When it comes to hand embroidery, the creativity never ends. Although you’re only using three items – a thread, a needle, and a piece of fabric, the ideas are endless!
Get started by transferring embroidery patterns on to your fabric to guide your hand embroidery.
You can outline a design or transfer an embroidery pattern on to your fabric in several different ways. You’ll likely pick one as your favorite but it’s worth getting an idea of the different options, so you know what’s available. Give each a try and find out which one you like best.
Transfer Paper for Embroidery Patterns
Transfer papers are one of the best methods to transferring embroidery patterns onto dark fabric. These papers are usually lightweight and wax or carbon-based. They’ll have a layer of colored ink that’ll wash out after you’re done.
If you’re using light fabric, use dark transfer paper, and vice versa.
To start, lay your fabric on a hard surface. Then, place the transfer paper over it with the ink layer against the fabric.
Next, place your pattern on top of the paper and draw over the lines using a stylist (or some other tool that can work as an “empty pen” – a knitting needle works in a pinch). Just make sure you’re pressing hard enough so that the design prints onto the fabric.
Here is one we like by Outus.
Alternately, you can use an iron on embroidery transfer paper designed for ink jet printers like this one from Print Works. You’ll save time by printing the pattern or design directly onto the transfer paper with no need for hand tracing. Simply print a pattern, iron it to your fabric, embellish the design if desired, and wash away the remaining transfer.
Heat Transfer Pen and Pencils
Embroidery transfer pens easily transfers patterns or drawings permanently onto fabrics. Simply trace or draw your design and then iron it on to your fabric.
Note, you’ll need to trace the image in reverse because the pressing method prints the image as a mirrored version of the original. The easiest way is to get a printed picture is to turn it on its back and trace it.
After tracing place your paper sheet against the fabric. Then, press a hot iron against it until you cover the whole drawing. Make sure to move your iron in one direction to avoid distorting the image.
The good thing about heat transfer pens is that they work on both heavy and light fabrics. And you don’t need a light source for the tracing.
You can get heat transfer pens in a variety of colors, and they’re available in different thicknesses for your preference. You activate the ink using an iron.
Keep in mind, since the markings will be permanent, you’ll need to cover them completely with embroidery so they’re not visible on the fabric. Consider using a fine-tipped pen if you want to make covering your marks a little easier for your hand embroidery project.
Here is a heat transfer pen we like by Sulky.
Tracing Directly on to Fabric
Tracing is a good option for transferring embroidery patterns, especially when your fabric is fairly thin. You must be able to see the image through the materials in order to use this method, so thinner material is better in this case.
You need to get any light source – a window or lightbox will do. Place the image you want to copy under the fabric and tape both to your light source to hold it steady. Next, walk over the lines using a chalk-based pen, a water-soluble transfer pen or even a finely sharpened pencil.
I “borrow” my daughter’s light up tracing pad and it works great. If you need even better visibility, you can turn off the light in the room around you, so the pattern appears vividly against the light source.
Here is a pen specifically for embroidery transfer made by DMC. It’s water soluble so you can remove the marking using a damp washcloth (i.e. no need to soak the project).
For this method, you’ll need to trace your pattern on lightweight, transparent tracing paper.
Afterward, use a tacking stitch to attach your tracing paper on the embroidery fabric. Do your stitching right through the material and the paper.
When you’re done stitching, tear away the tracing paper. You can use a needle to clear any tiny remnants off of it if needed. Any brand of tracing paper will do.
Stabilizers may be the best option for detailed hand embroidery patterns. They’re handy for dark fabrics, too. All you have to do is buy a water-soluble stabilizer, print your design on it, and place it on your piece of fabric.
Then, you’ll stitch through both the stabilizer and fabric. After you’re done, soak the cloth in warm water, so the stabilizer dissolves and the pattern stays on the fabric. There’s just one thing to keep in mind when using this method – you’ll need a washable material to ensure it’s okay to expose to water.
Check out this option by Sulky.
Bonus Method: Iron On Embroidery Transfer Paper & Patterns
Iron on embroidery transfer patterns are a quick and easy way to get started with beautiful pre-made designs. They are ready-made patterns that you simply iron on to your fabric. All you needs to do is find patterns you like.
You’ll need to purchase whichever ready-to-use patterns you want ahead of time. This method is best for people who don’t have enough time to do the transfer themselves or just don’t want to bother with the drawing step. It’s super easy.
All you have to do is place your pattern paper on top of your fabric and run over it using a hot iron. No need to trace, reverse designs in mirror image or worry about soaking the finished project.
After you remove the paper, the design should be imprinted on the fabric.
Ready-to-use hot iron transfers usually come in black, gray, or blue ink. You won’t find them in colors to match your thread. Additionally, the ink lines may be a bit thick for your liking so make sure you stitch enough to cover the lines.
All in all, we call this method an easy bonus method as compared to our other recommendations because it requires the least work. On the downside, it has the most limitations because you must choose from already-made options that are already on the market. It’s a great and easy way to get started, especially if you see a design you love.
Here is an example from Aunt Martha’s that includes over 25 iron-on transfers.
Bottomline: The Best Way for Transferring Embroidery Patterns
Whichever way seems best to you is the method you should choose to transfer your embroidery patterns and designs.
The quicker you get started, the quicker you can enjoy the therapeutic benefits of working with hand embroidery, the creative outlet of making something by hand and, of course, the beauty of the finished product. Once you have you transfer method determined, it’s time for the good stuff…
Time to Stitch!
Now that you are figured out your preferred method of transferring embroidery patterns and have your design ready to go, it’s time to get the next level of creative juices flowing.
Firstly, you need to determine how you want to make the outline of your design. Do you want it outlined in a bold color that’ll stand out from the rest of the lines? Do you want to skip the outline altogether and use a frame?
Secondly, you’ll need to consider the best stitch type for the design you’re using. Running stitch, backstitch, split stitch, stem stitch, and more – there are plenty of types to choose from. Decide which complements your design best.
Thirdly, after the outline comes the color palette. (My favorite part of the design process.) If you’re going to stick with the colors in your original image, your mission will be easy.
However, if you want to opt for a different color palette, you’ll need to do some planning. Ensure that the colors you choose work with each other and check to see if they coordinate with your surroundings if you plan to display your finished design.
If you plan to hang your project, determining how you want to hang it is an additional item to think through.
Whatever you choose, we wish you happy embroidering!
P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about machine embroidery designs, we’ve got a great list of places to find beautiful ones here.