Transferring a design onto fabric with a white water-erasable pen

Updated: May 12

There are loads of different transfer tools available to us as stitchers, including blue water-erasable transfer pens you might use on lighter colors of fabrics, washable transfer paper you might use for more intricate designs, and even simple pencils (which you can see me demonstrate in my post about the window method for transferring hand embroidery designs to fabric). There is no "perfect" tool or method for transferring an embroidery pattern or design to fabric; rather, stitchers develop situational preferences with experience and time.


Photo of a row of white pens lined up on top of a pink surface. One pen has its cap removed, revealing a small white nib.
These white water-erasable pens are among my favorite tools for transferring designs to darker fabrics!

In today's post, I'll be focusing on one of my very favorite tools for transferring hand embroidery designs to darker fabrics: white water-erasable fabric pens. This short post includes information on where to find them, how to use them, and how to remove their marks once you've finished stitching. I hope it's helpful!


Where to find white water-erasable transfer pens for hand embroidery


You'll find white water-erasable transfer pens, developed specifically for use on fabric, online and in most craft stores. If you're in a physical craft store, you'll typically find them near the embroidery supplies (though you may also find them in the sewing notions and/or quilting sections).


Several of my kits include these white pens, which I typically get from Kearing, but you'll find very similar pens from other companies and brands as well (including Dritz and Clover). I haven't found a huge difference between brands in terms of their pens' quality, ease of use, or ease of removal; that's why I suggest going with whichever brand you have easiest access to given your specific situation.


How to use white water-erasable transfer pens for hand embroidery


Test your fabric


Before committing to this transfer tool, test your pen on a scrap piece of the fabric you'll be using for your project -- you'll want to be sure that it can be easily removed once you've finished stitching. This also gives you a chance to be sure that you can see the marks that you draw. In the photos below, I'm using a white pen to draw a design directly onto a blue linen fabric, but other fabrics may be a bit too light for your marks to show. If your fabric is too light for a white pen, you might consider using a blue water-erasable pen or washable transfer paper instead.


Hope holds an embroidery hoop with dark blue fabric in one hand, and a white pen in the other.

Draw your design directly onto your fabric


In this next photo, I've drawn a curved line onto my fabric. You can see that the mark is barely visible at this point; these marks will become more visible as the ink dries.


Hope uses a white pen to draw a curved line onto her dark blue linen fabric.

As you can see in the photo below, the line became much more visible as the ink dried onto the fabric.


Hope holds up her blue hoop with one hand, and white pen with the other, revealing a very clear and curved line at the center of her hoop.

Given this lag time between drawing your marks and seeing your marks, you'll want to be sure you're moving fairly slowly as you draw or transfer your design.


Stitch on top of your marks


Now that your design is drawn or transferred, simply stitch over your marks by following the provided guide (if you're working from a pattern) or your own personal preferences and intuition (if you're working on an original piece).


How to remove the marks from a white water-erasable transfer pen for hand embroidery


These are water-erasable pens, which means you can remove their marks using plain water. When removing marks from my projects, I typically keep my fabric inside of my hoop -- this works just fine so long as you don't leave your hoop submerged in water so long that the hardware rusts or the hoop itself warps. For more stubborn marks, I might let my project soak in a bowl of water for about 15 minutes, but be sure to set yourself a timer if you do this so you don't accidentally let it sit for too long!


Hope places her blue hoop "face down" in a bowl of water.

In some cases, soaking or running your hoop under water isn't enough to remove the marks from these particular pens. In the photo below, I'm using a cotton swab to gently agitate the fabric, which allowed me to more fully remove the mark. In some cases, I'll also add just a tiny drop of detergent to the cotton swab to further aid in removing any stray marks from a hoop.


Hope uses a cotton swab to gently remove any remaining marks from her hoop, which sits halfway in the bowl of water from the last photo.

Once you've removed your marks with water, use a towel to gently soak up any excess water and place your project in an area where it'll have a chance to be exposed to air. On sunny days, I'll sometimes leave my hoop outside to dry in the sun; on not-so-sunny days, or days where I'm feeling a bit impatient, I'll hang my hoop directly in front of a fan (that sure does speed up the drying process!).


Hope holds up her hoop to the camera, revealing a now totally clear and clean hoop.

Thank you for being here, and I can't wait to see what you make!


I hope this was useful, and I can't wait to see what you make - whether you create something from one of my kits or patterns, or from a design of your very own! If you'd like to share your work with me, you can always tag me on your social media accounts (@hopebroidery on Instagram and Twitter, @hope.broidery on TikTok). If you don't have public social accounts, but still want to share, consider emailing me a few pictures (hope@hopebroidery.com), I would love the chance to tell you how much I love your work!


Happy stitching!