How To Transfer Embroidery Designs to Fabric

Many Folkwear patterns include embroidery designs - to add traditional embroidery to folk garments and to add period embellishments to historic garments.  Some of our patterns have extensive embroidery designs (such as 101 Gaza Dress, 103 Romanian Blouse, 126 Vests of Greece and Poland, 114 Chinese Jacket).  And some have smaller designs that can be added as desired (113 Japanese Kimono, 209 Walking Skirt, 264 Monte Carlo Dress).  In our paper patterns, embroidery designs sometimes come on transfer paper so they can easily be moved to the garment to set up the embroidery.  But some patterns, and all of our PDF patterns, have designs on paper that you need to transfer yourself to the garment you wish to add them to.  

We are featuring our 264 Monte Carlo Dress pattern this month, and includes a number of Art Deco designs printed on transfer paper.  These are gorgeous added to the front of the dress - or to the tunic.  This blog post will show you how to transfer the designs (or any design) from paper to your fabric if you don't have designs printed on transfer paper.  We will show several techniques below that can be used for any of our patterns. 

Using Iron on Transfer Pencil

To use an iron-on transfer pencil (or transfer pens), print the embroidery pattern on regular paper, then trace the design with an iron-on transfer pencil.  

Tracing a design with transfer pencil

Then place the design down on your fabric with the pencil markings facing the fabric and press with a hot iron.

Embroidery design placed face down on fabric

Embroidery design transferred to muslin.

A couple of tips:
1.  These markings are permanent, so make sure you place your design right where you want it.  It cannot be moved after pressing.  Also make sure your pencil lines are not too wide that they will be seen after embroidery is complete.  And, make sure the markings you make are where you want them on the paper.  Mistakes will also transfer and cannot wash out.  So, if you make a mistake, just print another design and start again.
2.  You can use any color pencil, but make sure the markings will show up on your fabric.  For dark fabrics, use a lighter colored pencil (light blue or even white if you can find it).
3.  If you trace on top of the embroidery design, when you flip it over, you will be pressing the mirror image onto your fabric.  This is not a problem if your image is symmetrical.  But, if your image is asymmetrical and you want to transfer the exact image that is printed, you should trace the image from the back of the paper and press the back side to your fabric (again, side with pencil markings to fabric).  You can see how to do this in the photos below.

Tracing embroidery design with transfer pencil.

Embroidery design on cloth ready to press

Pressing embroidery design

Embroidery design transferred to cloth.

Using Water Soluble Pens

Water-soluble pens create marks that wash off easily in water - also called water erasable pens.  I often use washable Crayola markers when sewing, but usually the water soluble pens have a much more fine tip and are great for making more precise markings or fine lines so are perfect for embroidery transfer.  

They are best used for lighter-colored fabrics.  You can often set the printed design under the fabric and trace it right onto your fabric with the pen.  If it is too hard to see through the fabric to trace on a table, you can use a light table or a window, or even an iPad (or device) if your embroidery pattern is digital.  Tape your embroidery design on a light filled window and secure (tape) your fabric to the window over the design.  Then trace the design on to the fabric. I show how to do this in the photos below.  Make sure to secure your fabric well on the table or window so it does not shift easily when tracing - pattern weights or tape can work well.  You could even tape the design to the back of the fabric to keep it secure. 

Tracing the design through semi-sheer voile fabric, directly onto the fabric:

Tracing design onto fabric.

Using a window to trace the design onto fabric: 

Embroidery design taped on window

Cloth over embroidery design

Tracing embroidery design on window

Embroidery design transferred

The nice thing about these pens is the markings wash away.  So, if you make a mistake, you can wash it off, or if you decide to change your design, it is easy to do.  And the lines wash away when you are done embroidering (in case you went "out of the lines" when sewing).  However, the lines can be very light and can disappear over a few days.  It's not a bad idea to re-trace them, and if your embroidery takes a few days to complete, re-trace the lines often.

Using Carbon Paper (helpful for dark fabrics)

Dressmakers carbon paper is a great way to transfer embroidery designs, especially on dark or heavy fabrics.  It is easiest to use white or light colored carbon paper so you can see the embroidery design through it.  Carbon paper is also great because it does not leave permanent marks.

First lightly trace the design onto the paper side (back side) of your carbon paper. 

Tracing a pattern on paper

Then, place the carbon paper over your fabric and using a pen (the cheap, round tip pens work well) trace over the design you just traced with the pencil, pressing harder through the paper.  You don't want to puncture the paper, just press into it.  The design transfers to your fabric!

Embroidery design over dark fabric

re-tracing embroidery design over dark fabric

embroidery design traced with a pen

embroidery design transferred to dark fabric

Depending on how well the design transfers (and your fabric), it might be a good idea to re-trace the design after removing the carbon paper to make the lines more distinct.  If you use a non-washable pen (like a white gel pen) to re-trace lines, just be aware that those lines will will be permanent, but likely covered by embroidery.  For a washable marking, you can use a quilters chalk pencil with a fine tip. The carbon paper lines can smudge if you are doing a lot of work or working on the project over several days, so re-tracing can be helpful.  

Other Transfer Options

There are several other ways to transfer designs.  If your design is digital, or can be printed, you can print it on a regular home printer on transfer paper that can the be ironed onto your fabric, transferring the design. Usually these transfers are permanent, but there are some options that claim to be wash-away. There are also papers you can print on then pin or baste over your fabric, stitching through paper and fabric, which then wash away (dissolve) in water when you are finished stitching.

Prick and Pounce.  This technique involves pricking small holes along the paper in the shape of the embroidery design (i.e. over your printed design), dusting chalk powder over the holes so they come through on your fabric.  This technique is easiest if the design is very simple with longer lines.  A needle point tracer wheel is good to use for this technique. And, I usually trace the design with a water soluble pen or other tool afterward because the lines can rub away fairly easily.

I hope these give you some good ideas on how to easily transfer embroidery designs to fabric.  Do you embroider?  What are your favorite methods of transferring patterns to fabric?