Before you start stitching a particular design, you'll need to get that design onto your fabric. This process is known as "transferring," wherein we place a design onto our fabric using one of many available methods and one of many available tools. There are no "best" tools for transferring designs onto fabric, just like there's no best fabric or best embroidery teacher. Rather, you'll develop your own preferences and instincts over time.
In this post, I provide you with an overview of my favorite tools for transferring hand embroidery designs onto fabric -- I hope this list serves as a good starting point for you, especially if you're not sure where to start!
I've broken these tools down into two broad categories: tools for transferring designs in conjunction with the window and template methods, and non-tracing tools for transferring designs.
Tools for transferring embroidery designs onto fabric using the window and template methods
The "window method" for transferring designs to fabric involves tracing your design onto your fabric by using the light from a window (or other light source) to help you see through to your design. The "template method," in contrast, involves tracing cut-out pieces of your design onto your fabric; you may have also seen this referred to as the "stencil method."
Permanent tools for transferring designs to fabric using the window and template methods
Permanent tools leave marks that cannot be removed from your fabric once you've finished stitching. These tools are easy to find and use, and are a great option for projects where you expect to cover all of your transfer marks with embroidery floss.
My favorite permanent tool for transferring designs is the simple pencil. In fact, I actually list the pencil as an essential supply for new stitchers, as they're easy to find and use, work on most fabrics, and get you used to the process of transferring without having to invest in any speciality tools.
Erasable tools for transferring designs to fabric using the window and template methods
Unlike permanent tools, erasable tools create marks that can later be erased -- theoretically. Yes, theoretically. By this I mean: you should always test your fabric before committing to one of these methods, especially if you are certain you'll need to get those lines erased for your final product to look the way you want it to look.
Some of these methods are great "matches" for certain fabrics, meaning that their marks can be erased quite easily. Others might be a good match for a particular color of a particular fabric, but might not work so well on another color of that same exact fabric. And, as I've learned the hard way, small changes in manufacturing mean that the fabric you bought last year might not be such a good match the next, even if it's looks and feels exactly as it did when you first bought it.
Water-soluble pens and pencils
Water-soluble pens and pencils leave marks that can be erased using plain water, and typically come in blue or white ink. I love using water-soluble pens in my projects and kits because they usually leave bold and easy-to-see lines, work with all sorts of fabric types and colors, and are fairly easy to find in craft stores and online. If you're having difficulty removing these marks, consider reviewing my tips in a previous post on white water-erasable pens.
Air-erasable pens leave marks that disappear from your fabric with exposure to light (think "disappearing ink" pens; that's essentially how they work!), and typically come in pink or purple ink. These pens are a great option for very quickly stitched projects, or for sketching out ideas directly onto your current work in progress. For example, you might be interested in adding a few French knot embellishments to a piece, in which case you would use the air-erasable pen to mark out potential placements without having to worry about removing those marks later.
Heat-erasable pens leave marks that can be erased with exposure to heat, such as the heat from an iron, blowdryer, or hair straightener. I love heat-erasable pens because I don't have to worry about getting my project wet, they come in loads of different colors, and I can grab a few whenever I'm in the school or office supply section of a non-crafting store. I also love having these on hand to use as they're actually intended, i.e., on paper. Unfortunately, because these pens aren't technically made for fabric, you may find that there is a bit more variability in terms of the ease with marks can be removed. For example, you may find that they leave faint-yet-noticeable "ghost" lines on your fabric after exposure to heat; you may also find that the lines reappear with exposure to cold air.
Non-tracing tools for transferring designs to fabric
Depending on the design you're hoping to transfer, you may find tracing a design using the window or template methods to be too tedious, difficult, or time-consuming. In those cases, you may instead to use a tool that allows you to place your design onto your fabric without having to trace it yourself.
Water-soluble transfer paper
My favorite tool for transferring a design to fabric without having to trace is water-soluble transfer paper. Water-soluble transfer paper allows you to print your design directly onto a fabric-like sticker, which can be dissolved in plain water once you've finished stitching. I've written a detailed tutorial with my best tips and tricks for using water-soluble transfer paper in hand embroidery in another post, which includes information on where to find it, how to use it, and how to get it off of your fabric once you've finished.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), I would love the chance to tell you how much I love your work!