Monday, January 30, 2012

Transfer and Tracing Trials

I’ve been collecting all kinds of wild embroidery patterns, and I knew at some point I was going to have to transfer them all from paper to fabric.

I stocked up on an assortment of transfer papers from local fabric stores to see if I could trace a design onto fabric using this old-fashioned method. (Remember when we had to use carbon paper in our typewriters? What a mess that was.)

The first paper I tried was Clover Chacopy. The sheets are 12” x 10” and the package contains one each of blue, green, red, yellow, and white. The colors are very pale – for example “red” is actually an orangey-pink. You can see the blue and green here are light sky-blue and mint green.
Not surprisingly, there was no visible transfer of the design onto the fabric with either of these colors. There may be minute amounts of chalk on the fabric, but they are no help to me if I can’t see them. I didn’t bother testing the lighter colors.

My next paper was Dritz Wax-Free Tracing Paper. The sheets are very long and narrow – 20” x 6”, which is helpful for dress patterns but less so for round or square designs. The package contains blue, red, orange, yellow, and white. I have used this paper in the past with some success on muslin, which is lighter in color than this fabric. It tends to leave smudges anywhere it rubs against fabric, so I had mixed feelings about it. For this test I used the blue.
The result was better than Clover, but uneven. You may be able to see the crescent shape that came through in the photo. Not quite good enough.

The third paper I tried was Saral Wax-Free Transfer Paper, which is in 8 ½ x 11 sheets and comes in graphite, blue, red, yellow, and white. Clearly a dark transfer was called for, so I tried the blue and the graphite.
With both colors, much more of the design came through onto the fabric, although by this time I was pressing so hard during the tracing that I tore through the paper. These transfers are definitely the best of the group, but they are still incomplete. At this point I was thinking it was a problem fabric and nothing was going to transfer to it.

Next in line for testing was the red iron-on transfer pencil I used for my last embroidery project. This particular pencil was from Aunt Martha’s. In this test the transfer worked better, probably because this linen is thinner than the Aida cloth I used last time.
The ironing is an additional step beyond what’s needed with simple tracing, but the results were much better than any of the carbon paper tracings.

To be thorough, I ordered the Sulky transfer pen which is recommended by Sublime Stitching and many other embroidery gurus. If I’d just ordered it first instead of doing all the experiments, I’d have saved a lot of time and money. This pen is the answer! I tried the black one (it comes in 8 colors), and traced my design. The entire drawing came through perfectly. I love it and I will definitely be using the Sulky pen in the future.

A few lessons from my first test of the Sulky pen:
* Trace carefully – all pen marks will be transferred, and if you go off course, it will show up on the embroidery fabric.
* The pen creates a thick line. I was unable to make a thinner line, but I was able to make dotted lines which are much less obvious than the solid lines.
* Use a pressing cloth or another piece of paper underneath the fabric to protect your ironing board.

All in all, it was a successful experiment: I ended up with a usable product! Now, to do some actual stitching...



  1. Ah, those papers bring me back to my teenage sewing days . . . I've always enjoyed working with them. Your pen does seem a fine solution!

  2. I find the pen to be my favorite, also. But I am not very good at tracing at all; I still prefer iron on patterns! {Don't even ask me how many embroidery PDF's are stored on my computer, mocking me!}
    xo, Anita

  3. The stitching will be the fun bit - well done for all that patient testing.
    What did you use to make the impression on the papers - pen or pencil? I've used the carbon paper in the past but don't recognise those brands.
    Other fabrics will take the marks differently of course!

  4. Hi Snippa, thanks for asking - I forgot to mention how I was tracing! I used a ballpoint pen, which was probably too sharp and caused the paper to tear. The suggested tracing tool is a stylus (which they sell separately, of course).