7 Easy Ways to Transfer Embroidery Patterns To Fabric

You have an embroidery design you want to stitch, so now, what’s the easiest way to transfer an embroidery pattern to your fabric? Here are some of the easiest methods you can use to set yourself up for success.

This post is a part of a series about how to embroider for beginners.

Disclaimer: This post has some affiliate links in it. I receive a small commission from purchases at no additional cost to the buyer. I only recommend products I would use and love and that are of good quality. All opinions are my own!

How To Transfer Embroidery Patterns Onto Fabric 

Choosing the right method for your particular embroidery project is important so that you end up with a high quality design to follow while you’re embroidering. 

While you mostly can’t go wrong in which method you choose, certain techniques work better for different materials, designs, and styles of embroidery. 

The transfer method you choose depends on a variety of factors:

  • what type of fabric you plan to use
  • the color of the fabric
  • if you prefer the markings to be permanent or temporary
  • what size the finished design will be
  • the level of detail in the design

Tracing Embroidery Patterns

The tracing method is a great way to transfer designs because it requires very little supplies.

Tracing is the ideal technique to use for simple designs, light-colored fabrics, and lightweight material that you can slightly see through.

All you need is something to mark the fabric, a design, and a light source. (A light box, sunny window, or iPad screen works well.)

water soluble marker on fabric
drawing on fabric with a heat erasable frixion pen

What can I use for tracing patterns?

Water soluble markers, pencils, heat erasable pens, and chalk are all great tools to use for tracing the design.

Here are two of the most popular choices:

  • Water soluble markers – use for simpler designs on light fabric or with larger designs that require a lot of handling
  • Frixion heat erasable pens – Use for more detailed designs because they have a fine, ballpoint tip. The marks don’t fade with handling so these pens are also great to use for larger projects. Use on lighter fabrics since they generally come in black or red ink.

All of these options are easily removed, so no lines will show underneath your work when you’re finished with the embroidery.

how to trace a design onto fabric

How To Trace a Design On Fabric

  • Draw or print the desired pattern onto paper.
  • Place the embroidery fabric in the embroidery hoop – this will help you visualize the design better and prevent the fabric from moving around while you’re tracing.
  • Tape the printed pattern onto a sunny window or light box.
  • Place the hooped fabric face down against the pattern and trace.

Helpful Tips: If you’re having trouble seeing the design, make the design lines darker or try inverting the image or design. If you’re using an iPad, you can turn on guided access so the screen doesn’t move while you’re tracing.

tear away stabilizer with embroidery design on it. The stabilizer is secured with basting stitches

Tracing Paper or Tear Away Stabilizer

Using tracing paper or tear away stabilizer is another easy way to get your designs onto the fabric. It’s widely available at most stores, making it a great transfer solution.

This method is great to use for smaller designs that fit in an embroidery hoop. You can use it for darker fabrics that are harder to trace through, for more textured fabrics such as felt, and for designs that you don’t want to permanently mark the fabric.

How to use

  • Place the paper on top of the design you would like to use.
  • Using a pen or pencil, trace the design onto the paper.
  • Trim the paper, leaving an inch or so margin around the design.
  • Secure the paper on top of the fabric using a pin or two and make a loose basting stitch along the edge to secure it to the fabric. Then you’re ready to start stitching.
  • When you’re done, tear away the paper and remove the basting stitches!
how to use iron on transfer paper

Iron On Transfer Paper

The next method involves using an iron on embroidery pencil and transfer paper.

Heat transfer pencils are great for thicker fabrics you can’t see through and for more intricate designs. Use them only if you are confident you will cover up all of the marks with your stitches because this method is permanent.

Be aware that this technique will produce a mirror image of the design. Make sure you invert your design before getting started!

How to Make Iron On Embroidery Transfers

  1. Place tracing paper over the design you want to transfer. It’s helpful to secure both layers to a flat surface.
  2. Using the iron on pencil, trace firmly over the design.
  3. Once you are finished tracing, make sure to shake and wipe away any leftover pencil shavings as these will be transferred to the fabric if they are left there.
  4. Place the tracing paper face down onto the piece of fabric. Use some tape to secure it to the fabric so nothing moves while you’re ironing it.
  5. Apply a hot iron (cotton/wool setting) on top of the tracing paper, pressing firmly and moving all across the tracing paper. Run it across the paper several times to ensure the pattern is adequately transferred.

Carbon Transfer Paper

Carbon transfer paper is a relatively quick and easy method. It is available in white chalk and black carbon, which makes it a great option for any color of fabric.

It’s great to use for smaller projects and simpler designs that won’t be handled too much. Can also be used for thicker fabrics that you can’t easily trace through. Marks can be removed from the fabric relatively easily.

how to use transfer embroidery patterns to fabric using transfer paper

How To Use Transfer Paper

  • On a flat, hard surface, place the carbon paper on top of the fabric so the back of the paper (white side) is facing you and the carbon side is touching the fabric.
  • Place the paper pattern on top. It’s helpful to tape everything down so it doesn’t shift while you’re tracing.
  • Using a pencil or pen with a fine tip, firmly trace over the design. 
  • Keeping the papers in place, carefully peel back the paper and peek at the fabric to see if the design transferred well. Go back over any areas as needed.
example of embroidery stabilizer used to transfer pattern to fabric

Water Soluble Embroidery Stabilizer

A personal favorite of mine to use is this water-soluble Solvy sheet.

This stabilizer is a little bit more expensive, but it is great to use for more detailed embroidery designs. It can be used on darker fabrics or articles of clothing that are harder to trace through and works well with textured fabrics like felt.

How To Use

The stabilizer is translucent, making it super easy to trace directly on it using a permanent marker such as a micron. Then you can place the stencil on top of the fabric and into the hoop. When you’re finished, rinse under running water to dissolve it.

Tip: It’s always a good idea to test out whatever marker you are using with this stabilizer on a swatch of the fabric to make sure the marker doesn’t bleed.

printable embroidery pattern paper with butterfly design on it

Printable Embroidery Transfer Paper

Sulky Stitch N Stitch Stabilizer makes it so easy to print out digital designs from pdf patterns.

From knit fabrics to denim, this method is my favorite way to transfer designs for embroidery on clothing. It also acts as a stabilizer for thin or fragile fabrics. The marks show up well on darker fabrics and it’s a convenient way to transfer patterns to felt too!

The sheets fit perfectly in your home printer. You can use an inkjet or a laser printer. Once you’ve printed onto the paper, cut out your design and stick it directly onto the fabric. When you’re finished stitching, the stabilizer dissolves in warm water. For even more tips on how to use it, check out this post.

Printing A Design Or Image Directly On The Fabric

I don’t personally use this method, but there are many people that swear by printing directly onto the fabric. This is another method that would be permanent, but it seems like it would be really convenient for more elaborate patterns and designs. You could even print out an image in color and embellish it with stitches!

Learn how in this video.

How To Transfer Embroidery Patterns onto Dark Fabrics

Transferring embroidery patterns onto dark fabrics poses a bit of a challenge sometimes. A blue water soluble marker isn’t going to do the trick, and what if you can’t see through the fabric to trace the design?!

Stick n’ stitch is usually what I like to use for dark fabrics. However, if you don’t have that on hand, both of the following methods work really well. Just be careful about touching the design, as the marks can wear off a bit easier!

white transfer pencil and pen

White Water Soluble Pencils/Chalk Pencils

Water soluble pencils and chalk pencils are white so they show up well on dark fabric. If you’re able to see through your fabric or just want to freehand your design, these work well. The marks are easily removed with water when you’re finished.

White pencils are ideal for darker fabrics and smaller, simpler projects that you can fit in an embroidery hoop. Avoid over handling the project: the marks can come out easily.

I have had the best results with the Bohin mechanical chalk pencil and Clover’s white marking pen. The lines stay relatively well and they both have very fine tips.

Saral white transfer paper

Saral White Transfer Paper

This method is by far the easiest to use for dark fabrics. It’s used the same way as carbon transfer paper, but has chalk on it instead of carbon!

Great for smaller projects and fabrics that are harder to trace through. Easily removable from the fabric.

Tip: If you have trouble with the marks coming off too easily, you could go back over the design with a Clover white marking pen.


As you can see, there are so many different tools available to choose from, which makes transferring designs a breeze.

I hope these ideas were helpful for you so that you can find the methods that work the best for you!

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