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Transferring an Embroidery Pattern onto Fabric.


First we need to choose a pen or pencil. To help you do this I have written about the pens and pencil I have in my pencil case.

Equipment: Pens and Pencils for mark making on fabric.

Pens and Paper Transfering patterns.JPG

1. Frixion Pens.

These are standard stationary pens, the marks disappear when the final work is ironed. [Please use iron appropriately for the work, you can hold it above the work without making contact rather than damage fine embroidery]. They are available in a range of colours so you should be able to find one that shows up well on your ground fabric. They do have a rigid fine pointed nib which struggles on heavily slubbed linen and other textured fabrics. 

2. Water erasable pens.

These are available with different sized felt tips with the finer nib managing better on finer fabrics and you need the broader tip for more textured fabrics. When ready just dab or spritz the cloth with water and the marks disappear.

3. The Quilters Magic Pen.

These both water soluble and air soluble. It has ink that disappears over a time period but the time does seem to depend on temperature and the warmer it is the quicker it disappears. You can also spritz or dab with water and it disappears immediately. Best to test in the environment where you will be working before committing to a lot of work using these but great for quick alterations.

4. Rotary Chalk Pens.

These are filled with powdered chalk which is dispensed by a rotating wheel rather than a nib. They come in a range of colours so you can find one that will suit dark fabric. They are particularly useful on the more textured fabrics where fine nibbed pens struggle. However they are not able to draw tight curves. The chalk just brushes away from the fabric when you are ready. These are very satisfying to work.

5. Standard pencils.

When I was at school this is what we used. They can get the work a bit smudgy though  but it does all come off the fabric with very gentle hand washing when finished. [You can put delicate work between two layers of linen whilst gently handwashing].

6. Chalk Pencils.

These come in a range of colours so there will be one that shows up on your embroidery ground fabric. The chalk marks fade and brush away from the finished work.

Chalk powder is also available for ‘pouncing’.

Method for Transferring an Embroidery Pattern to your Fabric

You can choose from a range of methods to transfer a printed paper embroidery pattern onto your fabric. Which to use may depend on what materials are close to hand along with personal preference.

  • Freehand Drawing

  • Tracing using a light source.

  • Tracing paper.

  • Carbon copy Paper

  • Pouncing

Freehand Drawing.

I love drawing and find it the quickest and easiest way to transfer a simple design is simply to copy it.  I frequently sketch a shape repeatedly on practice paper before freehand drawing it onto the embroidery fabric. This method can be used to keep your work looking fresh and increase the 'folk art' feel of a design. If you prefer more accuracy you may find it helpful to draw a grid over the original pattern and an identical grid on your fabric. Make small marks where the design crosses the gridlines and then join these marks up together.[See below for information about the pens and pencils you might use].

Tracing: Using a window as a light box.

My old favourite, you simply tape the paper printed design onto a window and your chosen fabric is taped over that. I use masking tape as it is easily removable. If the fabric is pale enough you will now be able to see the print through the fabric. Draw on the fabric following the now visible lines of the pattern.

Tracing: Using a light box.
















Tracing using your mobile phone/ipad as a light source.

Tracing apps are now available to help you use your tablet or ipad as a light box. Each App works slightly differently but in simple terms you take a photo of your paper pattern and then increase the light emitted by your device. Place your fabric over the device  and you can see the pattern clearly enough to draw over it   straight onto the fabric. 

Tracing using carbon paper.

Carbon paper offers a simple way to transfer your embroidery patterns. Place your embroidery fabric correct side up on your work surface. Tape in place. Put the carbon paper blue/grey/dark side down on top of the fabric and the paper pattern on top of that. Tape in place. Using a not too sharp pencil or a ball point pen start drawing over the whole pattern. Lift a corner and check it’s working, that the sheets are in the correct order and you are applying enough pressure before completing the whole pattern. 

Making your own carbon.

If you are my age you may well remember this one from school. It’s a homemade version of transferring pencil graphite lines. Using a soft pencil [2B and upwards] scribble over the back of the paper holding the pencil at an acute angle to make this quicker, covering all the areas where you know there is pattern on the other side. Now turn over to the front again and place on top of the embroidery fabric [so the scribble is face down]. Tape to secure in place. Start drawing over the pattern lines with a ball point pen or something similar. Lift a corner to check you have applied enough soft pencil scribble and are applying enough pressure to leave a mark on the embroidery fabric. You might need to go back to scribbling or press a bit harder.

Continue the process to draw over all the lines and remove the printed paper to reveal the transferred pattern.

Tracing using acetate sheets.

Lay your acetate on top of the original pattern and draw over all the lines using a water erasable or heat erasable pen [see below]. The ink will stay wet for a little while time as the acetate in non-absorbent giving you a short window where the transfer is possible. Carefully turn the acetate over and place in position on the fabric. Push down firmly all over the printed area. The ink will be absorbed by the fabric. Note that the picture will be reversed.

Pouncing with chalk

This method is more frequently used to transfer sewing patterns for dress making but it does work well.

 If you have a pouncing wheel with a suitably small diameter you can use that to punch a series of holes through the lines of the pattern. If you don’t have a pouncing wheel you can use a needle and make holes about 3mm to 5mm apart on all the lines of the pattern.

Now position the pierced pattern on to the embroidery fabric and secure with masking tape. Make a little wad of fabric about the size of a walnut. Dab the wad into chalk powder and pounce repeatedly onto the pierced paper. Carefully lift a corner to check the chalk is coming through. You may need to dab more than you think. Dab chalk powder over the whole pattern. Remove the pierced paper to reveal a dotted chalk line where the pattern will be. If you choose to you can ‘join the dots’ with one of the pencils or pens listed below.

Using the same idea as the window method above place your original pattern on the light box and then the material ontop of that. When the lightbox is on you should be able to see the pattern clearly enough to draw over the lines. In the image here I am making a sandwich of material to be both below and above the original pattern because my lightbox is at an angle and this helps reduce any movement. Alternatively use masking tape to hold the pattern in place.

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