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How to transfer designs

This is a question I’m often asked. What method do you use to reproduce drawings on a piece of fabric?

Well, it depends, on the fabric and on the design.

Below, I propose four different ways of proceeding.





Transfer using a light pad

The simplest and fastest way to reproduce a design on a fabric is to use a light shelf. A few years ago, it was a relatively expensive item but now you can find a large selection and very good quality e.g. at Amazon for a price range from 30$ to 100$ depending on size. I advise you to chose the A3 format which will leave you more possibilities than a smaller format.

Here is how to proceed to get the best result.

Tape the drawing to be reproduced on the lit shelf. Iron the fabric with a starch spray ( on both sides). Also, tape the stiffened fabric onto the design and transfer it to the fabric using the light from the shelf and the transparency of the fabric.

To figure the drawings you can use a well-cut pencil (without pressing too hard), a very fine permanent felt (e.g. Edding 1800, thickness 0.1 mm or a water soluble pencil).



Prick and pounce technique

This is the oldest and most classic technique among the methods used to transfer drawings. It is also one that can be used on every fabric and irrespective of the size of the work (for example to transfer a drawing onto a tablecloth.

The use of this method requires the use of special equipment that you can obtain in the form of a kit. I bought mine online at Sarah Homfray and I’m very satisfied. You can also get it at the Royal School of Needlework.

The kit contains the following items:

3 small pots of black, white and gray sanding powder

1 buffer to apply powder

1 needle to drill

I added a stitching mat (not essential, you can use a linen folded several times).

Here are a few words on how to get started

  •  Using a pencil or pen, carefully report the outline of your drawing on a tracing paper.

  •  Place the drawing on a linen folded several times or even better on the stitching mat and using the needle provided with the kit, make holes along the contours of the drawing at regular intervals (about every 2-3 mm).

  •  Carefully check that you have punched the entire drawing. Place the prepared drawing on your fabric and hold with pins.

  •  Slightly dip the pad into the selected powder according to the color of the fabric. and slightly shake to remove any excess powder.

  •  Using circular movements, pass the impregnated pad over all the perforated contours of the design to allow the powder to flow through the fabric but without pressing too hard.

  •  Once finished, carefully remove the paper so that it does not spill any unnecessary powder on the fabric.

  •  You can use the plot as it is if you find it fairly accurate. Otherwise, you can connect the dots with a suitable pencil. You can also choose to use a color fixer in case it is a long work and if you are afraid to see the drawing fade over time, (personally, I use the fixer for pastel spray of the Caran d’Ache brand).

Using a transfer pencil

I use this method when I want to quickly reproduce a small drawing, a not too detailed one and not requiring fine printing. For this, I use a special pencil “transfer pen extra fine line” from Sublime Stitching.

Simply reproduce the layout of your drawing with the transfer pencil on a tracing paper, turn it over, apply it on the fabric and iron thoroughly. Notice that when turning over the tracing paper to iron you get a mirrored drawing. To avoid it, it is the original drawing that you must first reproduce in reverse.


Carbon paper for textile use


This is a method that I don’t often use and that I don’t particularly like because I find it imprecise and tiresome. Indeed, to get a clear line, you have to press very hard with the pencil or the pen on the outline of the drawing.

I used it recently for a student who had decided to embroider the model « La Serenissima » from TALLIAFERO. This is a crewel embroidery (on a very thick linen twill) of large size with a very complicated design.

I stuck the piece of fabric directly on my table. Then, I placed the carbon paper for the textile on the fabric and I also taped it. I placed the drawing to reproduce on the whole (also firmly maintained) and I covered it with tracing paper so as not to damage the original model with my pen by reproducing the drawing. It took me an hour and a half to reproduce the complete drawing! 

This is by far the method I recommend the least.