, so I don’t know if that will work. But if you’re printing onto printable sheets like the Sulky Fabri-Solvy I show in the video, then yes, doing the mirror print option should work. I’d test it on a regular piece of paper first to make sure it flips the right direction, you don’t want to waste a page of the Sulky paper. 🙂
Thank You Dana. I did try the white tracing paper but it didn’t work well. I think that the paper was very old and probably has lost the waxy material
that is transferred. I will get a new batch and see how that works. This will
Work better than doing the stitching on light material and then appliqué gets it onto the denim. Looks good but super work intensive.
Greetings from St.Albert,, Alberta in Canada where stitching is alive and well.
Awesome, glad stitching is doing well up there Donna! I haven’t been there, the closest I have was to Edmonton to get a working holiday visa to Japan years ago. I use the Clover brand of dressmaker’s carbon, I got some on Amazon, and it seems to work really well (I just transferred a design onto black satin and it transferred and lasted well). 🙂
Can you provide a link to the Tracerboard app? I can’t seem to find it. TIA
Hi Fran! It was quite a while ago I downloaded that, I’m not sure if it’s still available. If you look for any tracing type app, there should be something for your device. 🙂
Thanks for the info! I hadn’t heard of the sticky kind, and it sounds like a great option! I hope your move goes well!
Hi Kerry! Yeah it works great, the only minor issue I found with it is if your stitching line is narrower than the line printed on the pattern, you just have to make sure your stitching line is even. Like if I was stitching a black line on top of the black copied line printed on the sticky solvy, sometimes when I’d rinse the stabilizer away my stitched line was a little wobbly as it was harder to see the black on black. Meh, no big deal, it does make transferring your image super easy. 🙂
Dana, as far as using a pencil is concerned, I have been using a mechanical pencil for gridding and have found that if I soak my stitched project in a bit of Tide and a small amount of OxiClean, the pencil marks come right out without any scrubbing necessary. This combo also removes any hoop marks really well.
That’s a great tip Dawn, I’ll have to remember that! 🙂