Embroidery Fundamentals: How to Transfer Patterns

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Once you've practiced some beginning stitches, it's time to find some inspiring patterns and get stitching! Find out some great options in transferring your patterns to fabric to set you up for success in your embroidery projects.

Embroidery supplies

  • Fabric
  • Embroidery transfer pen
  • Water-soluble stabilizer (standard paper size for your printer)
  • Iron-on transfer patterns
  • Pencil
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Pattern(s): Origami Squirrel pattern provided

Origami pattern sketch

Start by printing out your pattern and taping it to a window. The natural light will help you to see the pattern lines through your fabric, making it easier to trace accurately. This method of pattern transfer works best for transferring patterns onto thinner, light-colored fabrics. Cotton, muslin, and linen are all good choices with this method.

Pattern taped to a window

Position your fabric on the window on top of your pattern. Once you like the placement of your pattern, tape it to the window as well. You should be able to see the pattern easily through your fabric.

Fabric on top of pattern on window

Trace your pattern using an embroidery transfer pen. These pens usually come in the color blue and are easily washed out of your fabric once stitching is complete. If you don't want to buy an embroidery transfer pen, a pencil may be used instead, but note that the pencil lines will not wash out of a final project as easily.

Trace your pattern using an embroidery transfer pen

Remove your fabric from the window. You are ready to begin stitching your pattern once you place it in an embroidery hoop!

Traced pattern on fabric

Cut out the iron-on transfer pattern you will be using. Iron-on transfer patterns often come in themed sets, all on one large sheet of paper. I used a pattern from this kitchen theme pack. To avoid transferring pieces of several patterns, it is best to cut out the one you want to use from the larger sheet.

Cut out the transfer pattern

Iron your fabric before placing your pattern. Warming up the fabric with your iron will help the pattern to transfer more evenly, and will ensure that your fabric is flat. Wrinkles can often cause breaks in a pattern when transferred.

Iron the fabric

Place your pattern onto your fabric. Adjust it so that it is located where you want (centered, off to one side, etc.). Your iron-on transfer should be positioned so that the pattern is touching the fabric, and the blank side will touch the iron. Iron-on transfer patterns always give you a mirror image—you will notice any words appear as such in the pattern so that they transfer properly.

Place your pattern onto your fabric

Begin ironing your pattern onto your fabric. This usually only takes five to ten seconds, moving your iron evenly over your pattern. 
You may lift up a single edge while transferring to ensure your pattern has transferred evenly. Simply hold down most of the pattern with your iron so it doesn't move at all, and gently lift a corner of the pattern up. 
If an area isn't as dark as the others, simply iron another few seconds until you are satisfied with the transfer.

Begin ironing your pattern onto your fabric

Remove the pattern once you are finished ironing. Transfers may be used multiple times, so it is nice to have an envelope or box to keep your iron-on transfer patterns in.

Remove the pattern

You are now ready to begin stitching the transferred pattern.

Stitch the transferred pattern

Find a pattern online that you like and print it out onto your stabilizer. I like looking through patterns on Craftsy, as they have a great deal of free and low-cost patterns to choose from. I generally use the draft setting on my printer, and often have to hand-feed my sheet of stabilizer.
This method of pattern transfer is great if you are using a large, detailed pattern (likethis one). It is also my go-to method of transfer for thick fabrics (like canvas) or dark fabrics that are difficult to trace through. I don't use it for anything I can easily trace, as the stabilizer sheets are more expensive, but the ease of use makes them a favorite of mine.

transfer pattern

Cut out your pattern from the sheet of stabilizer. Save any large scraps, as you can use them for tracing onto later.

Cut out your pattern from the sheet of stabilizer

Remove the the backing from your stabilizer sheet, and place the pattern onto your fabric. The adhesive is easy to lift, so if you don't like your initial placement you can always move it a bit before you begin your embroidery work.

Remove the the backing from your stabilizer sheet

You are ready to begin stitching. The stabilizer sheet makes your fabric more rigid, so it is possible to work a pattern transferred this way without an embroidery hoop if you like. I usually use a hoop anyway, as I like something to hold onto while working on a project. 
Once you complete your project, place the entire thing into warm water and the stabilizer will dissolve like magic!

Final rabbit on fabric

Place your scrap of stabilizer over your pattern. You can tape the pattern and stabilizer to a window if you like, but I find the stabilizer is thin enough that I can usually trace while I'm just sitting at my desk.

Place your scrap of stabilizer over your pattern

Using a pencil or pen, trace your pattern onto the stabilizer.

Using a pencil or pen trace your pattern onto the stabilizer

Once you finish tracing your pattern, peel off the backing and stick your pattern to your fabric. Continue with the rest of the steps for using water-soluble stabilizer above.

peel off the backing and stick your pattern to your fabric

Now you have several methods of transferring embroidery patterns that work on varieties of fabric styles and colors! Do you have a favorite method that wasn't shown here? Let us know about it in the comments.


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