The other day, I got a little package in the mail from Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching.
Nestled inside was one of her new fine-tipped iron-on transfer pens.
You know me – I’m always game to try a new embroidery product, especially one intended to make the transfer process easier.
So I set about playing with the pen, thinking I’d eventually write a review of it.
The more I played with it, the more I thought I better write a review sooner, rather than later. After all, it’s always better to be aware of things ahead of time, than to wish you had known before it was Too Late.
The embroidery transfer product industry is a funny thing. There are, after all, heaps of specialty pens, pencils, printable interfacings, films, plastic grids, and so forth that have been marketed with the express purpose of making the design transfer process for embroidery easier. They all practically promise the perfect solution.
The fact is, though, that few of them actually work with a high level of satisfaction. They all have their drawbacks in some form or another.
For me, the perfect solution would be the Think System – that is, the ability to wish the design right onto the fabric, and voilá! There it is!
Since that’s neither possible, probable, or in any way attainable, instead, I gravitate towards transfer solutions that give satisfactory results with the least amount of grief or risk.
The cons of iron-ons
I’ve shied away from iron-on transfer pens and pencils for several reasons:
1. When it comes to pencils, they rarely transfer a nice line that’s easily visible.
2. When it comes to pens, the design line is too visible – it’s usually thick, heavy, and dark, making it difficult to cover well with stitches.
3. The iron-on process is more reliable with small designs; the larger the design, the more difficult to get a really accurately placed and transferred design.
4: If you mess up on an iron-on transfer, you’ve pretty much wasted a piece of fabric, because the lines are permanent.
There’s always a but…
All that being said, I’m open to exceptions! So let’s look at the Sublime Stitching iron-on transfer pens and see how they work.
To use the pens, you trace a design onto tracing paper. In this case, I didn’t have any tracing paper right on hand, but I had some drafting vellum, which is the same thing, only with a blue grid on it. I used the back of the drafting vellum (or the unprinted side).
Notice that the lines are, in fact, nice and fine! If you were tracing the same lines with another popular iron-on transfer pen out there, you’d not end up with lines so fine.
In addition to the line width, there’s another Big Difference with the Sublime Stitching pens. They’re a continuous flow pen, like a regular micron pen or fine tipped marker or the like. There’s no shaking or depressing the point to get the ink flowing. You use the pen just any other pen, and it writes just like any other pen.
So those are two jolly points in favor of the pen.
I know, I know! But how does it transfer? Because that’s what it’s all about, after all.
To test the transfer, I started with a high-quality cotton muslin.
Following the directions, I pre-heated the fabric. The instructions aren’t super-specific, but I just ironed it using a dry iron on the cotton setting until the fabric was good and smooth and hot.
With the fabric hot, I placed the transfer ink-side-down onto the fabric and held the dry iron on it for (again, the instructions aren’t specific) about 10 seconds, counting 1-mississippi-2-mississippi, up to 10.
When I removed the iron and the paper, I felt that little tinge of gratification. Well done, Jenny Hart! said I.
Above, you can see the results of the first transfer, which I think it came out really well. The lines can easily be covered with two strands of floss.
More than one transfer
According to the description on the pen, you should be able to get several impressions from one drawing, so I tested that.
I re-pre-heated the fabric and tried a second time. Since this was a second impression, I held the iron on for 12 seconds.
The second impression was not so good, but I think the blank spots are from the little steam holes in my iron. Overall, it’s not that bad of an impression – I can still see the lines enough to stitch over them.
Let’s try a third time.
The third impression, held for 13 seconds, was a little worse (on the far right), but in fact, I can still see the lines. I could stitch them, if pressed.
How about four?
While the fourth impression, held for 15 seconds, seems to be a little darker than the third, it’s also very blurry. The lines are no longer sharp; they’re fuzzy, like ink on damp paper.
But still, the fact that it managed four visible impressions is pretty…impressive!
Let’s try linen!
Cotton is not my fabric of choice for embroidery. I’m more of a linen gal, myself.
So, I figured I should try the pen on linen.
On a new sheet of paper, I traced out the pattern again, so I was using a completely fresh transfer.
I pre-heated the linen for a while until it was good and hot, and made the first impression, holding the iron on for 10 seconds again. The photo above is the result.
The top part of the design did not transfer so well, but such is life when dealing with iron-on transfers. They’re not always consistent. I have a very good iron, so it’s not necessarily the iron. It could also be my technique, I suppose. I held the iron in one spot the whole time, as the design is small, but I didn’t give any particular weight to it. And it could be that the iron had moved into a cooling cycle, so the top part of the plate was not as hot as the base… whatever the case, that’s the first impression on linen.
The second impression on the linen (on the right) was not as good as the second impression on cotton. The lines are much softer, not nearly as sharp and clear.
And the third impression on the linen (on the right, above) is not really usable.
Pros and Cons
The pros for this particular brand of iron-on pen are numerous:
1. The tip is very fine.
2. The flow system is like a regular pen – no shaking required!
3. The first transfer is crisp and clear, and getting a second transfer (and even a third, depending on the fabric) is feasible.
4. The lines are fine enough to cover easily with two strands of floss.
5. The lines are not dark-dark. Even with the dark blue color I’m using (the pens come in different colors), the blue ends up being kind of a grayish-blue on the transfer. It’s a nice, all-purpose color for iron-ons.
1. Like any iron-on, it works best with small designs; large designs can be difficult to place and transfer accurately all over.
2. Like most iron-on solutions, it is permanent, so if you make a mistake in the transfer process, you can’t undo it.
3. The pens are a bit pricey, at $6.50 each, though you can purchase a combo pack of all five colors for $25, which gives a little bit of a break on the price.
Yes, these are a pen I’d have on hand for quick transfers. I think they’re worth getting, especially if you do lots of small projects with a fair amount of detail.
I’m probably not one to go for the colored varieties (I can’t see the point of the green or orange, for example, though I think the red might be nice for redwork). I think the blue is a nice color and would work as a general all-around color for most projects.
I don’t know (I’m curious, though) how the colors work on dark fabrics. For example, I wonder if the orange works on black? I sort of doubt it, because the ink doesn’t transfer entirely opaque, but that’s something I may explore further.
If you’re keen on the idea of iron-on transfer pens, these are definitely the ones to go with!
Before it’s too late…
Last time Sublime Stitching had these in stock, they sold out lickety-split. If you’ve been seeking an iron-on transfer solution worth getting, then I’d get one sooner rather than later.
You can find the pens available here on the Sublime Stitching website. No affiliation – just letting you know they’re available!