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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Transfer Whitework Embroidery Designs with Confidence!


Amazon Books

Living in a small rural town in the middle of Kansas has its advantages…but it also has certain drawbacks.

For example, local embroidery supplies are pretty scarce. And locals who share an interest in embroidery are scarce, too. That’s why I love, love, love our little community on Needle ‘n Thread! Thanks to the internet, we can share ideas, tips, and tricks about embroidery with ease, almost as if we live right next door to each other!

This month, I experienced another disadvantage of rural life. Mid-May, I received one of those delightful little cards from the Post Office that said I had a package waiting. I love those cards! Especially when I’m not expecting a package! But upon perusal, I saw, circled boldly, “Last Notice. Package will be returned to sender in two days.” Last notice? Last Notice? I never got a first notice! Needless to say, I hastened to the local PO (which has the oddest hours on the face of the earth), and retrieved a very intriguing package, which I’m going to tell you about today.

This particular package hails from Cynthia – you might remember her from the incredible work she did in formatting my Marian Medallion e-book – and in it is an item that may very well be The Solution to all your whitework embroidery transfer fears.

Pilot Eno Blue Pen for Embroidery Transfer

Cynthia is a thoroughly thorough person. When seeking a solution for transferring whitework designs (specifically for Schwalm embroidery), she decided to experiment with several different transfer possibilities.

Enclosed in her package was the result of her experiments – photos of her Schwalm whitework, cleaned and pressed, with no evidence of transfer lines; samples of small stitched pieces cleaned in different solutions, also with no evidence of a transfer lines; a write-up of her method of experimentation; and the winner of her experiments – a Pilot ENO pencil in blue, with extra leads.

Pilot Eno Blue Pen for Embroidery Transfer

This particular Pilot pencil – the ENO – comes in a variety of colors, but the blue is most suitable for transferring whitework embroidery designs. Why?

Blue has a tendency to make white look whiter. It “disappears” more easily into white. And so it’s always a better choice than other colors – like gray or red, for example – when it comes to transferring a design for whitework embroidery. If all the blue doesn’t disappear entirely, it’s not as noticeable.

Pilot Eno Blue Pen for Embroidery Transfer

Cynthia tested several different transfer methods, including the Clover iron-on transfer pen, water color pencils, Sublime Stitching’s transfer pen, and finally, the Pilot Mechanical 0.7 ENO in blue.

With the Clover iron-on pencil, she found that the lines spread a bit, that the marks only transferred once and unevenly at that, and that no washing solution that she used removed all the marks.

The watercolor pencils also left faint marks that did not entirely wash away.

Nothing would remove the Sublime Stitching transfer marks.

But finally, with the ENO, she found a transfer pencil that drew a smooth, easily visible line that doesn’t rub off, and that washed away without a trace.

Cynthia used a variety of washing solutions, including Tide Free and Gentle Laundry Detergent; Arm & Hammer Washing Booster; Ivory Dishwashing Soap; Dawn Dishwashing Liquid; and Orvus. Her chosen method for the samples she worked ended up being 2 tablespoons of Tide Free & Gentle mixed with 1 tablespoon of Arm & Hammer Washing Booster in 1 quart of water, soak for 18 hours, rinse, and finally, boil the piece in a pot of water for five minutes.

It sounds complicated, especially the last boiling part, but the boiling removes all soap residue and gives the linen a final whitened result that is quite crisp and stunning. I’ve been boiling whitework linens to clean them for a long time – it’s worth the effort!

Ivory dishwashing soap also worked well, following the same method above.

Pilot Eno Blue Pen for Embroidery Transfer

Here, you can see a small embroidered sample. The ENO was used to draw the design, and the washing was done as above. Not a trace of blue. Perfectly white, perfectly crisp. Exactly what you want to happen when you wash away transfer lines on a whitework embroidery project!

A huge thank-you to Cynthia for testing, samples, and such a thorough write-up! I’m pretty excited about the ENO, and I can’t wait to make use of it! It’s always nice to transfer a design with confidence and know that, in the end, the lines will be gone!

Where to Find the ENO

The ENO is not widely available in big box or office stores (or at least, not in Kansas – I tried!). In the US, you can find the blue ENO through the following affiliate links:

Blue 0.7 ENO – Pencil (Amazon)

Extra Blue ENO 0.7 leads (Amazon)


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(48) Comments

  1. Dear Mary

    It’s nice to hear from you Mary The ENO pencil looks like the answer to the difficulties of transferring designs especially on whitework, what a great find and what a lovely gift for you Mary, I bet you were delighted. I can’t wait to see your future whitework embroidery projects using the ENO pencil, ha, ha. A big thank you to Cynthia for sending you the ENO pencil and thanks Mary for sharing this with us a very useful item for embroiderers. I hope you are keeping well Mary and getting lots of rest.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  2. Way to go Cynthia! I’ve been looking for a solution to this very problem. I recently completed a schwalm table cloth (Luzine Hemple), and wanted a better transfer method for my next project. I also found the iron transfer method problematic and after two years of stitching, off and on, there is one faint pink mark that will not come out. I had pre-tested for removability but time made it stubborn..

    Any idea what makes this ENO pencil unique in its ability to remain throughout stitching and still be removable? Just curios.

    Thank you for all your great resources, they always seem to arrive just when I need them.

  3. Good morning Mary, That is a good tip. Thank you to you and to Cynthia. Very thorough research.
    Ann B.

  4. That blue lead sounds wonderful. However I use silk threads alot and washing the work after completing causes the colors to run. Do you have any thoughts regarding the transfer when using silk threads?
    Hope you are feeling better these days. Your newsletter is the always one of the highlights of my day.

  5. Thanks for such a timely post! I was just looking for a better pencil and then like magic you had just the thing.
    I will note that your links to Amazon say the single pencil is no longer available. If you’re looking for referral revenue you could also post to the full set.
    Thanks again!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing another great tool. The Eno pencil sounds like the perfect thing for my quilting and other sewing projects that I need to use placement marks. This will really save me some time. Very many thank you’s to Cynthia for sharing her experiment.

  7. Thank you Cynthia, and thank you Mary! Very exciting to know. I’m going to be taking a Whitework two day class at the Williamsburg School of Needlework, so this information will be a huge bonus to that class!

  8. Mary, I tried to order the Pilot Eno pen from Amazon but received the notification they were out and did not have an ETA for additional stock. So I fished around on the net and found http://www.jetpens.com and ordered the pens. I put in my order but don’t know about service yet. Since I am leaving for an extended trip I wanted to tell you about the problem and possible solution even though I couldn’t rate the service. The pens are not very expensive, by the way. Best, Charlotte

    1. Thanks for the link Charlotte! Sorry Amazon is out of these right now. — Cindy

    2. One could also order the pen in a different color (for example, the lighter blue) and then substitute in the correct color of lead.

    3. I am filled with confusion of face! I went back into Amazon because Cindy’s response made me think again. It’s there, I should known Mary wouldn’t give us a bad link. Actually, I thought NeedlenThread fans had bought out Amazon’s stock I wish I knew what wrong thing I asked for this morning. Oh, well, now we know two places to get the pens.

    4. I ordered from Jet Pens, too, on 6/1 with delivery expected 6/4. I’ll post here when it arrives.

  9. That’s a nice bit of information. I need to go over this a few times, and print this article out for saving in my embroidery books. The whites shown here are blindingly brilliant! Thank you for the post, and all the helpful hints.

  10. Mary,
    I tried to order these pens at Amazon but the individual pencils are not currently available. So I ordered a set of pencils (since I like mechanical pencils anyway) and they are available now. I ordered the replacement leads for blue only.
    I am looking forward to trying them. I have a Schwalm project and a Montmellick project I would like to start later this summer and it would be great to find a good transfer pencil.
    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  11. What great timing. I am planning an important piece of white work for the church. A pall for an urn. In memory of my father. I am planning on white linen with cotton thread in several sizes. With a scrolly border from your website. And a dove in flight for the center. I am not sure what linen yet. I am still planning and can find no information on making a pall on the Internet. But this information helps with one problem, the transfer. Thank you.

    I recently finished reading your blog from start to finish, I was sorry I read it all, I really enjoyed it. I have learned a lot.

    1. I forgot to add, I do hope you are doing better health wise. I have had you in my prayers for some time now. I wish I was close enough to help.

    1. This is used directly on the fabric. Great for tracing. It is fairly soft, so it doesn’t jump — goes on smoothly. — Cindy

  12. This looks so great that I’m tempted to order this pencil right now, even though I have NO plans to do any whitework anytime soon!

    Hmm, I wonder if this transfer pencil would also be useful for transferring designs onto cotton. I don’t think I’d want to boil a cotton piece, especially if I used colored thread on it. I might have to try my own experiment!

  13. Even though I have never tried a lot of the things you talk about here, I just love your blog! My “hand embroidery” pinterest folder is pretty much dominated by your posts 🙂 I just clicked on the link for the pencil and Amazon doesn’t have any currently in stock (Needle ‘n Thread readers must have snapped them all up!), but I did find them on eBay for those who can’t wait to get one.

  14. It must be a busy day because I have Never been the first comment! Glad you shared this Mary. If it works for white-work, I’m ‘experimenting’ for use on other embroidery types.

  15. I did a little searching after my posted comment (#1) and found that Amazon didn’t have the pencil in stock. However, jetpens.com, has the pencil in blue and many other colors for those that are interested.

    1. Thanks to several industrious (and generous!) readers, the pens are available at jetpens.com. Thanks, everyone for sharing that source!

  16. Recently, we had a speaker at our EGA chapter who is in charge of linens for the Episcopal Cathedral in Albany, NY. She said that her last ditch cleaning method is to “poach” linens in a solution of water and cream of tartar (found in the spice department at your grocery store). She mixes 2-3 tablespoons of cream of tartar into a large pot of water, brings it to a simmer, and let the linen poach in that for about 20 minutes. OF course, you will have first tested the item for color fastness!

  17. Do you think or know if this pencil would work just as well on other light colored fabrics such as cotton ? Great write up!

  18. Something else to put on my wish list! I am curious to see if the pencil also comes in white (which I am on a continual search to find the best). Thanks Mary!

  19. Is there a reason why we could not use the 0.7 ENO leads with another pencil that uses the same size lead?

  20. (My first time posting here!)

    Many thanks to Cynthia for her diligent research and testing. Can’t wait to try the pens.

    I’d like to recommend Forever New fabric detergent. It is very gentle and rinses out of fabric very well – but beware, you need very little or it makes a lot of suds. As a bonus, it’s great for washing deep and bright colors, and lingerie, because it leaves so little residue. (I promise, I have no financial interest in the product, I’ve just used it for years).

  21. Hallo Mary , I just ordered a packet of the leads to try . Thanks for the recommendation Cynthia : )..but …I think it is for drawing a design on to fabric only , rather than for then ironing onto fabric …am I right ?

  22. Thank you Cynthia and Mary. What an interesting alternative to other tried and tested pens/pencils. It strikes me that using the ENO pencil would be a good introduction to transferring patterns for newbies like me
    I am not a ‘whiteworker’ yet but I do embroider on linen. I am often held up at the pattern transfer stage as I am worried that I will make a mess of it and waste expensive fabric. [This has happened :-(] As a result I tend to choose designs that are very simple to trace with a gel pen. I need the outlines to last a while so do not favour pens that may fade. This ENO pencil may be the answer to my prayers. It would seem that if I make a mistake it would be possible to wash it out and have another go. I have ordered a pencil and am going try it out on other types of linen and possibly silk too. Has anybody else tried other fabric?

  23. Yaaay Cynthia! For her thoroughly successful experimentation – and Yaaay Mary for posting the results here on Needle ‘n Thread. Thank you BOTH!!!
    Having an online community is one of the best things that has happened to hand Needlework! I wonder when Pilot will figure out that there’s a niche MARKET for their product…maybe when the sales of the ENO go through the roof! As for the other lesser quality, but needlework specific pens and pencils – maybe they will smarten up and partner with Pilot on a superior product – 😉

  24. I just finished the article on transferring whitework patterns, and the complicated method of removing the pattern lines once the work is finished. Why not just use the Pilot FriXion erasable marker. It comes in many colours, does not run or smudge, and disappears with heat – ie, iron your work when complete and the lines are gone. You can then wash and iron your project and it looks beautiful. Markers are available at fabric and craft stores, as well as Staples.

  25. At Jet Pens dot com, you can get the pen and a pack of leads for $4.40 but there is a $5 shipping fee unless you spend $25 and then shipping is free.

    1. I’d like to second Ronna’s suggestion re: Frixion pens and their like. I’ve been a hand embroiderer all my life but have recently become interested in quilting… who knew what wonderful ‘toys’ are available to these stitchers! Their problems with marking patterns onto fabric are similar to ours and they have several new-to-us solutions (new-to-me, anyway). Frixion pens, as Ronna mentioned, iron-off… so does the Bohin fabric marker. My Bohin marker is white – making it great for marking dark fabrics… it has the rather odd behaviour of taking a second or two to show up on the fabric. Coloured Frixion pens are great on lighter coloured fabrics. These are really good for threads that aren’t colourfast. There are also markers which are water-erasable… you can apply water with a q-tip, spray bottle or simply wash your work.

  26. A hue thank you Mary and Cynthia!
    I like to work stitch resist shibori on white fabrics and am always on the lookout for a marking aid which will go-away when I’m done needing it and ready to dye the fabric. Fine chalk pencils brush off and disappear before the stitching is complete.
    I also love to embroider the resulting cloth. Fun!
    What a win this pencil sounds like and I appreciate the thorough analysis, Cynthia.

  27. Thank you so much for all of the links. I just want to go grab my needles and threads, a cup of coffee, my favorite chair and quiet and calm all day.

  28. Thank you for turning me on to the ENO blue pencil!
    For years I have been trying to find the solution for tracing White on White embroidery designs. This worked like a charm!
    I was almost at the point of giving up making white-on-white monograms on wedding handkerchiefs for family and very close friends. Your article helped return the joy of hand embroidering these wedding gifts.
    I used the cleaning method recommended and was totally blown away by how every mark came out of the fabric!

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