Transfer Embroidery designs on Fabric (10 Best ways)

Learn the best ways to transfer embroidery designs to fabric.
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how to transfer embroidery designs to fabric

Transferring embroidery designs on the fabric is the first step to beautiful embroidery. You see a beautiful design in a magazine, but how to copy it onto your fabric.

For an embroidery expert, this is the least of their worry, but for a beginner in embroidery, this is the first roadblock. Another worry is when you want the same design on many projects. You have to know how to make multiple copies of the same design in the same way.

With the methods given below you can just find your embroidery design, copy it to your fabric and start your work. Easy peasy.

How to transfer embroidery designs

Sometimes simply transferring the designs is not enough. There are the grid  lines used in cross-stitching, canvas embroidery etc. The advantage of these grids is that you can simply copy those grid lines and do the work on even weave fabrics and you will get an exact copy of the design.

The cross stitch charts available at shops give exact charts with colors marked on them (simple grid lines are great for simple designs but with different shades of colors, you need these color markings ) – they will have Symbols indicating the color of each point. Some other embroidery techniques using lines and stitch blocks, such as Hardanger embroidery and Holbein stitch, require a special pattern that considers voids, outlines, and subsequent fills.

If you are looking for easy methods for making cross stitch designs, check out the tutorial

Different methods for transferring embroidery designs

Direct Drawing method

Drawing free hand with the help of a pencil / water soluble pen on the fabric directly is the easiest method for transferring the embroidery designs. If the designs are big, you can use chalk. You can use silver pencils or light colored pencils on dark fabrics

drawing pencils for transfering embroidery
Drawing pencils for transfering embroidery

It is better if you keep the fabric stretched on the embroidery hoop when you draw the picture.

Simple designs can be drawn by even those who think they cannot draw, as can be seen in this post on easy floral embroidery designs which start as scribbles. You should be making firm lines rather than shaky or flaky lines with the marking pen/pencil. 

Dress maker’s Carbon Paper method.

Do not confuse a dress maker’s carbon with the normal office carbon. You will get smudge marks if you use the office carbon but not with the dress maker’s carbon.

This is a very suitable method even for very complex designs. You get the carbon paper in many colors-the common colors are red, green, yellow, blue and white. You should be using the light colored sheets on dark colored fabric and dark colored sheets on light colored fabric for the design to be visible.

The marks will disappear after a wash, even the ones with office carbon. Even if some marks remain with embroidery, these will be embroidered over.

How to transfer using the carbon paper sheet

  1. Keep the fabric on a hard, flat and smooth  surface.
  2. Place the carbon sheet, the carbon side down on the fabric where you want the design on.
  3. Keep the paper with the design right side up on top of the carbon.You can pin it to the fabric for preventing it moving.
  4. Trace the design with a pencil firmly but gently.

Printer Ink method

This involves 2 ways – one way is transferring the designs printed on the paper using laser printer. This is transferred using heat to the fabric, as most of the laser ink transfers to the fabric. But the drawback is that when making complex designs this maynot work so effectively as the transfer may not come out very dark.

The second way involves printing the fabric using an inkjet printer. The fabric should be of the dimension which is accepted in the printer. You will have to adhere a light interfacing behind the fabric for it to be fed properly into the printer. The disadvantage is that the marks made by the printer ink may be permanent and hence will have to be covered fully with embroidery. (Checkout the tutorial on Printing on fabric with an inkjet printer ). You can get it printed at special shops which print on fabric/t-shirts.

Light method

You can make use of the transparent property of light to transfer the embroidery designs on to fabric. The simple method involves keeping the fabric and design on a piece of transparent glass ( a windowpane would work) against bright light. You can easily trace the design which  will show through the lighted transparent glass .  

A little more complicated method involves using a light box. Checkout this diy lightbox tutorial.

Very convenient light tables are available with LED lights behind through which you can trace even the most complicated designs on the most opaque of clothes. I have not used it but the users vouch for its convenience.

  1. Keep the design on the glass table. Then fabric on top.
  2. Keep pattern weights on the design so that it would not shift. 
  3. Trace the outline of the design which you can see through the fabric. 

Prick method

This is a much preferred method in commercial hand embroidery set ups, where they have to make many designs of the same kind all over the fabric. Repeated motifs are very often traced using this method as a single design can be used again and again. In fact, this is the most decided benefit of this method as the tracing can be used many times.

A stiff tracing paper/butter paper is used. You will need a medium-sized pointed sharp needle, charcoal powder (for light-colored fabric), or powdered chalk ( for dark colored fabric). I have heard even talcum powder is used.

For making a liquid you should have kerosene though the smell is horrible. Considering that it is used by many experts, maybe the smell disappears soon. I do not have the guts to try.

  1. First trace the design on the butter paper/tracing paper using a pencil, keeping it on top of the design using a pencil
  2. Take a sharp needle and prick all along the outline of the design, very closely.Spacing the holes some 1/6th of an inch is ideal
  3. Using a fine sand paper gently rub the holes to remove the roughness. 
  4. Keep the tracing sheet on the fabric and hold it firmly by keeping pattern weights.
  5. Dab a small piece of fabric in kerosene. Then dip it in the powdered chalk. You can also dilute chalk powder in kerosene ( Don’t be bothered if you cannot find kerosene – this is how the professionals do it- I have heard that ‘thinner’ work as well as kerosene in diluting the chalk powder) 
  6. Keep the butter paper on top of the fabric ( the pricked side touching the fabric)
  7. Rub the fabric dipped in chalk powder on the pricked holes. A pounce pad (a small roll of felt bound in the middle) can also be used with dry powder. 
  8. Take off the paper. Remove the excess loose powder from the fabric.
  9. Connect the dots using a pencil or water soluble pen. A fine brush with water colour is used to trace the lines by professionals. A blue or yellow colour paint  is used

The small holes  should be spaced out not close enough to run together into a large hole and yet sufficiently close to give a good impression of the drawn lines of the design. Checkout this video which shows the way the professionals do this. 

Tracing wheel method

tracing wheel used to transfer embroidery designs

I use this method all the time as it is very easy to do. The only drawback is the teeth of the tracing wheel can destroy the design sheet after one or two uses. You had better make a copy of the original design to do this. 

  1. Keep the design on the fabric
  2. Draw over the design outline using a tracing wheel. 
  3. The teeth of the tracing wheel will make a fine dotted line on the fabric 
  4. Take off the design and draw over the outline with a pencil or water-soluble pen. 
  5. If you keep the carbon sheet between the design and fabric this will create a fine line which is very decipherable. 

Transfer paper method

This is a very popular method used by professional embroidery experts as you can transfer a wide range of complex designs on fabric. You will need a tried and tested quality transfer sheet.

Transfer paper is printed on your household printer or bought with the design and is used to transfer images onto the fabric surface with heat (Iron or heat press). The inkjet printed method results in a stiff design. 

Embroidery transfers/ water decal transfer paper (the trasfer paper is removed after transfering the design with water) are the best. The drape and softness of the fabric is retained. You can buy the water decal paper and get it printed/copied at the printing shops. 

Steps on using the transfer paper

  1. Keep the transfer paper on the design.
  2. Heat sealing wax to the proper consistency. ( It should be warm throughout the process)
  3. Using a fine brush draw outlines of the design using the wax
  4. Place the waxed side against the fabric and apply hot iron on the wrong side which is facing you. This will transfer the design on to the fabric

Tacking method

The design which is traced on to a tracing paper is kept on the fabric and running stitch by hand is used to outline the embroidery design on to the fabric. This is used mostly on very textured fabrics like velvet, suede Felts and other piled fabrics, which cannot be marked with any of the former methods. 

1.Keep the fabric on a frame. 

2.Keep the design transfer paper on the fabric. 

3.Work running stitches along the line of the design through the paper and fabric. Ensure that at the starting and ending you have anchored the thread on the fabric with back stitches

4.After the outline is done pull the fabric gently away

An easy method is to use a basting stitch on your sewing machine. 

Water-soluble transfer materials method.

You can use a stabilizer with a self-adhesive backing or a very light interfacing sheet on which you can print / copy / draw the embroidery designs. With a stabilizer sheet like the  Printable Sticky Fabri-Solvy Stabilizer, you can stick it on to the fabric after peeling off the backing sheet. Do the embroidery. Afterward, when you wash the fabric the stabilizer washes way fully. Very convenient but slightly expensive method.

Enlarge and transfer embroidery design

This is the method used when you have a small design and you have to embroider this to a large area. You have to enlarge the design and then work. The method is simple enough.

First, take a printout of the design. Draw this on a paper with a grid pattern or draw the grid pattern on the printout itself. Draw the outline of the design as a rectangle very close to the design. Draw a diagonal line across the design as well.

Now draw a rectangle in the shape you want on a large paper with the diagonal lines as well.

Count how many tiles are in the smaller drawing. You should mark this many sqaures on the bigger rectangle as well; ie the smaller rectangle of the design and large rectangle should have the same number of squares.

Now take a pencil and copy and draw the pattern on the small rectangle to the big rectangle grids. The same lines of the patterns should be copied

To make your embroidery pattern smaller, reverse the instructions.

Related posts

Beginner’s Guide to Embroider on your Clothes; Ddifferent embroidery styles; Hand embroidery stitch tutorials. ; How to embroider flowers ; how to stitch a leaf; Small and cute embroidery designs for bed linen; 7 FAQ on learning hand embroidery

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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