Embroidery Transfers 101: How to Transfer a Design onto Fabric

If you are going to embroider a motif from a drawing, you’ll need to learn how to transfer a design onto fabric. There are various ways of doing embroidery transfers, depending on the fabric you are using and the amount of detail in the design. Kate Haxell, author of The Stitch Bible, shares her top methods to transfer an embroidery design below.

Some methods for embroidery transfers are best done on loose fabric, while others prefer framed fabric. If you are using loose fabric, you will need enough fabric free around the edges of the design to frame it up and work comfortably on it. The grain of the fabric will also need to be square in the frame, so position the design accordingly.

Learn how to transfer designs onto fabric with these expert methods on embroidery transfers!

Different Types of Embroidery Transfers:

Tracing Over a Light Source

Tracing over a light source is quick and easy to do before the fabric is framed up. Ideally use an air-soluble embroidery marker, which will fade over time, though a water-soluble one is fine, too. You need to be working on a fairly thin, pale-coloured fabric to use this technique.

  1. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto Fabric over a light source.Print the motif out onto thin paper or trace it onto tracing paper with a fine black pen. Using masking tape, tape the tracing onto a light box or (in daylight) a window, then tape the fabric right side up on top. Make sure that the fabric is taut and the design is positioned correctly under it.
  2. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto FabricCarefully draw over the design lines with the fabric marker. Remove the tape and frame up the fabric.

Drawing onto Canvas

This is another quick and easy technique to transfer an embroidery design and is used just for canvas. You can do this with the fabric loose or framed up. If the fabric is framed, you will have to raise the design up by placing a box or books under it so that the canvas can sit directly on the paper.

  1. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto FabricRight side up, tape the design to a flat surface with masking tape. Tape the canvas over it. Using a permanent marker pen, carefully draw over the lines.

Using Dressmaker’s Carbon Paper

This paper can be used on any smooth fabric before it is framed up, and is a good choice for coloured fabric because you can select a carbon colour that really shows up. If the transferred line is faint in places it can be reinforced with a fading fabric marker.

  1. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto FabricPrint the design out or trace it onto tracing paper with a fine black pen. Using masking tape, tape the fabric right side up on a flat surface, making sure it is taut, and place the carbon paper coloured-side down on top. Tape the traced design over it, making sure all layers are secure. Draw over the design with a hard pencil or ballpoint pen, pressing firmly.
  2. Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 10.34.06Once you have drawn over all the lines, remove some of the tape and fold back the layers to reveal the fabric, making sure you do not disturb the position of the upper layers. If necessary, replace the upper layers and retrace any faint lines before separating the layers completely.


Tacking is an easy method of transferring a fairly simple pattern – if with an intricate design it will take a long time to tack over all the lines. This method has the great advantage that it leaves no mark on the fabric. Tacking is best done once the fabric has been framed up.

  1. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto FabricTrace the design onto tissue paper that tears easily. Don’t be tempted to use tracing paper or printer paper because it will be so hard to tear off that it may distort or break the tacking stitches. Pin the tracing right side up on the fabric.
  2. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto FabricUsing sewing thread that contrasts with the fabric colour, tack the paper to the fabric around the edge to secure it. Starting with a knot on the top of the work, sew running stitch over each design line. Keep the stitches fairly small, especially around curves.
  3. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto FabricWhen all the design lines have been covered, carefully tear off the paper – pulling out any scraps with tweezers – and begin the embroidery. For a medium to large design you can remove the paper only from the part of the design you wish to work first, leaving the paper in place over the remainder to keep the fabric clean.

Prick and Pounce

Out of all of the types of embroidery transfers, this is the traditional method and is still favoured by professional embroiderers. The design lines cannot be removed if you make a mistake, so you do need to be accurate. This method is used with the fabric framed up.

  1. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto FabricTrace the design onto tracing paper with a fine black pen. Lay the tracing on a folded, flat towel and using a medium-sized crewel needle, prick holes along all the design lines. Make the holes close together and ensure that there is a hole at the very start and end of each line and at any corners. You need to hold the needle vertically, and a pricking tool (shown above) clamps the needle firmly and makes it easier to hold, but it isn’t essential.
  2. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto FabricPin the pricked tracing to the fabric, positioning it as required. Choose a pounce powder that will show up on the fabric. Dip the felt dabber into the powder then, starting on one edge, rub powder in a firm circular motion over the tracing, pushing it into the pricked holes. Cover the whole tracing in this way.
  3. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto FabricCarefully unpin the tracing and lift it directly off the fabric without smudging the dotted powder lines. In a small dish, dilute a little watercolour paint (of a colour that will show on the fabric; white or grey is usually best) with water to a thin consistency. Using a very fine artist’s paintbrush, very lightly paint over the design lines. Wipe the brush frequently to stop it clogging with ponce powder. Leave the paint to dry.
  4. Transfer an Embroidery Design Onto FabricStanding the frame on edge, firmly tap the back of the fabric with a ruler to knock off any excess powder. You can also use a very soft hairbrush (one made for a baby is ideal) to brush off any remaining powder. The painted lines should be visible but very light, so they can easily be covered by stitching.

Additional Guidelines for Embroidery Transfers

These are extra lines drawn onto the fabric to help work a particular stitch. They can be added when the design is being transferred onto it or just before you work the stitch. When working, for example, feather stitch, your design may only show the outer edges, but it is helpful to mark additional guidelines one-third and two-thirds of the way across the stitch area to ensure that all the stitches are even. Stitches that overlap, such as fishbone stitch and leaf stitch, also benefit from additional guidelines to ensure a really smooth result. Make sure you can remove any visible guidelines after completing the stitch.

Iron-On Transfers

These can be bought commercially with pre-printed designs, or you can buy a special pencil to draw your own transfers. Use them with caution as they require a hot iron, which not all fabrics will react well to) and the lines can spread a bit, making them hard to cover with stitching: lines can’t be removed once ironed on.

What’s your favorite embroidery transfers? Let us know in the comments below!

Other Topics You May Enjoy ...


Embroidery, Embroidery techniques

About Ame

Ame Verso is the daughter of legendary cross stitch designer Jo Verso and has been cross stitching since the age of 10. She also sews and crochets and is the face of the SewandSo YouTube channel.