Transferring your Designs to Fabric

Updated: Sep 23

One hurdle for potential new stitchers is the daunting task of transferring a design onto fabric. Heck, I've been doing this for years, and the process of transferring can still be so irritating! And, if you're new, I get it: the options seem endless!

Today, I want to tell you about my favorite marking tools for transferring using the "window method."

The window method involves printing or drawing your design on paper and taping it to the window on a sunny day (or, if you're fancy, placing it on a light box - which you can make for yourself by Googling "DIY light box"). You then place your fabric over the design so you can see through, and trace it directly onto the fabric.

I know what you're thinking, you're thinking - "Hope, I know how tracing works! I just don't understand what tools I'm supposed to use to do the tracing!"

Well, friend, here's the thing: the marking tool I use for a given project is going to depend on a few different factors, i.e., there's no right or wrong answer for every situation. The choices I make from project to project are informed by trial-and-error and personal preferences I've developed over time.

That said, my favorite go-to options for transferring a design onto fabric using the window method include heat-erasable pens, air-erasable pens, water-soluble pens, and pencils.

  • Heat-erasable pens: These pens are usually marketed for use on paper, but can be used on a lot of fabrics. You can remove these marks with the heat from a blow dryer or iron, but make sure to test on a scrap of fabric before committing to this method! For example, these marks can come back when exposed to freezing temperatures. If you are unable to totally remove these marks, try using just a little soap and water to wash your piece, and/or a bit of rubbing alcohol (that usually does the trick for me). These pens come in all sorts of colors and you can buy them wherever you get your school supplies.

  • Air-erasable pens: The marks from these pens will usually disappear over time when exposed to light, though you may need to use water to get the marks off completely (depending on the fabric; I told y'all, it's all about trial-and-error!). These pens are best for projects you know you'll be finishing fairly quickly - I once transferred a complicated design using a purple air-erasable pen, finished embroidering half of it before I went to bed, and by morning the marks were already freaking vanished! I also totally recommend using these pens if you're doodling straight onto the fabric - you can then use another type of marking tool to ensure the marks stay long enough for you to get your design stitched. These pens usually come in pink or purple ink and you can find them at any craft store.

  • Water-soluble pens: The marks from these pens disappear when they come into contact with water. Sometimes it just takes a spritz of water, sometimes you'll need to full-on soak your piece (again, it depends!). Usually, pens with blue or white ink are water-soluble and you can find these at any craft store.

  • Pencils: Pencils are great for transferring, whether you're using a normal #2 pencil or something fancier (like a blue water-erasable pencil or white chalk pencil). In my experience, pencil marks of any kind are the hardest to remove, and I only recommend using them when you're planning to cover your marks completely with stitches. You can buy #2 pencils literally anywhere, and the fancier craft pencils at - you guessed it - any craft store.

These are all great options I encourage you to explore in your work! Although most stitchers I know have a favorite tool, my "favorite" depends on the time of day and type of fabric and mood I'm in - sometimes it's totally dictated by which tool is the closest to me at any given point.

The point of the moral of the story is: there is no right or wrong tool, there are only endless possibilities and the requirement that you be open to trying new things until you find your favorite tool to use.

Looking for somebody to hold your hand through the entire process? Most of my kits come with full-length video tutorials where I show you how to transfer your designs and then stitch the entire project! I'm happy to hold your hand!