There are a variety of techniques to transfer an embroidery or needlepoint design to fabric. Select the embroidery design transfer method that will work the best for the complexity of your design and the color and texture of your fabric.
Here are seven (7) ways to transfer your embroidery design to fabric.
1. Trace using window or light box
This is my favorite method if the fabric is light weight enough to see the design to trace, using a Frixiron pen to trace the design onto my fabric. Here is how to trace an embroidery design on fabric using a window or light box:
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- Tape your design on a window or light box using painters tape.
- Lay your fabric over your design and tape it so that it doesn’t shift while you are tracing it.
- TIP: Painters tape works best because it doesn’t leave a sticky residue on your fabric and it easily comes off of the paper – and your window or light box!
- Trace your design to your fabric.
- Use a removable fabric marker to trace the design onto your fabric.
- I like to use a Frixion pen. It gives a nice sharp line for your embroidery. If you haven’t used these pens, try them. You can make a mark on the fabric, and when you are ready for the marks to be gone, just iron them away. Make sure to test on a corner of your fabric before transferring the pattern and stitching.
- Some people prefer the water soluble pens to mark their fabric, where the marks erase when the fabric is wet with cool water. Heat will set these marks, so keep away from heat until your embroidery dries naturally.
- Or, use a chalk pencil — or anything you have that can be removed from the fabric after the embroidery is done!
2. Transfer embroidery designs with iron on heat sensitive pens or pencils
Using an iron on heat sensitive pen or pencil is an easy method for simple designs you trace or freehand. The iron on heat sensitive pens don’t give a real sharp line, so they are better for embroidery designs without a lot of fine detail.
- Print or draw your embroidery pattern on paper.
- Trace or draw the around entire design with the special heat sensitive pen or pencil directly on the paper.
- Follow the directions for your pen or pencil to transfer the design to your fabric with an iron.
- If your design has a direction, when you turn the paper over to transfer the design to the fabric, it will be reversed. Example, if the design has words, they will be reversed. If you want it a specific direction, trace the design then turn the paper over and use the heat sensitive pen to trace the design and words. They will then be backwards. When you iron it to your fabric, the words and design will be correct! If you are designing it on your computer, there are options for reversing your design in many programs.
This method works well on heavier fabrics that light does not shine through with a light box or taping to a window. Check your product because the design may be permanent on your fabric. So don’t use with dainty lines or stitches that show the line, like the Daisy Stitch. This method is better for fill embroidery stitches like satin stitch, or heavier line stitches like the chain stitch.
3. Tracing paper for transferring embroidery designs.
Using tracing paper for an embroidery design is a great way to mark larger sections on your fabric for fill or outline embroidery. It’s not the best way to transfer small details or designs. It’s perfect if you want to freehand stitching with some basic lines, like baste some hills on a landscape design that you freehand in different stitches and colors to complete the project. You stitch through the paper, and then need to remove the paper.
- Trace your design onto tracing paper using any pencil or pen.
- Place your tracing paper on your fabric and baste through the design lines on your fabric. The basting lines become your embroidery pattern on your fabric.
- Once the entire pattern is basted, carefully remove the tracing paper. Now your pattern is ready for stitching.
- Follow your loose basting lines for your design.
- When you are finished with your embroidery design, carefully remove the basting lines.
This method works well on textured or thick fabrics that are difficult to mark with any of the above methods, or when you want to sketch in outlines to freehand your stitches with a little bit of guidance.
4. Transfer embroidery designs using water-soluble stabilizer.
This is a great option for embroidery designs with a lot of detail. All you do is put the water soluble stabilizer through your printer or copy your design using your printer. All of the little details are ready for you to stitch and you don’t need to trace or do anything!
There are many different water soluble stabilizers. Some may be ‘sticky’ to your needle, so be prepared. I keep a used dryer sheet handy to clean my needle if it gets goopy from the sticky from the stabilizer. Also, the finished embroidery is raised a little bit, due to the layer of stabilizer between your thread and fabric while stitching, on some designs I like the extra dimension on the finished embroidery.
- Print your embroidery design pattern directly on the stabilizer.
- Baste the stabilizer to your fabric before hooping, with the stabilizer on top of the right side of your fabric.
- Stitch through the stabilizer and fabric, using the pattern printed on the stabilizer.
- When completed, cut away excess stabilizer. This doesn’t need to be perfect, just makes it easier to get all of the stabilizer off of your finished piece if you take this little bit of time to remove the excess.
- Soak your piece to remove the remaining stabilizer, according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Using removable stabilizer to transfer embroidery designs is great for very intricate designs and fabrics that are hard to mark with other methods. The fabric and threads must be washable, and not bleed. We recommend testing all of your threads and fabric before trying this method. You’d hate to have something run and ruin your work.
Here is how to transfer letters to fabric using water-soluble stabilizer.
5. Use transfer paper to transfer a design to fabric.
Transfer paper is a great solution for detailed embroidery designs. Transfer papers come in a variety of colors, and most marks are easily removed with an eraser or damp cloth. Always test on a corner of your fabric before transferring your design. Here is how to transfer embroidery designs with transfer paper.
- Place your fabric on a hard surface.
- Place the embroidery transfer paper on top of your fabric, with the transfer side down.
- Then place your pattern on top of the transfer paper.
- I like to use painters tape to tape each layer down so they don’t shift while I’m tracing. The painters tape is easily removable but keeps everything secure.
- Trace around your pattern using a pen or stylus with moderate pressure to transfer the pattern to your fabric. I find that I need to go over each line several times with moderate pressure to get a good transfer. If you put too much pressure, it tears your paper and through the transfer paper. (As me how I know!)
- Carefully remove each layer and the painters tape.
- Have fun stitching!
This method works well with thicker fabrics where the light method doesn’t work, but not ones with a lot of texture. Also, you can purchase transfer paper in a variety of colors, so it works well with dark fabrics.
6. Use tissue paper to embroider letters
7. Use printer ink to transfer a design to fabric.
Many ink jet printer inks can be transferred to fabric or another surface with heat. I haven’t been as successful with toner ink. This is probably my least successful method to transfer embroidery designs. It works best if you try the heat transfer right after the paper is printed, while the ink is fresh.
- Print your pattern using your printer.
- Place the ink side of the paper to the right side of your fabric. This will reverse your image, so use a symmetrical pattern. If your design has text, you will want to reverse the image before printing.
- Press with a hot, dry iron. Carefully pull up an edge to see if the design has transferred trying not to shift the fabric or paper.
Note: Test this. Not all printer inks work. Also, sometimes it is a very faint line.
You’ll find favorite methods for different types of projects and fabrics. Most of all, have fun stitching!
Browse through all of the embroidery projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.