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How to get the embroidery design on to fabric

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We can all sometimes struggle to get our embroidery project ready to stitch. What transfer technique is the right one? 

There are multiple ways to do this none are wrong, but some make it easier and other work better for specific designs and fabrics.


This is a time old method and works better if using a lightbox than a window, but the latter will do in a pinch (unlike the illustration I wouldn’t recommend candles as a light source).

 You draw the embroidery design directly onto the fabric.  This is a simple, direct method that does not reverse the image and works well when using a lightweight, light-coloured fabric that is semi-transparent when held up to a light source.

How to do it:

Begin by taping the pattern to a window (or light box if you happen to have one). 

Then, position the fabric over top of the pattern, so that the lines show when the light shines through.  If the lines on the paper are too faint to see through the fabric, try going over them with a fine-tipped black marker.  Tape the fabric in place.

Simply trace over the design with a fine-tipped, washable fabric pencil or marker.  I find a mechanical pencil works well too – it creates such fine lines that the embroidery thread will cover up the markings when the stitching is finished.  

This transfering metod is limited as only work on thin, light, and plain fabrics like sheeting. Which makes it a more limited method.

Transfer or Carbon paper

Transfer paper is a good choice for copying patterns onto a variety of colours or thicknesses of fabric with a flat surface – it doesn’t work well for fabrics with a fuzzy surface, like wool.  Transfer paper produces a light, fine line.  Light-coloured paper (such as white or yellow) is a good option for transferring designs onto dark-coloured fabric.  

This method is useful but again not good for working on velvet, wools, denim which has texture or linen twills as the stylus jumps around on the texture.

Pigment from the transfer paper is pressed onto the fabric with a pen or stylus.  This method does not reverse the image.  Its best to make sure the fabric can’t move underneath.

How to do it:

Transfer paper comes in a variety of colours and has a waxy feel, with pigment on one side only.  Choose a colour that will provide good contrast with the fabric.  

Position the paper on top of the fabric, with the pigment side down.  Then position the embroidery pattern right side up, over top of the transfer paper.  

Use a pen, pencil, or stylus to trace over.  Make sure you have a nice hard surface underneath, Practice on a piece of scrap paper to experiment with the amount of pressure needed to transfer the pigment.  I find that it is necessary to press quite hard.  



Embroidery Subscription box Embroidered fingerless Gloves made out of beige knitted Fingerless gloves with floral embroidery in chain stitch in Burgundy, Port, Rust worsted wool being stitched

This is a good allrounder if you can wash the fabric so again no velvet and not great on wools as can leave residue. Brilliant for beginners as all errors in transfer and not accurate stitching on edges of design can be washed away.

Washaway stabiliser works on all types of fabric and ensures the embroidery pattern is transferred precisely.  It can be particularly useful for transferring patterns onto fabric that is thick or has a textured surface, such as wool or corduroy, or a dark-coloured fabric that is difficult to trace onto.

How to do it:

Use a specialized washaway stabiliser product, such as Sulky Fabri-Solvy or Fabri-Solvy Sticky.  

Trace your embroidery design onto the stabiliser, or if you’re using Fabri-Solvy Sticky (with a paper backing) use your computer printer to print the design onto the stabiliser. Baste or adhere (if using sticky product) your design to the fabric, positioned where you’d like the embroidery to be.  Embroider your design through the stabiliser and fabric.  When the embroidery is complete, rinse or wash the fabric and the stabiliser will dissolve. Experiment with these transfer methods to see which ones you prefer – depending on the type of materials you are using for your embroidery projects; they can all be useful.  

It can leave residue, great if using it to make 3d objects not so great if on a floaty fabric.

Stitch and Tear

like the solvy, but you rip off the excess when finished, this is mainly used in machine embroidery on the back, so any little bits left behind won’t be seen, great on stretch as it stops the area being stretched. 

It’s basically a very stable fabric applied to the back of the piece adding extra strength to fine fabrics.

I have used it for hand work, but mostly use it when doing machine embroidery, which can shred a fine fabric, this adds strength and limits stretch so making it easier for the machine to work..

Trace the design onto the stitch and tear, the stitch as normal. When complete rip off any excess.

Just be aware it can leave remnants behind that are almost impossible to remove and can rip out insecure stitches.

Thread marking

This is one of my go to methods as it can be uses to transfer complex and detailed designs, it can be used on any type of fabric, it especially lends itself to fabrics with a pile like velvet and wools, it’s also good on whites as you can use a pale blue thread which vanishes into the stitching.

Best time to use it is if you have a highly complex design or working on pile fabrics or brilliant white.


How to do it:

First trace the design onto acid free tissue paper, then using a standard sewing cotton (pale blue for whites, and just light enough for darks) using a running stitch with stitches no more than 5mm stitch the outline of the pattern. 

 When complete, carefully rip of all the tissue paper (fine tweezers can be helpful) revealing the design.  Stitch the design and then you can unpick any thread still showing.

This is a good all-round transfering metod and can save hours of headaches with more permanent ways of marking on

Prick and Pounce

Finally, the most used professionally and again one of the oldest.

 This is usable on most fabrics as pounce comes in white, grey and black (white being cuttlefish, black charcoal and grey is a mixture).

It is used on almost all fabric types, not so great on fabrics with piles (velvet and fluffy wools) as the dust gets caught up in the fibres.

How to do it:

First trace the design on to tracing paper, the prick the outlines using a large pin or needle, make sure every line is pricked, this can be done by holding up to the light. 

Then place the pricking on the fabric and using a pounce pad (a tightly rolled piece of felt) dip this into the pounce (a fine powder) and rub from the centre on circles until the whole design is covered evenly. 

Lift the tracing and shake it off well away from you work or any fabrics (outside works well).  Now you are left with a serious dot to dot diagram, you then need to paint the design on (traditionally we use gouache colour just slightly diluted, or it spreads everywhere and a fine paint brush) but modern time allow for modern methods, a gel pen or a micro pigma archival pen works, carefully join up all the dots to complete the image. 

Now turn the work upside down and bang on the back to release all the excess powder (a babies hair bush works well) you can also bang on the front to loosen up stubborn areas. Now you can stitch!

Heat transfer or heat erasable pens/pencils

Trace over the embroidery design to create an iron-on transfer.  Keep in mind that this method does reverse the image.   

This works well on most natural-fibre fabrics with a flat surface, though it doesn’t show up well on very dark colours.  

It’s good for basic cottons, but anything that needs a low temperature, like silks, wools, synthetics, and of course dark colours.

How to do it:

Use a heat transfer pen or pencil to trace over the printed embroidery design.  Press hard – if the lines are too faint, the design won’t transfer.  

Position design with the traced side down on the fabric.  Press with iron at a high temperature (without steam) to transfer the image.  My ironing board is quite padded, so I find it useful to put a hard surface underneath my fabric to ensure the design transfers evenly.  

Practice on scrap fabric first until you’ve learned how your transfer pencil works.

I almost never use this metod as the pens and pencils leave small trace of ink, what damages the fabric over a longer period of the time.  Dont forget the erasable pens are reappearing when the temperature drops under certain point.

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