This is part three of a six-part series on the basics of creative surface embroidery, for beginners and those looking to refresh their hand embroidery skills and knowledge.
Most surface embroidery is done by following a design or pattern, so the trick is knowing how to transfer a design to fabric so you can then fill in or embroider over the lines of the design with a needle and thread. There are a number of ways to do this – here are three easy ones:
Trace using a pen/cil
This is the easiest method, especially if you don’t have a lot of embroidery supplies. There are lots of options out there when it comes to pens and pencils: fabric markers from haberdasheries, water-soluble markers, Frixion erasable pens, ballpoint pens, pencils, chalk pencils… You’ll have to try a few to see what works best for you. Ultimately, as long as you can cover all the lines with embroidery, it’ll be okay!
I use a pencil, the old-school type that you have to sharpen. This way, I can keep the point really sharp to draw as fine a line as possible, one that will be easily covered with thread.
Print your design and tape it to a lightbox or a window.
Then tape your fabric over the printed design, positioning the design where you want it, and trace over it on to the fabric.
Double check that you’ve traced on all the design elements before removing the fabric from the lightbox or window.
Madi teVelde shows you how to transfer a design by taping it to a window:
Transfer using dressmakers’ carbon
Dressmakers’ carbon comes in different colours, so choose the colour that’ll show up best on your fabric. You should get a sheet of white carbon paper if you buy a pack, which works well for transferring designs on to dark fabric. It’s widely available from haberdasheries and is usually reasonably priced.
Print your design.
Lay your fabric flat on your work surface, place a sheet of dressmakers’ carbon face down on the fabric and your printed design on top of that.
Draw over the lines of the design to transfer them to the fabric.
Check that all the lines have transferred before lifting the printed design off the fabric.
Jenny Hart has put together a step-by-step photo tutorial using her Sublime Stitching carbon paper.
And Anne from Lolli and Grace uses an embroidery hoop when transferring designs with carbon paper, but her method is the same:
Create an iron-on transfer
Iron-on transfers allow you to transfer designs on to fabric using a hot iron. You get commercially printed transfers in some kits, but you can also make your own using various iron-on transfer pens and pencils from haberdasheries and specialist suppliers.
Reverse your printed design. You want a mirror image so it will appear the right way round on your fabric, especially if you have any text in your design.
Trace the design on to tracing paper with your iron-on transfer pen/cil.
Place the design face down on your fabric and press firmly with a dry iron. Slide your iron over the design, taking care not to shift the paper. It’ll only take a few seconds.
Lift a corner to check that the design has transferred to the fabric before removing it completely.
Jenny Hart has put together a step-by-step tutorial with photos, using her Sublime Stitching transfer pens. You can also watch how she does this 1 minute and 20 seconds into her video on transferring designs:
Jessica Long has created a handy flow chart to help you decide which transfer method is best depending on the project at hand.
Dana Batho describes three ways to transfer designs to fabric, including using a commercial water-soluble stabiliser.
Mary Corbet writes about a number of different ways to transfer designs, which she says is her most frequently asked question.
And The Spruce Crafts has put together a list of seven transfer methods for you to try.
Well prepped projects tend to be easier to embroider and end up looking better. Embroidery Tips, Tricks & Techniques takes you through the project process, from planning to fabric preparation, design transfer and embroidery, with tips such as which grade of pencil lead washes out easiest and why a roll of washi tape is a good addition to your embroidery toolbox!
Read Part 4: How to start and end your stitching