Embroidery sewing Becky  

The Best Ways to Transfer Designs to Fabric

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Hi, Wendy back again from Sugarlane Designs with a tip for starting your stitchery. So, you’ve printed off your embroidery design and you’re as keen as mustard to start BUT…….
How do you get that design from the paper onto your fabric? Here’s a few of the most popular ways that might help.

Before I start, there are LOTS of different ways to transfer your designs and there is no right or wrong way…..the best ways to transfer designs to fabric is to use the one you’re most comfortable with for the job you’re doing.  The way you transfer your design will depend upon a number of factors – for example, the fabric you’re using…..transferring designs onto felt is a lot different to transferring onto cotton.  These hints work best (in my humble opinion) for working with cottons or linens.

Firstly, you’ll need to press your fabric so that any of the fold lines are removed.  This ensures your design will transfer smoothly to the fabric, not travelling over hills and down gullies.  You’ll also need to cut it to a user-friendly size…..I like to leave mine an inch or so bigger than the finished size as this allows for shrinkage with the threads pulling the fabric in (even if only slightly).  After all, it’s easier to trim back your fabric, but you can’t add fabric on easily!  Don’t fuse your interfacing to the reverse side just yet…..if you do, it will be more difficult to trace your design as it then becomes a double thickness for the light to penetrate.  Once you’ve prepared your fabric, here are a few ways you might transfer your design…


This is my preferred way to transfer designs from paper to fabric.  It’s one you can do anywhere and you really don’t need much other than your pattern, a thin marking pen, your fabric, some tape and a light source.  It’s easy and accessible to everyone if your light source is a window.  

All you need to do is have a really good fine tipped pen – I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Pigma Pens or Zig Millenium pens with either a 0.5. 0.3 or 0.1 tip, depending on the job….if I’m using one strand of thread, I stick to the finest tip.  I find the brown/sepia one is the best as it blends best.  But you can use a water erasable pen if you prefer.  Be careful not to press with a hot iron before you wash it out though, as this may set the ink!  Sometimes I even use a Frixion Pen, aka an erasable ink pen.  Remember though, if you’re going to fuse some interfacing to the reverse side after you’ve transferred your design, your design will  v-a-n-i-s-h!!!

Tape your design to the window and then tape your fabric on top of your pattern,  centred so that you have plenty of fabric to trim, if need be.  Then, it’s just a matter of tracing your design carefully onto your fabric.  Easy as pie!  There are some disadvantages though…….if you work all day and love to stitch at night, using the window as your light source might need a bit of pre-planning.  After all, there isn’t much light outside to source at nighttime now, is there?  So if you’re wanting to get into embroidery/stitching more seriously, you might want to invest in a light box.

A light box can be as simple or as complex as you like but high end will set you back over $100.   The procedure is the same…..tape your design down onto the lightbox, centre your fabric over the top and tape down, then trace your design.  The only thing that’s different, is the source…….and, that you can easily use this method any time of the day or night.   It’s also easier to trace on a flat surface than a vertical one.  In an earlier life, I made a lightbox from a piece of glass/perspex over two chair arms with a lamp underneath…..you can do it on the cheap….just google ‘how to make a light box for tracing patterns’ .


I’ve used these once or twice, not my favourites for everyday use, but useful in certain cases.  These are easy to find in your nearest craft/quilting store too, which makes them appealing.  These work by tracing your design on the back of your printout.  This is so when we iron it onto our fabric, it doesn’t turn out backward….sometimes it doesn’t matter but if there’s writing……hmmmmmm not a good look!   If you’re having trouble seeing through your paper, holding it up to a window will do the trick.

The only difference between using a heat transfer pen or a heat transfer pencil is the quality of the transfer of the two. Pencils tend to be much lighter (and sometimes a lot harder to see) but then the transfer is more invisible after it’s stitched over. It’s totally personal preference. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend the pen, as it makes the clearest marks to follow.


Carbon transfer paper, also known as Dressmaker’s carbon paper, is another way you can transfer your design to fabric.  The advantage of using this method is that it is reuseable and comes in different colours, even white, so it works well on darker fabrics.

Using it is easy.  Simply place the sheet of carbon paper between your fabric and the design, with the shiny side (carbon) facing the fabric.  Then, trace around your design using a stylus, pen or pencil……I prefer a stylus as there is little risk of marking the fabric if the point goes through the carbon paper.  The disadvantage of using this method is that it can be difficult to get a smooth line,  and if you move your design or paper while tracing, it makes a bit of a mess of your fabric.  A handy tip is to tape around both your printed design and the top or side of your fabric to keep it in place. As you trace, pull back your design every now and then to make sure it is transferring properly, being careful not to shift the design.  If it is too light, you may have to increase the pressure or trace over it again.  When re-tracing, you’d have to be really careful that you followed exactly the same line, otherwise you’ll have double lines on your fabric.  Another disadvantage is if you  lean on your paper while tracing your design, it could cause smudges on your fabric.

So there you are, a few different ways to get your design from paper to fabric.  Which method will you use to start my free monogram design from Tuesday’s post?

Come visit me at Sugarlane Designs and pop back here to find out where else you can find me.

xox Sugary hugs :o)

6 thoughts on “The Best Ways to Transfer Designs to Fabric

  1. susan

    This is a really useful article – I’d jsut like to add that when you use the carbon paper – its also a good idea to remove any bracelets, bangles you might have on the arm that you use to draw/trace…you could end up with a lot of additional transfer on t\your fabric…the voice iof experience.!!

  2. Susan

    Very thorough! I’ve used windows and TV screens more often than I care to count. LOL. Now I’ve finally got a light table!

  3. CJ Hines

    I love the Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy. You photocopy the image onto the sheet adheres to your fabric. When you’re done with your embroidery, soak the piece in water and the Fabri-Solvy disappears, leaving your lovely embroidery. Don’t know how I lived without it all these years!

  4. kathleen

    i used to use a wondow for tracing my designs. then I came up with an idea. my husband being a computer tech he had lots of scanners that he was going to throw away that people have gave him to see if they could be fixed. I took two of the scanners and took the guts out of them. I then bought a florescent light and put it inside. when I need to trace I grab the scanner light box I made and plug it in and away I go. this way I can sit down to trace my designs.

  5. Becky

    That sounds like a great idea! thanks for sharing your idea. I had never thought of that before….you are one smart cookie!

  6. Sharon Clarke

    I have a glass top table on a ‘funnel shaped’ wicker stand underneath the center of the table and I also have a tall old lamp. I remove the lamp shade and plug the lamp in and put the lamp on the floor under the table in this wicker stand and voila – instant light window…….no standing trying to mark vertically on a window, pattern and material easy to move over the glass as well if necessary. Have used it a lot for machine embroidery design patterns. This lamp and glass top table work beautifully for tracing, day or night.

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