There are four main embroidery pattern transfer techniques:
- Using a stabilizer
- Drawing a pattern directly on a fabric.
Let’s get more details about each option!
By definition, Tracing is a “copy of a drawing or pattern made by drawing over it through a piece of thin, transparent paper” (Cambridge dictionary). Only in hand embroidery, instead of thin, transparent paper, we use a piece of fabric.
The tracing method works best with light-colored and smooth fabrics.
To use the Tracing method, you will need:
- Printed pattern;
- Light source. You can use a light window or a lightbox as a source of light for tracing;
- Tracing tool (pen or pencil).
There are many pens and pencils you can use for tracing. I made a list of tools I have and use for this method:
Water-soluble pens (No. 1 and 2 in the photo).
These markers are a fabulous way to trace patterns and transfer designs when embroidering. The marks stay there while you work, but as soon as you wash your finished embroidery, they disappear forever. These pens go in different sizes, so you can choose how thick your drawing line will be.
Pencil (No. 3). Regular lead pencils are nice to use for transferring designs. The markings they make are light, so if you don’t completely cover them with stitches, you probably won’t notice in the end.
Friction pens in different colors (No. 4-6). These are like simple ball pens, but the lines’ marks will disappear with heat (use hair dryer or iron).
Dressmaker pens (No. 7-9). Cheap, simple, washable
Pros of Tracing method:
- Washable or erasable marks, so you can make adjustments as you go
- Not suitable for dark fabrics
- If you use a window as a light source, it can be rather complicated to transfer very detailed patterns.
Transferring is when you move a design from one surface to another. This method works well on both dark and light-colored fabrics, but the material has to be relatively smooth to use this method. There are several tools for this method:
- Heat transfer pens and pencils. If you printed the pattern in reverse form, you can trace directly on the drawing with a heat transfer pen, place the fabric face down, and heat with the iron. The pattern will move to the fabric after a few seconds of heat application. If the pattern is not reversed, you can flip the paper over and trace the design onto the paper’s backside using a heat transfer pen, pressing the design onto the fabric, much like a ready-made iron-on transfer.
- Iron – on Transfer paper. Print your design onto this paper, trim to size, and use your iron to transfer the pattern onto your fabric following the manufacturer’s instructions. Remember this critical detail: iron-on transfer designs will be a mirror image when you flip them over and iron them on. That’s why you should use a reverse view of a printable pattern for this method of transfer.
- Carbon paper. Carbon paper for dressmaking comes in different colors to be used both on dark and light fabrics. It is easy to use this method: put the carbon paper (colored side of the transfer paper on the fabric), and then place the design face up over that. Use a ballpoint pen to trace each line to transfer to the material. You may have to go over the lines more than once.
- Tissue Paper. Take a piece of smooth white tissue paper, trace the motif with a pencil or ballpoint pen, and pin or baste the tissue paper on top of your base fabric. Begin stitching just as you would without the paper there. Stitch your complete design, running your needle from the wrong side of the material, up to the top through the tissue paper, and then back to the wrong side. Gently tear away the paper in small pieces, being careful not to tug at your stitches. When you have finished, use tweezers or a blunt needle to pick out any tissue paper bits you cannot remove with your fingers.
Pros of Transferring method
- The method works well on both light and dark fabrics
- Not expensive, as you can use a carbon paper or transfer pen many times
- Some heat transfer pens are permanent and won’t wash away, so you need to be extra careful to cover all the transferred lines with embroidery.
- This method won’t work on grainy fabrics (except Tissue paper)
Using a stabilizer for pattern transfer
In cases when Transferring and Tracing does not work well (dark fabric with texture, embroidery on clothes, or very detailed pattern that is hard to trace or transfer), you can use a stabilizer.
The stabilizer for the pattern transfer is an additional layer of “fabric” (it can be sticky or not). You can draw your pattern on it, transfer it, or print it directly from your printer. Place the stabilizer with a design above your fabric and embroider through both layers. After you finish embroidery, submerge your embroidery in lukewarm water, and the stabilizer will disintegrate.
Easy like this! I like to use Solvy stabilizers that are made like stickers.
Pros of the Stabilizer method:
- Very fast and easy
- Works on any type and color of the fabric
- The pattern is not affected by the imperfections of hand drawing.
- it is a rather expensive method of transferring the pattern.
Drawing the pattern directly on a fabric
If the design is relatively simple, you can use any pens or pencils for tracing mentioned above or from the picture and draw your design directly on the fabric!
Tools for drawing on the dark fabric:
- White water-soluble marking pens (1 and 2 in the photo)
- Chalk pencil (3)
- Dressmaker pen (light colored)
- Dressmakers chalk
Pros of drawing directly on the fabric:
- You will get an original design of every piece you embroider
- If you want to embroider the exact pattern, this method will not work, unless you are a drawing professional
Now, when you know how to transfer your chosen embroidery pattern of the fabric, choose one of the embroidery patterns available in my Etsy shop and start stitching!
If you need to learn more about hand embroidery tools and materials, I recommend reading these articles: