Monday, April 25, 2016

Transferring the Design to Fabric - Lesson Two Embroidery School

Welcome to lesson two of Embroidery School. Now that you have your basic supplies (lesson one), you need to get the fabric ready for stitching. So how do you get your drawing or pattern onto the fabric?


    •    tracing
    •    transfer pencil or pen
    •    dressmaker's carbon paper
    •    rubbing
    •    laser printer
    •    inkjet printer
    •    adhesive, fabric-like, water soluble stabilizer

Print or trace the design onto white paper or tracing paper. Tape this to a window or light box. Place the fabric over it, right side up, centering the design where you'd like it to appear. Tape the fabric in place. Trace the design using a sharp pencil or fine pen.

Transfer pen or pencil:
Print the design in reverse. Draw over the pattern lines with a transfer pencil or pen. Place this paper image side down onto the fabric and iron on with a hot iron, pressing hard. Lines are permanent but stitching should cover the transferred design. 

Dressmaker's carbon paper:
This is a thick waxy paper unlike office carbon paper which smudges easily. Iron the fabric well, and place it right side up on a flat surface. Use a light color carbon paper on dark fabrics and a dark color carbon paper for light fabrics. Tape the colored side of the carbon paper to the fabric. Position the pattern design on top and use a pen, pencil, stylus, or pointy end of a paint brush to trace over the design lines. Be careful not to press so hard you tear through the papers.

Print the design or trace it onto regular or tracing paper. Turn it over and go over the lines with a regular graphite pencil. Place the design where desired on the right side of the fabric and rub across the design back with your fingernail or rounded end of a sewing tool. These marks are very temporary and will start to disappear even as you work. You can lightly go over the lines with a very sharp pencil to clarify the lines.

Laser printer:
I have not tried laser printers for transferring designs. I have heard it's not a very good method. Laser printers do not infuse fabric or paper with ink, but actually fuse plastic and pigment to the top of the paper/fabric. But there are some who use this method so it is an option.

Inkjet printer #1:
There are special iron-on transfer papers made for inkjet printers. Print the design in reverse, turn the image onto the right side of the fabric, and iron on.

Inkjet printer #2:
You can buy sheets of stiffened fabric that will go through the printer, or you can cut freezer paper (Reynold's or Sew Easy brands) paper-sized. Iron the plastic side to fabric. Trim fabric to the edges to make a stabilized fabric sheet. Print directly onto the fabric sheet and peel off the freezer paper. I've reused my freezer paper sheets at least ten times each. Freezer paper can also be purchased precut in paper sizes.

Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy:
(I have never used this. This is what I was told by a friend of mine.) You can trace or print on these sheets, peel off the backing, stick them to the fabric, and embroider through both the Solvy and your hooped fabric. Soak the finished work in warm water, watch this stuff disintegrate, and then dry the fabric.

Transferring the design to dark fabric

You can transfer a design to dark fabric in most of the ways described above. In the case of embroidery transfer paper, you'll need the lighter colored sheets. Same goes for iron-on transfer pencil - you need the white or yellow one. If you print the design onto the fabric, you'll need to create a document that can print in a light yellow or very light blue or red. If the fabric is dark but not so dark you can't see the drawing when held up against a window, there's some chance you could trace it with a white sewing marking pencil.

Pens and pencils

I trace or rub using a pencil usually. I use a standard HB (AUS) or #2 (US) pencil. I had to stop using my childhood standard Ticonderoga pencil because the last pack I bought while in the US seems to be of such terrible quality that the writing wipes off even paper with a simple swipe of the finger.

I have also tried very fine line pens and was sorely disappointed to find most were not waterproof. This is not a problem as I'm not washing my hoop art, but when ironing the work, even a little moisture can make the ink run. 

I found Artline Drawing System pens at my nearby newsagent. They are pigment ink and water resistant. I use the 0.2 or 0.1 size. They are also available at art supply shops. I LOVE these. I use these for drawing my final pattern image to make the PDFs and I have also used them directly on the fabrics I embroider.

I haven't cracked open this pack, but was introduced to the Pilot Frixion erasable pen at Caloundra Sewing Centre where I buy my embroidery fabric. This pen miraculously disappears when ironed. Remember to transfer the pattern after you iron the fabric. Stitch it up and when you iron again, any lines showing will disappear. You can buy this pen at Woolies (Australia). 

Hey, you did it! You've completed lesson two of Embroidery School. Lesson One: Choosing and Using Embroidery Tools is here if you missed it.

Lesson three will be posted in several parts because it's all about how to make those fabulous embroidery stitches. Those posts will be put together as one handy PDF for you also. Stay tuned and Happy Stitching!


  1. Fantastic! I'll give the laser printer technique a go and let you know how it goes! I've also heard a lot of people say that Frixion pens are great for temporary fabric marking. I used one to take notes on a piece of paper a couple of months ago, then decided I wanted to print something on the back of the sheet of paper. But when it came out nice and hot from the laser printer, all the pen markings had disappear! Agh! So heat definitely does erase Frixion ink!:) Lisa

    1. Yes, please! I would love to hear how laser printer transfer works and update the post. That must have been a surprise to discover about the pens. I hope you were able to remember your notes. :-) If one of my lists disappeared, I'd be lost!

  2. Thanks Allison. Another fantastic lesson.

    1. Yay! Heather's here! Thanks for joining me at Embroidery School!

  3. Allison, where did you buy your freezer paper from? It is used a lot in the US and I have heard you can buy it somewhere here...perhaps Spotlight...but it is quite expensive apparently.

    1. Hey, Nanna Chel! How are you doing? Nice to see you here. Well, I bought two metres of Reynold's freezer paper (the US brand) at a local quilting shop in Beerwah QLD. Then I was able to buy a whole roll of Sew Easy (thicker style) brand from another local shop as the owner said she ordered too many. I've heard Spotlight does have it and it's generally expected to be about $1.40 a metre. You can buy a whole roll online for about $20 plus shipping. You'll be able to cut 6 A4 paper sized sheets from one metre, but each one can be used many times over. The piece I'm using now has already been used about 15 times and still irons to the fabric great! So even one metre will last you some time if you're just using it now and then. Not so expensive when you realize how long each piece can be re-used.

    2. I meant to add, it's used often in applique, so if you don't want to trek to Spotlight, your local quilting shop should carry Reynold's and/or Sew Easy brand. There is a very thin one (Sew Easy brand, I think). Don't get that.

    3. Thanks Allison, we have a few quilting shops here so I will check them out. Much appreciated.

  4. I have used the Sulky sticky transfer paper, it is great I just print the design using my printer on to the transfer paper, which goes thru the printer. Stick to my fabric and stitch, soak it in water. So much easier.

    1. Thanks for mentioning it. I have heard of this and some people swear by it. I'm not completely in love with the soaking and removing all the fiddly bits of dissolved wood pulp/glue mix which can be difficult to remove once dry. Since I am able to print right on the fabric, it seems unnecessary, but I have also heard of folks tracing or printing onto tissue paper and using it the same way. It's a personal thing, I'm sure. Since I tend to do more art embroidery, I need to see the actual fabric. For outlined characters and simple designs, it could be very useful.