There are several different ways to go about transferring your hand embroidery design to your fabric so that you can stitch it up accurately. I’ve written about some of them already, which you can find indexed under Tips and Tricks for Hand Embroidery (under Editor’s Floss, always at the top of the right column on each page of Needle ‘n Thread!). I’ve never actually written about this particular method of design transfer because I don’t use it often. That may change – thought it takes slightly more time than tracing, it’s accurate, lasting, and easily visible.
I think most embroiderers have their favorite way of transferring designs, which they probably stick to pretty regularly. Of course, the manner of transferring a pattern is going to change with choices of fabric and thread.
If you’re stitching, for example, on dark fabric, it isn’t likely that a regular pencil is going to help much for tracing the design onto the fabric. Neither would a water-soluble fabric marker, really. If you’re stitching on white fabric with white threads, you can run the risk of discoloring your threads if you use too soft a pencil and too heavy a hand when tracing your design! Prick and pounce takes a long time – and it’s a multi-step process: first you have to prick the design carefully, then you have to pounce the powder on (and sometimes that includes making a felt roll to do so – or even making your own pounce!), and finally, you have to use a tiny paintbrush and paint in all your lines. Oh, then there’s the dressmaker’s carbon method – which works ok, but what if you end up with a super messy line that you can’t cover with your stitches, and you hadn’t intended to wash the piece? Or you can’t wash the piece easily because you’re using non-color-fast overdyed specialty floss? Oh, the options go on and on… and there are many of them…. but they don’t all work in all circumstances (except for maybe prick and pounce, but golly – it can be a tedious job to pounce a whole pattern!).
Transferring your embroidery design using tissue paper actually does work in most circumstances. I can’t think of any circumstance in which it wouldn’t work, really. This is how you go about doing it.
First, you need some supplies: tissue paper, a fine tipped pen, thread, a sharp needle (crewel needles or sharps are fine), and some other miscellaneous things that are nice to have on hand but not necessarily essential.
When deciding what thread to use, I suggest a regular sewing thread that’s the same color as the embroidery floss you’re using, more or less.
The first thing I did was trace the design I’m using onto the tissue paper. Now, this paper is a bit weird, and I don’t exactly know what it is. It was lying around the office – a big roll of it – forever, and my boss finally told me I could take it home if I wanted it. It’s a very lightweight yellowish-brown paper, a bit like pattern paper but slightly crisper and very sheer. It’s used in our school maintenance and building department to do overlays on building projects, apparently. I use it for everything that requires pattern tracing – mainly because it was really cheap (as in, free)… You can use regular wrapping paper tissue for this part – one thin sheet.
Using my magnetic needleminder and a few refrigerator magnets, I positioned the tissue paper on my embroidery frame.
Now, keep in mind I made a pretty big mistake in this whole process, but it doesn’t really change the process – hopefully, it will just serve as a deterrent to you, so you don’t make the same mistake!
As you can see, I’m using a green thread to transfer the design. This is the mistake I made! I could have very easily used white thread, and it would not have been as noticeable in this piece (which will be stitched in white). Using green thread requires me to do some very serious (and tedious) thread picking as I go. If I had used the same color that I would be stitching in, then any residue would not be noticeable – but green has an uncanny way of making itself visible on white! That was one of those forehead slapping moments. I used the green because I thought it would look better in photos! I didn’t even think about the ease of stitching! Rats!
Using small regular running stitches, stitch over the entire design. The stitches can be fairly widely spaced on open, longer lines, but as you work into detailed and curvy areas, keep your stitches a little smaller and close, to make sure the details can be seen when the tissue paper is removed.
Don’t use knots in your sewing thread! Just anchor it as you would if you were basting. You want to be able to pick the design threads out easily.
Make sure that you cover every line in the design, unless there are parts that you know you can “eye-ball” as you stitch. Those little hairy dashes in between the elements of the design are where I anchored my basting thread, by just taking two or three small straight stitches into the paper and the fabric.
Once you’ve finished stitching, it’s time to remove the tissue paper. Gently, pull the paper up and back, away from the stitching. Don’t pull it too high in the “up” direction – I find it better just to kind of pull it back low on itself. This keeps the stitches from pulling up out of the fabric.
You’ll notice that some bits of tissue still stick in the fabric – that’s ok, you can deal with them after you’ve gotten the majority of the paper off.
The tissue paper will be easier to remove in the larger, open spaces of the design. Still, don’t just tear and yank off! Take it easy as you remove the paper.
Once the paper’s more or less gone, take your tweezers from your tool box and pick out any remaining little shreds. Once you’re finished, you’ll have a good representation of your design on your fabric, and it won’t smudge, it won’t rub off, it won’t disappear – you can work with confidence at any pace you wish, without worrying about your embroidery design!
I can’t help reiterating a word of warning here, now that the green is so visible! You can imagine how easy it would be, if this were stitched in a fine white sewing thread, to stitch right over that sewing thread with my white embroidery cotton (coton a broder), covering it up for the most part, but not worrying if I don’t quite get it. I would, of course, still remove as much as the white sewing thread as possible as I stitched – but if I didn’t get it all, I wouldn’t have much to worry about as far as visibility is concerned.
I used one strand of green floss. This is a huge mistake! Not only can I not leave a shred of it – it would be too obvious – but because it’s floss and not sewing thread, it fuzzes more when being picked out.
So – don’t make my mistake! It served well for the pictures – the white sewing thread would not have shown up as well – but it won’t be as easy to stitch as it would have been if I had used the white sewing thread!
Give tissue transferring a try, if you’re inclined! It’s perfect for transfering a pattern especially to dark fabric. There are plenty of ways – tracing being the easiest – to transfer a design to light fabric, but with dark fabric, we often get stuck. This method works great for dark fabrics!
What method do you use to transfer your embroidery designs? Do you see any pros and cons of trying tissue paper? Would you personally bother with this method of transfer, or not? Beginners would especially benefit from input from other embroiderers, so if you have time, drop a comment about the way you transfer your designs! Thanks!