Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Beginning Embroidery Most Frequently Asked Question: Design Transfer


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Over the years of writing Needle ‘n Thread, I’ve tried to keep careful track of needlework questions that I’ve received through the website. I always think that some day, I’ll categorize them and publish all my answers! But Wow, there are lots! I have over 1,000 e-mails saved that fall under the “Question and Answer” category! But this is understandable, because the beginning embroiderer faces quite a few challenges, especially when going it alone.

While I can’t categorize and write about Every Single Question, I would like to address the most frequently asked embroidery questions – perhaps the top five. In addressing them in dedicated posts, I can hopefully pull together a good bit of the information and resources here on Needle ‘n Thread that might help answer the questions, all in one place. Plus, we can all benefit from valuable reader input in the comment sections, if you have other answers to the questions.

So, without further ado, here’s the question that gets the prize for Most Frequently Asked:

1. How do I transfer my embroidery design to my fabric?

There are lots of different ways to get your design on fabric, and it seems each stitcher has a favorite way. Here are some popular choices:

  • Tracing: Using a light box or a sunny window, tape your design down, and then tape your fabric over it, making sure the fabric is square (on the grain). Use either a fine-lined permanent pen, a water-soluble pen (or pencil), or a light touch with a regular pencil to trace the design. Don’t use sketch strokes while you trace – use a smooth continuous line. Some pens I’ve used successfully for tracing include the Sakura Micron Art Pen (which is permanent on paper but the company does not recommend it for fabric that will be washed) and the Papermate Ultra-Flair (it’s water soluble and washes out well). My go-to instruments for tracing are mechanical pencils and the Micron pens. I’ve also had good success with the Martha Stewart Crafts writing pen, which is permanent and archival, in the color “moonstone” (a gold-ish tan).
  • Carbon: Buy a package of dressmaker’s carbon from your local fabric shop. Dressmaker’s carbon comes in small packages with about 5 colors of carbon in each package. The “carbon” is not really carbon – it’s a graphite-free, wax-free transfer stuff that works like old-fashioned carbon paper. Put your fabric on a hard, smooth surface (I would tape it down to keep it from moving), decide where you want your design and tape your carbon onto the fabric, and then tape your design above the carbon. Using a stylus or a old ball point pen and a firm, steady stroke, carefully trace over the lines of your design. Again, don’t sketch – draw in long, continuous lines. There’s also a specific brand of this kind of transfer paper called Saral Wax-free Transfer Paper that works well, is sold in larger sheets & rolls, and that won’t set if ironed.
  • Iron-on Transfer: You can buy designs as iron-on transfers and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for ironing the design onto your fabric. There are lots of popular options available for iron-ons. You can also purchase books of iron-on transfers for embroidery (that’s a link to my review of a few), or sets of iron-ons from more obscure (but good quality) manufacturers, such as these iron-ons from Mani di Fata or these iron-ons from Mains et Merveilles. If you like the vintage-style designs that are popular today, you can try Aunt Martha’s Iron-On Patterns (a link to my resource review). Another option is to purchase an iron-on transfer pen or pencil and try your hand with one of those. They’re available through various sewing / craft stores online. Here’s a brief tutorial on making your own design transfer and using an iron-on pen or pencil. You might like this iron-on transfer pen from Sublime Stitching – it creates fine lines for ironing onto the fabric.
  • Prick and Pounce: This is a more complicated process, but it works well on dark fabrics, fabrics with a pile (like velvet or velveteen), and for larger, complex projects that will be set up and worked on for a while. Here’s a tutorial on using the prick and pounce method to transfer an embroidery design. I also used this method on my Agnus Dei project, and I was really glad I did!
  • Ink-Jet Printer: There are a couple options here. Lisa Tressler wrote a guest post here on Needle ‘n Thread, on using silk gauze and an ink-jet printer to transfer embroidery designs. Others I know use their ink-jet printers directly. Using a fine (usually vector) graphic image, they print the image directly on their fabric, taping the fabric to regular computer paper (or ironing it to freezer paper) and running it through the printer. This works best with a printer that spits the piece out the back, without rolling it around the rollers and back out the front. And of course, the fabric and design size have to fit the printer.
  • Water Soluble Stabilizer: Did you know you can use a water-soluble stabilizer on top of your fabric, and stitch through the stabilizer and fabric, then rinse away the stabilizer? A while ago, I wrote a two-part tutorial / experiment on using Solvy. Here’s Part I and here’s Part II. It’s not my personal favorite as far as transferring goes, probably because I just don’t like stitching through something that feels like plastic. But it does work. Obviously, you have to make sure you’re stitching on something washable – and that your threads are colorfast!
  • Transfer Mesh: I haven’t tried this stuff, but Clover makes a product called “transfer mesh” that’s used in quilting, and has been recommended for embroidery design transfer. I intend to try it eventually, if I can get my hands on some, just to review it and see how it works. I’m a little skeptical that it would work for very detailed embroidery designs, but I would imagine that it would work ok for larger, bolder designs. I’m willing to eat my words on either of those statements – like I said, I haven’t tried it yet! This is what transfer meshlooks like and how you use it. I’ve never personally ordered from that site site, but it has a good photo of the actual mesh.
  • Tissue Paper & Tacking Stitches: Though time consuming, this process works well, especially if you are very concerned about leaving any kinds of transfer marks on your fabric, or if you’re stitching on a fabric that doesn’t take any of the above transfer methods well. Simply trace your design on tissue paper, arrange the tissue paper on your fabric where you want the design, baste around the outside of the design to secure the tissue paper in place (using regular sewing thread and a fine needle), and then use small “tacking” stitches (running stitch, or plain sewing stitch), stitch over the lines of your design. Use small stitches, relatively close, on finer, detailed parts of the design. Here’s my photo tutorial for using tissue paper and tacking stitches to transfer a design. Again, it’s a bit more time and labor intensive, because you’re stitching twice, but it always works!
  • Stitch or Transfer from the Back: I’ve used this method successfully before on pieces made from “dressy” fabrics that were dark, but that allowed light through, like this embroidered pouch for altar linens. I traced the design on the interfacing in very dark ink, then basted the interfacing and the front ground fabric together, then mounted them on a frame. Putting a light behind the embroidery, I was able to see the design lines well enough to stitch. This worked well with that particular moiré silk, because the light from the back shone through it and the light interfacing. If you’re using a heavier fabric, you can draw the design on the lining fabric, and then stitch little “tacking” or running stitches in light thread from the back, following the design. The design will then be on the front in the light stitches, which you can then stitch over and hide, or snip out as you go. Like the tracing paper and tacking stitches above, this is another method that always works. Just remember that on fine, detailed parts of your design, you have to use small stitches.

I hope some of these tips are helpful! What about you? What are your favorite methods of transferring designs? Any particular one that has been a No-Fail option for you over the years? Any method that I missed that you’d like to add to the list? Do leave a comment below to help out your fellow stitchers!


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(85) Comments

  1. your website is amazing. I have shared it with my embroidery guild.I hope all can take advantage of
    this site
    Where do you get your info on all the research sites?
    I am a retired Librarian.
    Thanks again\
    Carol gross(Charleston South Carolina)

    1. Hi, Carol! Thanks very much! I’m not sure what information, or actually what research sites you mean? Do you mean where do I get all my information that I write about? Mostly, it’s from a conglomeration of learning: from experience, from reading lots and lots of books, from reading lots of websites and seeing what others do, from testing, experimenting, pulling my hair out, quitting in a frenzy, starting up again with renewed vim & vigor …. you know, stuff like that! I love LIBRARIES!!! 🙂

  2. Hi, Mary. Just thought you might be interested to know that Soft Expressions also sells a transfer product called Transdoodle. I have not tried it, but have seen it mentioned a couple of times in needlework articles. It appears to be a chalk based transfer paper that just rubs away.


    1. Thanks, Sandy! I actually have a roll of Transferdoodle, but I’ve never used it. In fact, until you mentioned it, I had forgotten all about it! I’m going to have to dig that out (wherever it may be!)

      Judy – transferring on dark fabrics always throws me into a quandary! There are lots of options, though. If you’re working with a relative simple design (not too many complex off-shoots, curlies, and so forth), the tissue-paper-tacking-method is a never-fail solution. If the fabric is smooth without a pile, the white or yellow dressmaker’s carbon is good, if you’re confident in tracing.

      Thanks for your comments!!

  3. You missed 2 ways of transferring patterns. There are temporary pencils which will disappear shortly, and water soluble pencils which will disappear when soaked in water.

    The disappearing ones don’t last long enough for a complicted design, so the water soluble ones are better, if the thread and fabric can be soaked safely.

    1. Hi, all! Thanks so much for your comments! It’s great to get reader input on these things!

      Lesley-Anne – if you e-mail me, I’ll see if I can help you get in touch! Thanks for the input on the tissue-tacking. It’s a good method, despite extra time.

      Hi, Sally – the water-soluble pens are included under the first category, “Tracing.” I’ve never been a big fan of the air soluble pens. Have you had good luck with them?


  4. Mary,
    I have used the tissue paper/tacking method, unpicking the tacking stitches as I worked the design. It came out beautifully – not a mark on the fabric, except the ones I wanted there. I highly recommend it in spite of the extra time it takes. My design had some very small scrolls in it and I was able to follow them easily.
    Another question, this one for Carol, the retired librarian from Charleston: is she a member of the local EGA. I am also a retired librarian and will be moving to Charleston, SC next year. It would be nice to already know a fellow stitcher when I get there. How can we get in touch with each other?

  5. I so enjoy your daily emails and all the wonderful information. May I suggest using a sand board to lay the fabric on before tracing. It will hold the fabric still and at the same time it is a great hard surface to work on. I used one while making a Baltimore Album quilt and couldn’t do without it for many other projects.

  6. I love the sunny window technique personally 🙂 Although it does tend to curb my late night embroidery itches 😉 I usually tape up the design, then pin my fabric to the paper to stabilize it a bit more, and then tape the fabric edges up too 🙂 It is so much easier to trace with the light behind the fabric.

  7. I use the tissue/tracing paper method a lot. For small/quick projects I use tissue paper because it tears off easy. It doesn’t last long, though, so on big projects or ones that have a lot of detail, I use tracing paper. I use a hard lead pencil to transfer the design onto the tracing paper and then darken it with a fine point permanent marker, if I need to. I made the mistake only once of using a cheap, soft lead pencil once and it rubbed off on my outline thread and then to the embroidery threads. It made the work look dirty.

    I don’t like to draw on the fabric because I think that if I want to make a design change, I’ll have a mess to cover. I do make design changes often, too. I constantly edit my work while doing it. Using the tracing method, I just have to remove a few threads of the outline. So, for the time I spend it gives me a lot of freedom with the piece. I also like it because I can leave the bulk of the paper on while I pick out a small area to stitch. It helps keep the piece clean and I don’t have to watch so much where I lay my hands.

    I read where some folks use the gold colored paper made for quilting transfers. I haven’t tried that yet, though. I’m at work now, otherwise I’d post the name of the product.

    I’m not a purist on this, though and I am looking forward to trying some of the other options you mention here that I haven’t tried yet. I like the thought of the water soluable material. I have that and use it for quilting. I wonder if the residue would change the look of the threads if you didn’t get it all out. I know on fabric it takes a bit of agitation to get it all out sometimes.

    Another option might be the temporary stabilizer you iron away. I have some of that and I just might try a small bit this weekend. You’ve stimulated my mind. Thanks, Mary.

    Lin Taylor

  8. Hi Mary!

    On the transfer netting thing… I notice that that’s rigid.. Hmmm. That’s an idea, though it’s too small for my current project. I recently discovered regular ‘petticoat netting’ from actually skimming though my needlework library – Erica Wilson describes it for transferring large designs. I gave a better description on my blog a few days ago… http://bit.ly/cH7g34

    It really does work! And I can trace through it with a Micron Graphic pen, which means that I know the ink won’t bleed when I wash the curtain. I’m sure you could use a finer pen if you wanted…

  9. This is very timely for me…I am all ready to start transfering a rather complicated design for a hussif onto light green felted wool,but am delayed by my internal debate on transfer methods. Pens, carbon, etc., won’t work. I had thought about the tacking method, but tried it on scrap and the tacking treads disappeared into the soft, nappy wool. The material is too thick to see through. Has anyone had success with machine-embroidery interfacing? I was told if I used a soft tearaway, and stitched on that, not only would it keep my ground clean but be easy to (carefully) remove. (My only probelm is I love to see the design evolve, and this would block the look of the green background – I’d have a “revealing moment” at the end!) Thanks for your great website!

    1. Hello Jan,

      I have the same problem. I am trying to transfer a complicated design into felted red wool and it does not work. I have tried many options but nothing seems to work. May I ask you if you have found any good method? Best regards, Maria S.

      P.S. Thank you and sorry about my English!

  10. I have used the Martha Stewart pen in the moonstone shade on white silk using a design for a sweetbag. I made a test strip that I ironed when it was dried. I tried wetting it with plain water and washing the strip with detergent . After each try, I folded the image on itself and rubbed vigorously. It seems very stable. The long-term effects of the ink on the fabric is ahead of me yet. I do like the color as I stitch. Thank you for all of the great information.

  11. ohhhhhhhhhhh thank you for all this related info. Can’t wait for the next ‘set’. I would love to know about the different kinds of threads, how the twists work and what to use where….. lol ….not much really.

  12. What kind of stitch works well with scallops? Should I do a satin stitch and fill it in? I tried to outline it using a stem stitch but the thread pulls into the scallop and breaks the look of the line (so to speak)…Help!

  13. Mary, I have learned so much from this site. Thank you. I have a question about fabric. I have good skills but not a lot of experience with various materials. Because I am also a quilter I have been using quilting cotton, which is quite good for some things but lately I have been creating designs out of wall-to-wall French knots of no.5 perle cotton and it is too much for the quilting fabric. I like the weight of the stitches themselves so I would like to switch fabric rather than go to a finer thread (in fact I want to try some no. 3). What kind of fabric would be good?

    1. Hi, EMG – Have you thought about using wool felt? It would make an interesting base for pieces worked in French knots. I suppose it depends, though, on what your final product would be. A medium-weight, tightly woven (higher thread count) linen would work, if you’re looking for something finer. I’d suggest Alba Maxima by Legacy, or any of their dower quality linens. They are expensive if you look at them as priced-per-yard, but a fat quarter’ll get you pretty far. Hope that helps! ~MC

  14. Mary, thanks for the advice. I think I will try the wool felt first not only due to cost but also for the wider variety of colors available. Although I don’t get a lot of show-through with the packed french knots technique, I don’t like to work on very light colors unless I plan to deliberately leave open background. The final product is just a flat decorative picture – the knotted surface is very tough, and could probably survive as a cushion or something, but they take so long to make I don’t want them getting knocked around. I wonder if the felt will be sturdy enough that it could be displayed on its own, without framing, much like a quilt.

    1. Hi, EMG – the nice thing about felt is that you don’t have to finish the edges if you don’t want to. But one thing I notice about doing a lot of heavy, thick stitching on felt (which is what your French knots would be) does cause the felt to “wobble” a bit on the edges. So you might finish the edges somehow. Also, while you wouldn’t have to back the felt with anything, it would probably look more finished if you did. Felt is pretty sturdy, though. You can do a lot with it! ~MC

  15. Being an English Lit teacher (did I get that correct?) and interested in historical embroidery, perhaps you have an answer to the following: I read in one of my favorite historical romances about a type of needle work where the stitcher counted threads ie. “up two down four”. In the description it seemed they used one color and the work would eventually be a negative of the design and similar to a tapestry? I was very interested in this and wondered if the patterns were always memorized or maybe had been recorded somewhere?


    1. Hi, Marian – I’ll have to sit down and see what comes of doing “up two down four” with a needle and thread. All I can pictures is a kind of diagonal zig-zag design – which maybe would be a good background? But memorizing the steps of a stitch and kind of “chanting” them in your head as you stitch is not so unusual, I don’t think. I find myself teaching my students using a repetitive “chant” for the steps of stitches. Just today, double herringbone, it was, “Down, under the new, over the old. Up, over the new, under the old.” And as I repeat the movement of the stitch, I say it aloud. They end up saying it to themselves as they stitch, too – and some of them write it down that way. I never really thought about it before. But to answer your question, I doubt that specific steps in that kind of chant were recorded anywhere. But who knows?! I would imagine that whoever wrote the novel you were reading was a stitcher, and that in describing the character stitching, the author described something that I think a lot of stitchers must do when working a complicated stitch, or at least a stitch that requires the stitcher to keep track of where she is at the moment. But it’s an interesting topic! I may pursue it a little further in a post, and see what other stitchers do! Thanks!

  16. I would be interested to know exactly what period the novel was set in. It owuld be easier to ascertain what kind of needlework was typical of the time. (By the way, this could be blackwork if it was a Tudor period romance.)

  17. Hi, Mary–if you’ll send your snail mail address, I’ll happily send you the first issue of Spool. I’d also like to print your article on tracing designs for embroidery in the Winter issue, if publicity is enough. Still have no money. Hi ho. Best Regards–De

  18. Hi Mary,
    I JUST read that if you starch your fabric [when ironing], you can trace your pattern directly onto the fabric with a dull/blunt #2 pencil.
    Where I saw that escapes me but I DO know it was in a very old book.
    Thank you for your wonderful, wonderful website!

  19. Hi Mary,
    I was reviewing your transfer pens review and I have used the .01 Pigma Micron in the past and found that it was still too thick a line for transfering the design and have since found a thinner and finer Pigma Micron in the .005. These can be found at DickBlick.com
    in all colors. Just wanted to share.
    I really enjoy your newsletters and website.

    1. Thanks, Kay! I use the .005 most of the time, too. The only thing I don’t like about it is the way it scratches over the linen threads, but I find if I draw slowly and carefully, at a little bit of an angle, it really can’t be beat as a transfer pen! I like the sepia and the black best. ~MC

  20. Hi Mary,
    I was just wondering what is the best way to wash out lead pencil? just by soaking in cold water (or hot water?) and should I use detergent?
    Thank You!

  21. Over the years I have made red felt Christmas stockings for everyone in my own family. I embroidered their names on their stockings using embroidery floss and the lazy daisy stitch. Many years have gone by since I made the last one…15 years ago….but now they are being requested for my grandchildren. I have prepared their names in freehand on thin tissue paper but am trying to remember how I transferred them onto the felt since it can’t be washed. Of all the suggestions above, it seems like the tacking stitches method would work the best even though I don’t think I did this on the original ones. Does any one have any other thoughts on the easiest way to do this…I have to make five for this Christmas. Thanks so much!
    P.S. Mary, I love your website. Thanks so much for all of the work involved in preparing this material for those of us who love to do handwork.

  22. How funny…I just realized that the last question before mine in the comment section is also about transferring on felt!

  23. Dear Mary,
    Thank you for today’s tip. I have been struggling with transfer. I have been using an iron on pencil and my iPad for a light box. Your method works better .

    Thank you,

  24. i have found that tracing the design onto butchers paper and then tacking it to the fabric works for me. i would suggest ironing on some interfacing behind the embroidered area if the fabric is particularly soft or it isnt very stiff.

  25. Mary,

    I bought the linnen recommended for the Home Sweet Home Project book, however, I have tried an infinite brand of transfer papers, window copying,light box, etc., and nothing, absolutely nothing works.
    If I put a lot of pressure as I transfer, I can get something on the linnen and the papers tears, without the pressure., I get nothing. It is so frustrating, I wonder if anyone out there can come up with a solution, please give them my email.
    Thank you in advance,

  26. Hi Mary,

    I’m planning to embroider on a hood made of blue microfleece. Can you recommend the best way to transfer a design?


    1. Hi, Jonelle – transferring on micro fleece is kind of difficult. What I would do is use tissue paper or a removable, wash away stabilizer and stitch over it and then remove it. – MC

  27. Mary, I just finished reading all the methods of transferring a design. My particular problem is that I need to transfer a complicated design repeatedly 8 times on black cotton fabric. I really don’t want to trace the design 8 separate times, but Saral paper is the only thing I think that might work. Have you other suggestions? Thank you in advance.


  28. Hi Mary
    I find in France an other method. It is “voile intissé” by brand Bohin.You transfer in right all drawing with a pen disappear with water. You make one with your motif (same of calque)and you repeat on your fabric. Magique ! and after you watch (hand) your voile intissé for use again and again.2 size:30 cm x 50 cm or 1 métre 20 x 1m20.You can use for fabric and wood and cardboard.Never, never iron.

    1. If you want test this, I can give you for you test for all girl embrodery and perhaps you said good, because it is only me.Perhaps you have similar in U.S.A or Bohin.

    1. It can, but it tends to leave residue on the threads. If you look for dressmakers carbon, or Saral transfer paper, it’s the same concept, but it is wax free and it doesn’t smudge or transfer to the threads.

    2. Thank you Mary. BTW… found your projects. Am going to have to try Hummingbird Garden Jacobean project. Too tempting to resist… that is why I was asking about a way to transfer a pattern. Will probably just trace it by taping it to a window. Have one project to finish first though and then will buy the book as I can. Have saved all the lessons up till now.

      In Christ,
      Gail J.

  29. Hi Mary,

    I thought I’d share a different method if you are using a pattern with a very sheer fabric. I learned it at an Irish Lacemaking Guild for Carrickmacross Lace. Print the design on regular inkjet printer paper. The place contact paper over it. Hoop (or just baste( the sheer fabric with the contact paper laminated design. As you embroider, make sure you go between the fabric and the contact paper (many lacemakers will use a colored contact paper to help them differentiate). The main advantage to this method is a reusable pattern.

  30. The best on the market for tracing designs on fabric, if you haven’t tried it, is the Frixion pen, found in your office supply stores, and now in quilt shops. It is a gel pen in multiple colors. A quilter accidentally discovered that when you apply heat (iron) it completely disappears !!!!! I do a lot of hand embroidery and this is a God-sent. I use nothing else since discovering it. The shell is easily spotted by the swirly designs on it….suggest you try it. Works like a dream on all cottons, pretest on a corner on other fabrics. Just had to share this product with you!

    1. Hi, Sandra! Thanks for your comment and the recommendation. Although the Frixion pen disappears with heat, the chemical is still left behind on the fabric, and in cold conditions, the lines can come back. Also, over time, the lines can “ghost” in a brownish color. I usually steer clear of anything that still leaves a chemical residue on the fabric, because over time, this can affect the fabric or threads. You can find some stories online about quilters who have had problems with the pen in the long run. I think it’s great for quick little projects, but I wouldn’t necessarily use it on anything that I’m sinking a lot of time and money into. That’s just me – I know other people swear by it, but I have my reservations about it.

  31. Hi,
    I have been searching all over the internet for an answer to my question and have no luck finding one, so I’m hoping you can answer it for me :). I have been hand embroidering a pattern on a shirt without stabilizer, but I placed a soft iron-on backing on top of the embroidery on the back to protect the skin. My question is, will it come off after machine washing and/or drying? Should I machine wash it and tumble dry low, or air dry? Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi, Marilyn! If there isn’t good contact between the fabric and the interfacing where it adheres on the back of the embroidery – depends on how dense your embroidery is – I think over time, it may bubble and eventually separate. I’d check the manufacturer’s instructions for the interfacing and see what they recommend for washing. I’d be inclined to air dry, myself, just because the dryer can really take its toll on threads – fuzzing or fading them much more quickly.

  32. Hi Mary!
    I am a stay/work at home mom of two, age 32, who would love to start embroidering and make it my life-long handicraft! I love the style http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/d9/46/bd/d946bd8c96ac655c0f0f051f33df0fc7.jpg a,d the whimsical small details that are so popular now! I would love for you to tell the the best supply list to start out with. I believe in real material even from the get go, so please let me know of the best items I can purchase, from thread to needles!

    1. Hi, Kristina –

      Thanks for your comment! Well, the website is full of all kinds of information for supplies. I think for this look, you’d want a decent linen – light to medium weight – and cotton floss (DMC stranded cotton). You’d also want a decent hoop (I like the Hardwicke Manor hoops – you can find them reviewed here: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2009/07/embroidery-hoop.html), which I prefer to use with binding on it (tutorial to bind a hoop here: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2009/07/tutorial-binding-embroidery-hoop.html). You’ll also want a decent pair of small, sharp embroidery scissors, and a selection of needles, both crewel (also called “embroidery” needles) and tapestry, in various sizes. They sell combo packs of needles at most stitchery stores and hobby shops.

      For linen, you want to work on good linen (which makes all the difference in your finished results) that’s made for surface embroidery (as opposed to counted cross stitch). The weave is tighter, providing more support for surface embroidery stitches. Any of the embroidery linens at Hedgehog Handworks (http://www.hedgehoghandworks.com/catalog/fibers_LinenFabric.php) are good. My favorite would be Alba Maxima, which also comes in an off-white (if she doesn’t have it at Hedgehog, she can special order it). Strathaven natural is very nice, if you want a natural colored linen. The lower count linens (30 count) are going to be a little less dense for stitching, but they still work ok for surface embroidery. Although the prices look high on those, note the width the fabrics – some are quite wide. A fat quarter of any of them is generally a good sized piece to start with, that you can cut smaller pieces from. All depends on the size of the projects you have in mind, I suppose! 🙂

      That’ll get you started. The other thing you might want to have on hand is a good stitch dictionary, but you can also find plenty of stitch instructions online, including here on Needle ‘n Thread: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/videos or an alphabetical listing of stitches here: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/videos#Embroidery-Stitches-A-Z

      Hope that helps!

  33. Thank you Mary for such wonderful information from a beginners to expert level!! Your site has rekindled my interest in embroidery. My daughter is now following your site as well. Hoping someone can offer a solution.

    I decided to monogram onto a faux leather material. Of course it’s a patterned cloth of a medium dark brown so I scoured your information and tried the dress makers transfer (it didn’t show up). I ran across a transfer paper, digging through various crafts I tinker with, and located a transfer paper which worked wonderfully getting the pattern on the cloth. It is SARAL wax free transfer paper. I’m a touch hesitant to work the design though as it seems easy to wipe off with a wipe of the fingers. Any suggestions on setting it in long enough to work the project? It is not an iron/heat set type of transfer medium.
    Thank you
    Sharon B. – Texas

  34. Do I have to use a transfer pattern? Do embroiderers ever draw directly onto fabric or just freehand with no pattern? Thank you for your help!

    1. You don’t have to trace or transfer a pattern, Clarita – you can draw free hand on your fabric. Just keep in mind that, if the lines don’t wash out, you have to be able to cover them with embroidery. Most embroiderers prefer to use a pattern and transfer it, to minimize the chance of mistakes directly on the ground fabric.

    2. Thank you! This is so helpful! What product do you recommend for drawing directly onto fabric? Marking pens? Pencils? Water soluble? Chalk? Thank you again!

    3. It depends on how confident you are, when it comes to drawing directly on the fabric. If you think you might make mistakes, use something that can be removed, like a fine ceramic chalk pencil. You can also starch your fabric heavily with spray starch and iron it, and then use a light pencil. The pencil will wash out more easily, thanks to the spray starch. I wouldn’t necessarily use anything permanent, unless you are very confident in your drawing skills!

  35. I have a picture I found d in a magazine and want to get it onto fabric to embroider but I’m not sure how to get it from the magazine page to whatever I should yes to then get it on fabric.
    Thank you for any ideas.
    Tami V.

  36. Hi All. I am stitching white on white on 200 hankies. Any ideas for quickly transferring the design to each hankie? Also, I need the finished product to be completely white, so the transfer will need to be able to be washed/ironed/etc. out. Thank you.

    1. I and stitching Boutis on cream silk. I do not know what to use to transfer the pattern onto the silk as I need the transfer marks to disappear when finished.
      As the lining below is fine cotton should I perhaps draw the design onto this and with help of light see the pattern below the stitch ?
      Thank yOu

  37. Mary I love your site and pass it along to others. My mother taught me embroidery when I was young, many years ago. I picked it up again a few years back when my niece announced her engagement. Naturally I wanted to go all out with pillowcases and other “bridal” linens. I receive you newsletter thru email and was reading this particular one. I have found fine tip markers for transferring patterns that is water soluble. I tested and indeed, it washes out. It’s Sabilo fineline markers from Hobby Lobby. I live in a small town and could not find the Pilot or Papermate markers you recommended. Just wanted to share this with you. AND THANK YOU FOR ALL OF YOUR TIPS AND INSTRUCTIONS!
    Diane Ivey
    Ashland, KY

    1. I just wanted to add, for me allot of money and time goes into a project before I even get started…project books & magazines, buying the fabrics & threads so knowing how to properly transfer my pattern just seems as important as every other step in the process so again, I really appreciate the article & the comments, it just pulls everything together, thank you

  38. When she passed away, my mother was embroidering a quilt, it isn’t complete although most of it is finished. If I wash it, will the pattern disappear, allowing me to get it quilted?

    1. Hi, Wanda – not sure about that. Different transfer methods behave differently when it comes to permanence. You might test part of it by rinsing under water, to see what happens.

  39. hi! Just found your site while looking for ways to make my embroidery faster and more efficient. I use a method similar to your tissue paper method: I print out my design on regular printer paper, then pine the paper to my fabric. I stitch over the paper (not basting stitches, but my actual outlining stitches, so I don’t need to stitch twice). Once I’m done, I wet the paper with a damp cloth and pull the pieces away. If you’re doing this for smaller and more detailed embroideries, you’ll likely need to take a needle to smaller bits of paper to pull them away, but this method has worked great for me for many projects!

  40. Is there a way to enlarge and transfer the enlarged design to the fabric? Thank you so much. I’m totally new at embroidery after accidentally finding Needlenthread, and now trying to learn, and hooked!

    1. Hi, Maria – I like to use a photocopy machine (or my home printer) to enlarge a design. I start with a percentage larger and check it, and if I need it still larger or smaller, make adjustments in the percentage. If your home printer is too small to manage what you’re trying to do, then you can always take it to a copy center and have them enlarge the design for you. Then, how you transfer it depends on, really, what you’re doing and what type of fabric you’re working on. If you can’t trace it, then prick and pounce (explained in one of the links in the article) is a good option.

  41. Hi,

    Not a comment, but a question. Hope it’s allowed. I have a vintage candlewicking kit I purchased from EBay. The instructions say “Use 6-ply for everything except the knots, then use 12-ply for those. The thread is 100% cotton candlewicking thread. How do I know what ply it is to start with? It doesnt look like there are more than 2 threads making up the lengths included in the kit, but i can’t tell definitely.

    Thanks tons,
    Elisa Rowe-Dye Mahoney

    1. Hi, Elisa – Are there two different weights of thread in the kit, one thicker and one thinner? I’m guessing the thinner would be used for the embroidery and the thicker would be used for the knots.

  42. I new to needlepoint, cross stitch and embroidery and I’ll have all I’ll ever need here on your website. I have been wondering how in the world we transferred patterns to fabric and you are the only person that has explained it in such detail and I wanted to say thank you and thanks for including Colonial Patterns. I know I will love and enjoy all of there supplies. I’ve been here when I’m not sewing or being domestic! Thank God for your website and by the way I love to sew!

  43. Great information in this article and comments!! I’m also going to check out your links to using the solvay paper!! I really appreciate all the beneficial information in your articles…thank you!!

  44. Hi Mary,

    Thank you so much for all the great information! As someone else said, it’s like getting a university-level education in embroidery.

    Is there a particular transfer method you recommend for stitching on silk satin? I’m dying to try a project I saw in the most recent Inspirations book (Blakiston Creamery) but I’ve never tried stitching on anything but linen twill and cotton.

    Thank you!

  45. Hello everyone,
    thanks for all your helpful tricks and tips. I have used a lightbox for transferring my patterns so far (a glass table-top with a light under it) and tracing with a pilot frixion pen. It erases on paper, and will dissapear completely from fabric with heat. Just iron it out. My design came off in the summer after I had to leave my embroidery in a hot car for an hour or so.

  46. Love your website! I am new to embroidery and have fallen in love it as a creative outlet. Your site is my go-to for learning new stitches and to search for answers to the plethora of questions that pop up during the learning process. I like to embroider on heavier slubby linen. What do you consider the best transfer technique for such fabric? It is too thick to trace a design well with a light box or the window method. Thank you for sharing your expertise, Jane

    1. Hi, Jane – either prick and pounce (you can find a tutorial here: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2011/05/prick-pounce-embroidery-design-transfer.html) or tacking stitches on tissue paper (tutorial here: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2009/02/transferring-embroidery-pattern-using.html). When doing the latter, I would now pretty much recommend regular tissue paper (white) that you’d use in a gift bag. The latter would probably work best on a heavy, slubby linen. It takes time, but it is very accurate.

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