How to transfer an embroidery pattern to fabric?

To transfer an embroidery pattern to fabric can be done in several ways.

Some common transfer techniques include carbon paper, water soluble pen, iron-on pen, solvy paper and friction pen. You will choose how to transfer your pattern based on the design and fabric. In other words, how detailed your pattern is and the nature of your fabric (thin, thick, stretchy etc).

Let’s get into each aforementioned technique to transfer an embroidery pattern to fabric in more detail…

With more information about how the different transfer methods work, you will better be able to decide which will suit your stitchery project the best.

Carbon paper is one of our preferred methods. The reason is that you can do a so called “on-top” transfer. This means that you are able to have a thicker and more rigid fabric and still achieve a detailed design. This is the case with for example all of our Architectural designs.

Architectural designs generally involve small details with fine line-work. Thus it is recommended to have a thicker fabric for more stability, which in turn requires an on-top transfer technique. You will begin by placing the carbon paper with the carbon downwards. Thereafter, place your pattern on top.

The only down side with the carbon paper transfer is that the carbon risks to smear out.

A solution is to avoid to hold the fabric where you have transferred lines.

Hence, it’s great to use an embroidery hoop that is the perfect size for the pattern in question.

In this way you avoid having to move the hoop and thereby risk smearing out the carbon with each move.

However, if you find yourself with some small smudges, you can carefully wash the fabric. In case of washing with carbon paper transfer, we recommend to wash the whole fabric and not just the targeted area.

Below is a Youtube tutorial I did to show how to use the carbon paper when you transfer an embroidery pattern to fabric.


2. Water soluble pen

A water soluble pen is convenient to use when you want to  be able to wash off your transferred lines afterwards. For example, you can use a water soluble pen when you want to draw a pattern by free hand directly onto the fabric. If you draw by free hand on fabric it’s always a security to know that the lines aren’t permanent.

This is one of the greatest advantages with the water soluble pen compared to for example the carbon paper and the iron-on pen. Both the carbon paper and the iron-on pen are trickier to get off. The latter can even be considered as a permanent marker.

The water soluble pen can also be used if you have a thinner fabric. You will then place the fabric on top of the pattern and trace the lines through the fabric. It helps to have a light-box or a window behind the pattern to easier see the lines.

3. Iron-on pen

An iron on pen is perfect if you want to transfer a very detailed design. The reason is

that the iron on pen is usually quite thin. Furthermore, you will trace the lines on the pattern itself and not on the fabric. Thus, it’s easier to be steady on your hand for the smaller details when you draw on paper than on fabric.

You can use this method for both thicker and thinner fabrics. It’s an on-top transfer just like the carbon paper.

Thus, ones you have traces the lines of your pattern, you will place it on top of the fabric (pattern facing downward).

Thereafter you iron over it for the transfer to stick to the fabric. Just be sure to heat up the fabric before you start the process! For some reason (don’t ask me!), the chemical reaction of the transfer doesn’t work if the fabric is cold.

Another thing to pay attention to, is that the iron-on pen doesn’t wash off very easily.

In other words, you want to be sure that you have traced the lines exactly the way you want them to appear on the fabric, or else you will have a faulty transfer.

Furthermore, you also need to be careful to mirror the design before you begin the transfer. This is because you will turn the paper over, with the design facing the fabric, when you begin the ironing process.

4. Solvy paper

Solvy paper as a technique to transfer an embroidery pattern to fabric is very efficient when embroidering your clothes. The solvy paper involves transferring the pattern from regular paper to the solvy paper. The solvy paper is then attached on the fabric, which creates soma additional stability.

Therefore, the solvy paper is perfect way to transfer designs onto stretchy fabrics. For example, if you want to embroider your t-shirt, we’d advice you to use the solvy paper method. To embroider on a stretchy material can otherwise be quite tricky.

That is because you want to avoid to create bubbles in the fabric, which is a big risk on stretchy t-shirts. The solvy paper therefore makes the t-shirt temporarily “non-stretch”. Hence, you are able to embroider more freely and reduce the risk of bubbles.

When the embroider is completed, you simply dip the design in water and you will

Below is a Youtube tutorial where I show you how to use the solvy paper when embroidering on a denim shirt.

5. Friction pen

The friction pen is your go-to transfer technique when you want to feel creatively unlimited.

The friction pen works similar to a pencil on paper. In other words, you can draw directly onto the fabric. If you make a line that you don’t like, you simply turn the pen over. At the other end you have a special rubber, that allows you to rub off what you just drew.

The process goes perfectly with the name, as you literally rub off your mistake thanks to the friction of the back of the pen.

If the creative freedom of the friction pen appeals to you, then we recommend to use a more rigid fabric. For example a cotton canvas or a pair of thicker jeans. With a thicker, more rigid fabric, you ensure that you won’t harm the tissue when you rub it.


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