You have your embroidery design you want to stitch, so now, what’s the easiest way to transfer an embroidery pattern to your fabric? Here are over 10 easy methods and products you can use, several of which you can use to transfer patterns to darker fabrics!
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, there are some methods that work better for different materials, designs, and styles of embroidery. I’ve experienced firsthand how frustrating it can be to not have a good design to follow, so I’ll be sharing some of the considerations to keep in mind so you can choose the best method for you.
Embroidery Transfer Methods
- How To Transfer Embroidery Patterns Onto Fabric
- Embroidery Transfer Methods
- How To Transfer Embroidery Patterns onto Dark Fabrics
Before you get started on a project, here are a few questions you’ll want to ask yourself.
- What type of fabric do I plan to use?
- What color will the fabric be?
- Do I mind if the stencil is permanent or do I want something that washes away?
- What size is the project and will I be using an embroidery hoop?
- How detailed do I need the design to be?
The tracing method is a great way to transfer designs because it requires very little supplies. All you need is something to mark the fabric, a design, and a light source. This can be a light box, sunny window, tablet screen, or iPad.
Tracing is ideal to use for simple designs, light-colored fabrics, and lightweight material that you can slightly see through. Cotton and linen fabric usually works well.
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.
Water Soluble Pens
A water soluble pen is a great choice because they wash away when you’re finished stitching, so no lines will show underneath your work.
When I first started using them, I was concerned that the moisture of my hand would make the marker disappear. To my surprise, these markers stay visible on the fabric for a long time and don’t easily fade unless they are deliberately washed off.
The brand I regularly use and recommend is Leonis. These markers last a long time and have a fine tip. You can purchase packs of them on Amazon.
I’ve also tried out various fabric markers you can find at most craft stores, but they didn’t seem to be very good quality. The tip is not as fine, the marks aren’t as vivid, and they run out rather quickly.
Tip: The marks made by these markers will temporarily disappear if you dab with a damp cloth, but I’ve found they will sometimes reappear when the fabric dries. To avoid this, make sure to thoroughly rinse the embroidery under running water when you’re done.
Great to use for simpler designs on light fabrics. Also ideal for larger designs that may require a lot of handling.
Heat Erasable Pens
Another easy way to draw directly onto fabric is with heat erasable pens.
I use Frixion pens when I’m confident I will cover up most if not all of the marks on the fabric with my embroidery stitches. This is because the marks don’t always completely disappear on certain fabrics as they can leave “ghost lines”. I recommend testing them out before using them. I also did an in-depth review of the Pilot Frixion heat erasable pen if you’re interested in learning more about them.
Once you’re done with your design, the marks will disappear with heat by using a blow dryer or an iron.
Great to use for more detailed designs because they have a ballpoint pen 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.
How To Trace a Design On Fabric
- Draw or print the desired pattern onto paper and find a bright window or light source.
- Place the embroidery fabric in the embroidery hoop – this will pull the fabric tight so it won’t move around while you’re tracing. It will also allow you to see the design better!
- Tape the paper with the printed pattern onto a sunny window or on top of the light source.
- Place the fabric and embroidery hoop face down against the pattern and trace.
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.
Tracing Paper / Tear Away Stabilizer
Using tracing paper or tear away stabilizer is an easy way to get your designs onto the fabric. It’s widely available at most stores, making it a great transfer solution. It can tear easily so make sure you choose a sheet that isn’t super thin or flimsy.
Pellon tear away stabilizer is a great alternative that is a bit more flexible and durable.
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!
Use for smaller designs that fit in an embroidery hoop. You can use this method 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.
Iron On Transfer Paper
The next method involves using an iron on embroidery pencil and transfer paper. This pencil is great if you don’t have a lightbox or window to work with because you can draw your design onto a piece of tracing paper and then iron the pattern directly onto the fabric!
Just remember that your image will be a mirror image when doing this so make sure any text is backward on your stencil! Also, this stencil will not come off so if you’re concerned about the stencil showing through your embroidery work, I’d go with another transfer method.
How to Make Iron On Embroidery Transfers
- Place tracing paper over the design you want to transfer.
- Trace with a pen first (DO NOT use the iron on pencil because you will be inverting the image and tracing it in the next step. You’ll get the iron on pencil all over the iron if you do this!)
- Flip the tracing paper over and trace the design (which will now be a mirror image) with the iron on pencil, pressing firmly.
- Make sure to shake and wipe away any leftover pencil shavings as these will be transferred to the fabric if you don’t.
- Place the tracing paper face down onto the piece of fabric. You may want to pin it to the fabric or make sure to hold firmly so the design doesn’t move when using the iron.
- Apply hot iron (cotton/wool setting) on top of tracing paper, pressing firmly and moving all across the tracing paper. Do this several times to ensure the pattern is adequately transferred.
Heat transfer pencils are great for thicker fabrics you can’t see through and more intricate designs. Use when you are confident you will cover up all of the lines with your stitches as this method is permanent.
Carbon Transfer Paper
Carbon transfer paper is a relatively quick and easy method. You can usually find this paper at most craft stores where the paper and illustration goods are. It’s also available on Amazon.
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.
Great to use for smaller projects and simpler designs that won’t be handled too much. Can also be used for thick, light colored fabrics. Marks can be removed from the fabric relatively easily.
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 than some of the other ways, but it is great to use for more detailed embroidery designs.
Even though the Solvy is relatively lightweight, it is surprisingly durable and doesn’t tear easily. This product comes in several different weights. The light and medium weights are best to use for hand embroidery.
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, just rinse under running water and the stabilizer dissolves.
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.
Ideal to use for intricate design and projects, such as thread painting. Can be used on darker fabrics or articles of clothing that are harder to trace through. Also great to use on more textured fabrics like felt.
Printable Embroidery Transfer Paper
Sulky Stitch N Stitch Stabilizer makes it so easy to print out digital designs from pdf patterns. The sheets fit in your home printer and are the size of A4 sheets of paper. You can use an inkjet or a laser printer. Once you’ve printed it out, 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.
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!
Pouncing / Perforation
Pouncing is a very old method that is not used very often anymore. Mostly because it’s a little more complicated and not really necessary now that there are newer products to use. However, I wanted to briefly mention it in this post because it’s still a valid way to transfer patterns and I love learning and sharing about the way people used to do things!
To do this, you use a needle to poke little holes in a piece of paper along the lines of a design. Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book recommends that you “Break a needle in half and set it into the eraser of an ordinary pencil.” (Wilson, 19)
Then you rub powdered charcoal or carbon on top of the paper so that it ends up transferring to the fabric through the holes.
Finally, some sort of ink is used to paint over the design to set it in place on the fabric.
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 Water Soluble Pencils/Chalk Pencils
Water soluble pencils and chalk pencils are white and they show up well on dark fabric. If you’re able to see through your fabric or just want to draw your design freehand, these work well. The marks are easily removed with water when you’re finished.
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.
Saral White Transfer Paper
This method is by far the easiest to use for dark fabrics. Saral transfer paper is a great choice if you have fabric you can’t see through well enough to trace the design. It’s used the same as carbon transfer paper, but has chalk on it instead of carbon!
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.
Great for smaller projects and fabrics that are harder to trace through. Easily removable from the fabric.
There are so many different tools available to choose from, which makes it easy and sometimes fun to try out new products for transferring designs.
I hope these ideas were helpful for you so that you can find the method(s) that work the best for your next embroidery project.
Amanda is a hand embroidery artist and teacher. With over 15 years of experience in the craft industry and embroidery, she owns and runs Crewel Ghoul, sharing tutorials and patterns to help inspire fellow crafters to get inspired and creative. In addition to running this website, she teaches on Skillshare and Youtube.