Transferring Designs Part 2 – Modern Methods

13th May 2022

Last week we talked about some of the more traditional methods for transferring needlework designs onto fabric. As all stitchers would know, this particular problem is something we all grapple with, and no one solution works for every project. Different fabrics require very different treatments. Moreover, the same method may not suit everyone. Fortunately, we’re lucky enough to live at a time where solutions abound, so you have more chance of finding just the right one.

Iron-on Transfers and Pens

Iron-on transfers have been produced for many decades and although the quality has improved over the years, the theory behind the transfers has remained the same. An iron-on transfer is a paper pattern created using ink that transfers from paper to fabric under heat.

Most transfers can be used several times and will last a long time if stored carefully.

To transfer the pattern, lay it flat onto your fabric with the transfer ink-side down. It is best to secure the transfer as you want to avoid it moving during the ironing process. If it moves, you may end up with a blurred line as opposed to a nice, crisp design. Most transfers will safely allow you to apply the iron directly to the paper, but you must place the iron down and apply firm pressure without moving the iron back and forth.

Images courtesy of the Trish Burr Embroidery blog (source)

Naturally, unless your design is symmetrical, it will transfer as a mirror-image although most transfers allow for this. Also, although most transfers allow for multiple uses, the ink does run out over time so the number of uses is by no means infinite.

Nowadays, it is also possible to buy iron-on transfer pens that allow you to create your own transfer sheet from a regular pattern sheet. You just draw your design on to paper as you would with any other pen, but you can then iron it on like a pre-printed transfer. Just be mindful of the fact the image will be reversed. You don’t want to iron it on beautifully only to discover your design has come out backwards!

Dressmaker’s Carbon

Another transfer method that has been around for a while is dressmaker’s carbon. You can buy sheets of dressmaker’s carbon at most fabric stores or haberdasheries, and they usually come in a range of pastel colours as well as white.

To use dressmaker’s carbon, you place it chalk side down on your fabric, secure it, then place your design over the top. Make sure that the surface under the fabric is hard and smooth. Using a stylus (a ball-point pen casing with the pen taken out is ideal) you trace over your design. You do need to press firmly and be careful not to move the paper or the design as you are working.

Because of the light colour of the carbon paper, this method is an ideal way of transferring a design onto very dark fabric. It doesn’t work for all fabrics though, and the nature of the carbon means that it does rub off relatively easily, so it is a good choice for simpler designs that you are going to stitch immediately.

Solvy or other Water-soluble Fabric

Solvy, which is one particular brand of dissolving fabric, has been a game changer for a lot of needleworkers. It allows you to easily draw a design on to it, tack it to your backing fabric, then stitch through it. Once you’ve completed your work, you simply wash the dissolving fabric away and voila!

Dissolving fabric comes in different types. There are ones that feel like plastic and ones that are more like fabric. All of them work in a similar way, so it is personal preference which one you find easier to stitch on. You need a fine, permanent marker to trace your design onto the dissolvable fabric. Because of the nature of the fabric, they are at least semi-transparent so it is very easy to place it over your design and trace it from there. 

Images courtesy of The Spruce Crafts website (source)

Once you’ve finished tracing, you tack the design on to your backing fabric. Some people cut away the excess dissolvable fabric beyond the tacking, others prefer to keep the piece large so it fits into the hoop. Either way, you simply stitch through both layers of fabric.

Once you’ve completed your stitching, you cut away as much of the dissolvable fabric as you can before washing your project. When the fabric dissolves, it becomes like a light glue that can take several washings to remove completely so it is better to cut away as much as possible. You’ll know it has gone when all you can feel is the softness of your ground fabric without any residual glue-like stiffness when it has dried.

Images courtesy of The Spruce Crafts website (source)

Although this is a fantastic solution to transferring designs, it won’t work for fabrics or projects that you can’t wash afterwards. Also, beware if you are out in the rain!

There are many stories of people running from the carpark to their stitching group through the rain, only to sit down and discover their dissolvable fabric has… well, dissolved!

Pre-Printed Designs

One of the easiest, accurate and most convenient ways to transfer a design onto fabric is to not do it at all… and purchase it pre-printed! With printing technology moving ahead in leaps and bounds, designers are finding it easier to have their fabric pre-printed before it is included in a kit. This means that you simply open your kit and get stitching without having to worry about lightboxes, pounce, dissolvable fabric or special pens.

Even our kit team here at Inspirations Studios is joining the movement. Look out for a few pre-printed fabrics in some of our kits in the months to come, as we know that transferring designs is not always the favourite part of stitching for many of our loyal community.

These are just a few different methods for transferring needlework designs onto fabric, however this is not an exhaustive list. If you have any tips, ideas or alternative methods, or if there are ways of transferring designs that you have learnt, especially for more difficult fabrics or complex designs, we’d love to hear from you. We’re sure this is a topic close to many of your hearts, so let’s keep the conversation going.

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