Learn how to transfer embroidery patterns. The delicate art of transferring designs to your piece of embroidery fabric can be challenging. What is the best way to get the beautiful design you have chosen onto the fabric ready for the embroidery thread?
How to Transfer Embroidery Patterns
Choosing the one best method to transfer embroidery will make all the difference to your embroidery experience. Look through these different methods and try them out before selecting the one that suits you and your design.
- Carbon transfer paper
- Direct drawing method
- Printer Ink
- Various transfer pens
- The prick and punch method
- Tracing wheel
- Heat transfer and pens
- Light source or lightbox method.
Some of these you may have heard of and tried, and some may be new ideas. Remember to try new ideas on a piece of scrap fabric first.
Prepare your fabric by pre-washing to avoid shrinkage and ironing out creases.
If you are new to embroidery have a read through my article on how to embroider to learn about tools, supplies and basic stitches.
Transfer Embroidery Methods
Carbon transfer paper
Using fabric carbon paper is a popular method of transferring designs that have been used by many embroiderers over the years. Fortunately, the quality of carbon paper has improved, and different colors are now available. Choose a color that is going to be clearly visible on your fabric. Lighter colors on darker fabric and darker colored carbon on lighter fabric. Note that fabric carbon paper is specially designed for fabrics and will not bleed and smudge like regular carbon paper.
How to Use Fabric Carbon Paper to Transfer Embroidery
The carbon side of the paper is placed face down on the fabric and the pattern to be transferred is placed face up over the carbon. The carbon and the pattern need to be secured to the fabric to avoid slipping. Using pins is the easiest way to do this.
A carbon pencil, stylus or an empty ballpoint pen make useful tools to draw the pattern and transfer it to the fabric.
Direct Drawing Method
Using different fabric pens, it is possible to draw directly onto the fabric.
Wash off pens, heat pens and even a pencil can be used for this method. If the design will totally cover the outlines, you can use a pencil. Otherwise if part of the outline will show, it is best to use removable fabric pens or chalk.
If you are going to wash your final product, direct drawing with water-soluble pens allows for a margin of error.
The disadvantage of this method is that you need to be able to draw reasonably well. If you are not great at freehand drawing, then skip to the next method.
It is possible to print directly onto fabric using a commercial fabric printer. The ink will be permanent, but the design will be accurate and well defined. The fabric weight and type will have to be considered before going ahead with this method. Softer lighter fabric will need some backing such as freezer paper to enable it to feed through the printer.
Fabric printing companies like Spoonflower also offer many different types of fabrics that can be printed. If you order a quantity of fabric you can even place several designs on it to save money.
For designs smaller than A4 or letter size, it is possible to use your home printer. Here is a tutorial on how to print fabric on your home computer. This is the method I used for making most of my embroidery samplers. I guess the biggest drawback is that you are limited in size and there is a small risk to your home printer. You will also need freezer paper which can be a little hard to purchase in some countries.
Extra tips for printing embroidery designs on a home printer.
- If you are not going to wash your embroidery, you will not need to set the ink with vinegar.
- Print in a light grey color instead of black to minimize the risk of any ink bleeding or smudging.
Various Transfer Pens
There are many commercial transfer embroidery pens available. It is important to try out the pen you choose to check the intensity of the color, the thickness of the tip and to find out if the pen is water-soluble or permanent.
Some pens are removed with heat and others are fade-out pens.
Fade out pens are not really practical because they don’t last for the time you may take to embroider. Permanent pens need to be covered over completely with embroidery as they will show and not be removable. Pens that can transfer the design and then be washed away will be less invasive and allow you to try out a design without the worry of a permanent stain.
The Prick and Punch Method
This is an old-fashioned method of transferring a design but somehow it still works and may be your best choice.
It can be a bit messy, but the advantage is your pricked or punched pattern is re-useable.
This method requires a traced pattern on some fine tracing paper. The tracing paper is placed on the fabric with the right sides facing the embroiderer. Then the lines of the pattern are punched through with a needle to make small holes. Carbon powder or colored chalk is brushed or dusted through the small holes to transfer the pattern to the fabric.
The Tracing Wheel
The tracing wheel, a wheel with small spikes on a handle, is also quite an old method of transferring patterns. It does work easily and favors larger designs.
All you need is your pattern on some tracing paper, the tracing wheel and some fabric carbon paper. (don't use regular carbon paper)
The wheel follows the line of the pattern as you push it along and the pattern transfers via the carbon as it pricks through the paper and onto the fabric.
This is a similar concept to the pricking method, but the wheel is easier to use and quicker. The disadvantage is the wheel may prick little holes into delicate fabrics.
Heat Transfer and Heat Pens
There are heat transfer pens available that will draw the design onto paper and then the design is transferred onto the fabric via the heat of an iron.
This method allows the embroiderer to make use of more intricate designs and trace them onto paper. This is similar to an iron-on transfer and works simply through the heat of the iron imprinting the design onto the fabric.
It is important with this method to be sure the design is going to transfer as you wish it to be shown and not upside down. Using tracing paper will help you see how the design is going to transfer.
Light Source or Lightbox method:
The light source method works really well to transfer designs directly onto the fabric. The light source can either come from a window or from an actual lightbox.
Lay out the design that has been traced on paper and then place the fabric over the pattern. Secure fabric and pattern firmly.
The light shines through the pattern and the fabric and as a result, it is possible to trace the pattern directly onto the fabric.
This is a great way to do repeat patterns as the patterns remain fixed to the light source and the fabric can be moved.
Transfer Embroidery - In Conclusion
These are the most popular ways to transfer embroidery designs. Try them all and follow your favorite. It's all about getting the delicate designs transferred and ready to be brought to life with your amazing stitches and colored cotton.
More Embroidery Articles
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- Buttonhole Stitch
- Chain Stitch
- Chevron Stitch
- Couching Stitch
- Cross Stitch
- Double Herringbone Stitch
- How to Embroider
- Faggoting Embroidery
- Feather Stitch
- Fern Stitch
- Fishbone Stitch
- Fly Stitch
- French Knots
- Hand Embroidery Stitches
- Herringbone Stitch
- Lazy Daisy
- Running Stitch
- Sashiko Embroidery
- Satin Stitch
- Seed Stitch Embroidery (Rice Stitch)
- Stem Stitch
- Straight Stitch
- Web Stitch | Embroidery Tutorial
- Whip Stitch
- Embroidery Leaves
- Embroidery Flowers
- How to Transfer Embroidery