5 Ways to Transfer Embroidery Patterns and 1 Easy Bonus Method


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 a design on to your fabric to guide your hand embroidery.

You can outline or transfer an embroidery design 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.

Heat Transfer Pen

Hand embroidery

The right way to use these pens is to trace your design on lightweight, nearly transparent paper. You’ll need to do it 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.

The next step to do is 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, and you draw away at the fabric.

Keep in mind that the markings will be permanent, though. 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 is a good option 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, such as a window, flashlight, or lightbox. Then, place the image you want to copy under the fabric. Next, walk over the lines using a finely-sharpened pencil or a water-soluble transfer pen.

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. 

Tracing Paper

If your fabric is dark, but it’s not suitable for soaking in water, a smart option is using tracing paper. 

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. 

Here is a popular favorite for tracing paper.


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 StayPerfect for reference.

Transfer Paper

Transfer papers are one of the best methods to transfer 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 any empty pen you have. Just make sure you’re pressing hard enough so that the design prints onto the fabric.

Bonus Method: Hot Iron Transfer

Heat Transfer

The hot iron transfer method is straightforward. They are ready-made patterns that you simply iron on to your fabric.

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 sorry 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.

Time to Stitch!

Now that you have your design ready on your embroidery fabric, it’s time to get the next level of  creative juices flowing.

Firstly, you need to determine how you want to make your outline. Do you want it outlined in a bold color that’ll stand out from the rest of the lines? 

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.

Closing Thoughts

Whichever way seems best to you is the method you should choose to get started with for your hand embroidery project. The quicker you get started, the quicker you can enjoy the therapeutic benefits of working with hand embroidery (stress relief anyone?), the creative outlet of making something by hand and, of course, the beauty of the finished product.

Happy sewing!


Sewist, graphic designer, & maker of colorful things

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