Transfer Patterns Tutorial

Transfer Patterns Tutorial

Transfer Patterns to Fabric: Getting Started

Today on Wee Folk Art we are going to cover how to transfer patterns to fabric. Over the years, we have shared a large collection of applique patterns and are now working on a growing collection of embroidery patterns. There are several different techniques that you can use to transfer any pattern onto your fabric. Some pattern transferring techniques require special materials, but we have often also just used what we could find on our desk.

transfer pattern banner image

Before we get started, we would like to point out these other helpful needlework tutorials on Wee Folk Art. If you are working with felt we recommend that you start by reading our How to Cut Out Felt Tutorial. If you would like to re-size your patterns, be sure to read our tutorial on Reducing and Enlarging Patterns.


Transfer Patterns with Basic Supplies

If you need to transfer a pattern onto fabric but don’t have any special sewing supplies that is O.K.! We have often transferred our patterns using nothing more than a standard pencil (mechanical preferably for a finer line) and tape. This method works well with light colored fabric.

Tape your pattern to the window or light box if you have one. Tape your fabric over the pattern. Trace your pattern onto the fabric with the pencil or washable sewing pen. Pencil markings are usually light and can be completely covered with thread. They will also fade or wash away with time. The washable pens will either wash away by dabbing the fabric with water or will fade over time. If it takes you awhile to finish your project, you may need to retrace parts of your design. You can read more about using a light box in our Light Box post.transfer pattern tracing light box

Tip: For detailed patterns, you can get a finer line with the pencil but the marker lines are easier to remove.

Pros: As you trace an image you can make adjustments to the pattern adding more or less detail. The materials are cheap and often readily available.

Cons: If you are transferring an image to dark or heavy fabric you may not be able to see through it well enough to trace the pattern and the traced lines may not be visible.

(Bird designs pictured in this post are from the adult coloring book: Scandinavian Folk Patterns.)


Transfer Patterns with Your Iron

There are several different style of pencils and pens designed for transferring patterns to fabric using your iron.

To use these products, trace over your pattern image with the pencil or pen. If you don’t want to reverse the image be sure to print your pattern as a mirror image or trace on the back of your pattern. If you are tracing on the back of your pattern you may need to use a window or light box to see through the paper.

Iron your fabric to warm it up. Set your pattern face down onto the fabric and iron. The heat will transfer the image to your fabric. This usually takes about 30 seconds. Carefully lift one edge to check if you design has transferred. Do not move the whole pattern because you will not be able to line it up again if you need to make it darker.

The transfer pencils are usually washable and the line can be removed by dabbing it with a wet cloth when you are done with your embroidery or needlework. The transfer pens are usually permanent, so you will need to completely stitch over the design with thread to hide the lines.transfer pattern marker iron banner

Tip: You can often reuse the same tracing several times, although the pattern will get lighter with each use.

Pros: This technique works well for tracing images from coloring books or similar sources. You can get several transfers from one tracing.

Cons: The transferred image is often light. When using pens the image is permanent and won’t wash away. The pattern is transferred in reverse so you have to remember to flip your design if it matters.

(Bird designs pictured in this post are from the adult coloring book: Scandinavian Folk Patterns.)


Transfer Patterns with Your Printer

There are some great water soluble papers on the market designed for embroidery work. You simply print your pattern onto the paper using your printer.

Follow the directions for your printer/copier for using special papers. You want to print on the textured fabric side of the paper. The paper has an adhesive backing. The smooth shiny side is the backing that will be removed. After printing, cut around the basic pattern design, peel off the backing, and stick it onto your fabric. The pattern now doubles as a stabilizer. Stitch right over the paper. When you have completed your design, tear away the paper. You can soak your fabric in water to remove the rest of the paper.

transfer patterns printer tutorial

Tip: Use a couple of tack stitches around the edge of the pattern to stop the edges from curling up. Remove these stitches when you are done.

Pros: This is a very fast way to transfer a design. It is nice for patterns with lots of details and words since it does not reverse your image. This method also works well for dark fabrics.

Cons: You are now stitching through more layers which can make it harder to push the needle through. The adhesive can build up on your needle and may need to be cleaned.

(A Fairy Tale Embroidery collection including the “Princess and the Pea” and the “Little Red Riding Hood” designs pictured in this post will be available on Wee Folk Art soon!)


Transfer Patterns with Tracing Paper

This is one of the older ways of transferring designs to fabric. You can use a sheet of colored tracing paper for light fabrics or a sheet of white paper for dark fabric. You will also need a tracing tool.

Place the tracing paper on the fabric, lay the pattern on top of it, and then use a rubbing tool to trace over the pattern lines. For detailed designs use a blunt edge stylus pen, for designs with long lines you can use a serrated wheel tool. The serrated wheel will leave a dotted pattern to follow, rather than a solid line.transfer image carbon paper

Tip: The serrated wheel can be helpful for creating evenly space stitches as you can use the dots as a guide, but it can be harder to see the line and tight curves are difficult to trace.

Pros: The paper can be reused several times. This method can be used for dark fabrics.

Cons: The lines are often very light.

(Bird designs pictured in this post are from the adult coloring book: Scandinavian Folk Patterns.)

Michelle ~ Wee Folk Art


  1. Just last week I neede to transfer a design to a piece of black fabric. I used white dressmakers carbon and traced with the tip of a crochet hook. The line was faint but visible so I carefully traced over the line with a silver gel pen. Violu00E1! A line I could see easily but was fine enough to be hidden by my embroidery thread.

  2. Thank you for a great explanation. I was looking online for a similar idea and really appreciate it the way you describe patterns for fabric was amazing and really help me.
    for more unique and creative design it really help you.

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