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supplies: hot iron transfer pencils

Aunt Martha's Transfer Pencils

I've been stitching regularly for over 8 years now, with more time on and off before that. You'd think that in that time I would have tried all of the basic tools and supplies available for embroidery by now, but I often stick with something I like. Then, every so often I think...maybe I'm missing out? Maybe there's a far more efficient way to do this! Maybe I've been going about things all wrong!

For example, it was only a few years ago that I started using a water-soluble pen to trace my patterns. Up until then, a regular pencil was my weapon of choice for most uses. I still use a regular pencil sometimes, and will soon share a post on my recent trials.

I suppose the point here is that it's always a good idea to keep trying new things, even if they are old. Which brings me to Aunt Martha's Hot Iron Transfer Pencils. There are plenty of reviews of these online, and they are mixed, but I decided it was time that I try them out for myself.

Aunt Martha's Transfer Pencils

For those not familiar with these (or other transfer pencils), the idea is that you can basically make your own iron-transfer pattern or refresh a vintage pattern that's no longer working. You trace the design, place it face down on the fabric, then press the paper with an iron. Here's the instructions from the package:

Aunt Martha's Transfer Pencils
Aunt Martha's Transfer Pencils

I followed the instructions, using a freshly sharpened tip. In fact, I had to frequently sharpen as I worked, because the "lead" is fairly soft. You see, I wanted a line I could see (clear) without having a line that would show around my embroidery (overly bold). This proved to be a challenge.

Let's pause here.

At least online, I like to remain positive. How I see certain things in "real life" is another topic, but I still think of myself as more positive than negative. Telling you that a product is inferior is not my favorite thing. Let's take a look.

Aunt Martha's Transfer Pencils

Here are two little patterns ironed onto linen as a test (this was the clearest photo I could get). The one on the left is a heart and the one on the right is a...Actually, I'll give a free pattern to the first person to identify what that is on the right. Obviously the lines transferred, but they are very difficult to work from.

When I used these pencils to transfer my OINK piggy pattern onto muslin, the lines were much easier to see. So easy that you can see the lines around my stitching and they don't wash out. They don't show in the photo (thankfully), but in person they are easy to spot. So sad!

So, it's back to the pencil and water-soluble pen for me! For now, anyway. There are so many ways that I've read about that different people use...I'll keep trying them to compare. Do you have a favorite way to easily trace or transfer a pattern? Share your thoughts and methods and we can form a discussion in the comments!

UPDATE: ♥Lizzy correctly guessed that it's a chipmunk! Well done, Lizzy! (email me for your prize!)

37 comments:

  1. Very, very interesting post! I usually use 2 methods - washable pen and carbon paper (this a very traditional and old method in Portugal). Here is very difficult and expensive to use transfer iron on paper and other kind of supplies…so I never tried them on.
    Now! About guessing what the pattern on the right is…let me try my luck – a cat? :)

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  2. That stinks. I wondered how you did your images. I'm guessing a bird?

    Vintagehoneybee.blogspot.com

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  3. Bonnie Harrell7:18 AM

    Have you tried using a Frixion pen? I use it in quilting and embroidery and ironing the fabric after you are finished stitching makes the ink disappear. Who knows what that image is? A rabbit or a cat?

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  4. I have been using these pencils for about a year with mixed luck, until a few weeks ago, I accidentally left the iron in one spot for about 30 seconds. I was lucky that the fabric did not scorch! BUT, what resulted was a perfect, clear, bold, transfer of my design. I think the instructions recommend only about 15 seconds or so, but the longer duration really worked. I would recommend trying to hold the iron on for longer than is comfortable (perhaps with a pressing cloth?).

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    1. Okay, so I might go back and try this again with a longer pressing time. My iron gets as nervous as I do when it's left down for too long, so I'm sure it won't scorch (too bad!). Hmm...I do love some experimentation! And yay for pressing cloths!

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  5. Thanks for sharing this! I always wonder about the OTHER products too! I use a water soluble pens in different colors. They were expensive, but they work great!

    ~Kim

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  6. Anonymous8:54 AM

    I do not use those pencils for the same reason, my projects tend to take a long time, and I need to see what is there for a long period of time, so hot-iron ink pens are what I generally use.

    Another aspect of the pencils that annoys me is that the lead is indeed soft, and so much of it is wasted during sharpening.

    Maybe your pattern is a teapot or a hot iron.

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  7. I'm guessing that's a bunny or an iron! Thanks for sharing your review. I am always forgetting to buy transfer pencils/pens/etc at the store so end up using pencil (which is not ideal). I appreciate you weeding out one of the options for me!

    -Becca
    Ladyface Blog

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  8. Looks like bunny slippers to me! :)

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  9. I'm a lover of the frixion pen, I find the transfer pens and pencils just don't give a sharp enough line. I would have to fetch my glasses and a magnifying glass to work out the picture on the right!!

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  10. I was going to guess an iron but looks like others beat me to it.

    I haven't tried these pencils and now I probably won't. I don't like that it doesn't wash off. Like you, I've been using pencils and water pen. I've tried the frixon pen a couple times but I'm paranoid about it not coming off, I've seen some mixed reviews for them.

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  11. I too have tried this method and can't get good results either. I have also tried the washable pens and don't get as clear a line as I prefer. I actually use a light box and fine point mechanical pencil to transfer designs lightly. The floss covers my pencil lines easily. Probably not the best for longevity but it works for me now :)

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  12. An iron would make sense given the theme of this post...but nope! I haven't decided yet if the difficulty in figuring this out is a poor reflection on the pencils or my drawing skills...

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  13. looks like a bunny

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  14. Thanks for the heads-up on this product. One of the reasons I love embroidery is that it can be done SO cheaply. I do what the above commenter Linda does with a light box and pencil, but I've also used a disappearing ink pen that I bought for some alterations Oh, and I think it could be a skunk- the way the tail is held.

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  15. I use Sulky Solvy (http://www.joann.com/sulky-ultra-solvy-water-soluble-stabilizer-12-w-x-8yds/prd22757/)for transferring all embroidery patterns. It’s so easy to use (so much easier than using those transfer pencils)! The material is water soluble plastic that is kind of like saran wrap (but thicker). Because it is transparent any pattern can be easily traced (I use a thin sharpie to trace patterns). Then the process of adhering it to fabric is just a matter of a couple of sprays of water and then slapping it on top of the fabric. When the material is wet it easily adheres to the fabric and dries within minutes. Once I'm done embroidering I soak the entire fabric in cold water. The material completely dissolves within a couple of hours. Voila!

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    1. Now see...this just sounds like it would be fun to try!

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  16. I'd say either turtle or teapot. . . I use the Sulky Solvy when I'm embroidering on felt or something that I can't use on the light box. It does gum up the needle a little bit. I've started experimenting with using a fine-tipped permanent marker with small dots instead of lines, but I've heard good things about the Frixion pen. Nothing worse than trying to embroider something blurry!

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    1. Mary from Needle 'N' Thread uses fine tip Micron pens for tracing. They're permanent, but so fine that they don't show. My biggest worry would be that I might trace something wrong and be stuck with it!

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    2. I have a Micron pen and love the thin, clean line it makes. On white fabric I swear you can still see it (ether that or my embroidery is just wonky!). I actually use the Fabri-Solvy that wendi mentions below — sometimes I print it out and sometimes I just trace if it's simple. :)

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  17. I have to admit I have no idea what the design on the right is??
    It looks like blob! LOL
    I use Frixon erasable pens by Pilot....they are erasable on paper
    On fabric...just iron on top and the markings are gone:-)

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    1. I've also heard that you can use a hot blow dryer to remove the Frixion markings.

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  18. I tried an air-soluble pen once- you have to stitch really quickly to finish up before it's gone! I usually just trace my pattern with ink on a window or light box.

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    1. I have one of those too! I like the really fine lines, but in some humidity, it was disappearing within an hour!

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  19. So hard to see image! Wow thanks for the review as I'm always willing to try new products. So for the image my best guess is a train engine or iron lol

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    1. It's terrible, isn't it? And no joke, it looks just like this when it's right in front of you!

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  20. Thanks for the review, Mollie! I often see supplies that I want to try, but usually can't find a review for (which usually leads to me wasting money...boo!). My guess for the right image? I'll say a squirrel or chipmunk (on its side, of course!).:)

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    1. YES! It's a chipmunk! Hooray! Email me (molliejohanson at gmail) and let me know which of my shop patterns you'd like!

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  21. I used to use Sulky Solvy, but then I discovered Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy and it changed my life. I LOVE THIS STUFF! You can print (with an inkjet printer) or photocopy (that's what I do) your design right on the stuff. Then peel it off and stick it to your fabric. Stitch right through the pattern and the fabric (did I mention it's also an awesome stabilizer that works GREAT for embroidering T-shirts?). When you're done, just rinse it in water and it washes away. Nice dark black lines on your pattern (easy to see when stitching at night) and NO lines left behind when you're done. Oh - and it also works beautifully on felt, dark colors, and napped fabrics - all tricky to transfer patterns to. I love it so much I made a video showing how to use it. :-) http://www.shinyhappyworld.com/2012/03/new-video-and-magical-new-embroidery-product.html

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  22. Anonymous2:27 PM

    A porcupine sitting in a shoe?

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    1. Best answer ever! It's not right, but it was the most creative!

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    2. Anonymous8:11 AM

      Now you will have to actually make a porcupine sitting in a shoe pattern, just to show me how it actually looks different from a chipmunk. ... :-)

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  23. Mollie- I agree about these transfer pencils...very inferior job. Creates a mess really. For items that are washable, I like to use the Super Solvy, Water Soluble Stabilizer. I just trace my pattern on to it and baste to my ground fabric and I'm ready to stitch away. The company now also sells a "printable" version with self-adhesive that I am loving. I just run it through my printer and finger press it on to my fabric and I'm ready to embroider. I highly recommend either product. Have you tried either?

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    1. I haven't yet, but thanks to this discussion, I ordered some of the printable version today!

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  24. I too like to use the Sulky Sticky Fabri Solvy for intricate patterns or if there are a few individual patterns to transfer. However, if it's for one single easy stitch pattern then I just trace using my lightbox & a pencil or an archival quality pen (.01 or .05).
    These transfer pencils work best on quilter's cotton fabric or muslin. I've tried them on osnaburg and on linen and the results were similar to yours, disappointing (osnaburg did a bit better). I believe it has to do with thread count and the more natural (spongy) state on linen fabric than in regular quilting fabric.

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  25. I have had poor results with the transfer pencils , I do use friction pens sometimes but mostly use a mechanical pencil and a light box , works for me . Not sure what the image is , perhaps a cat .

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  26. a cutting board and knife?!?!?

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