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how to transfer an embroidery pattern onto any fabric

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper


Prepare to have your embroidery experience change forever.

First, let me start by thanking Wendi Gratz for enlightening me. In the middle of a big stitching project, she saved my sanity, and it's too important for me to not pass along to you.

When beginning an embroidery project of any kind, one of the first things you do is transfer your pattern onto your fabric. The most basic way is to trace the pattern (I usually use either a plain pencil or a water-soluble pen), but there are plenty of other options. For some situations they work perfectly well, and other times they create a nightmare or they aren't even worth trying.

Dark fabrics and felt are practically impossible to trace onto. And lately I've discovered that linen is often just as difficult. This is the problem I was facing when Wendi told me about this:

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

I had heard of Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy before, but never really thought about what it could do for me. (I'm rather frugal, so why buy this when I could use a regular pencil?) And here's the truth: I wish that I had tried water-soluble fabric years ago.

This material feels like stabilizer...because it is! The stabilizer/fabric is sticky on the back, and comes on a peel-off sheet. It comes on rolls or in US letter-sized sheets. And the purpose of them being 8-1/2 x 11 inches? They will go through your inkjet printer! Think about when you have a really large design or a whole bunch of patterns that need to be transferred. Instead of tracing, you can just print the patterns onto the stabilizer!

You can find other brands that are similar (Pellon and C&T both make it), but so far I've found the Sulky to be the best value, especially when I add it on to an Amazon order with free shipping!

I should note, you can buy water-soluble stabilizer that isn't sticky-backed and isn't printable. You can still trace onto it and tack it on with a few basting stitches.

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

For a quick demo, I grabbed a scrap. This is from a sheet that I ran through the printer, then trimmed out the printed area. The edges were large enough to justify keeping, given the number of tiny patterns I stitch.

Since I can't print on this again, I did the next best thing...

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

I know I just got through telling you how you should get this to avoid tracing, but hear me out. Inevitably, after you print out some patterns onto the water-soluble fabric, there will be scraps like this. The point is, you can also trace onto them to put the pieces to use. And tracing onto this is much easier than most (if not all) fabrics.

By the way, this little Pumpkin Spice Latte will be coming soon on the blog!

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

Cut around the printed or traced pattern, peel off the backing, then stick it onto your fabric. It's semi-reposition-able, so if it doesn't go down just right, you can smooth out any wrinkles. Your pattern is officially transferred!

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

Start stitching as you normally would. Your stitches will go through both the fabric and the water-soluble fabric. Because this makes your fabric stiffer, you might be able to go without the hoop, but I still prefer it, if only to make it easier to hold.

I've noticed that my needle gets a little gummy as I work, so every so often I just wipe if off with the corner of my fabric. Wendi tells me this happens if the material gets too warm, and when mine was delivered, the package definitely felt like it had been sitting in the back of the mail truck all day. This is the downside of ordering in the summer when your house is toward the end of the mail route.

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

Also, sometimes the stabilizer lifts as you come up from the back. Just smooth it out and keep stitching!

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

When your stitching is done, prepare for magic. Get a shallow dish of warm water. The warmer the water, the faster it works, but if you're using wool, you'll want to keep it cooler to avoid shrinkage.

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper


Submerge the embroidery and wait.

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

Wait a little longer. This photo was taken at around 30 seconds in and the stabilizer is starting to change.

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

Keep waiting, and keep watching, because after about a minute, you'll start to see bits floating to the surface.

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

When you've lost your patience, agitate the fabric. No, don't say things to get it upset...shake the fabric around in the water a little. Even more bits come off!

Stitching with Water-Soluble Paper

Finally, when you really, really can't wait any more, or if there are tiny pieces stuck in the teeniest stitches, blast it with some water at your kitchen sink. Every part of the water-soluble fabric will vanish and wash away. It's pretty much amazing.

Will I give up regular tracing? Probably not. (It's cheap and doesn't need special supplies!) I might not even completely give up stitching though tracing paper, which I often do for felt projects. But I will use this any time that I'm even starting to feel a struggle come on with my transfer process, which includes using linen, which I love.

Now, can anyone tell me why I didn't use this sooner?

Notes from readers:

On soaking your embroidery: As a couple people have mentioned, it's really important that your embroidery floss be colorfast when using this technique. In all of the embroidery I've done (using primarily DMC threads), only one time did I have some color run (red! on white! yikes!), but it came out with color grabber in the wash. Just be certain before soaking, mmmkay?

On long projects: I received an email from someone who said that when using this product (a few years ago) in low-humidity and over a longer period of time, her stabilizer became brittle. Has anyone who has tried this run into that?

On other fabrics: Wendi reminded me that this is also perfect for stitching on stretchy knit fabrics where you'd need a stabilizer because...this is stabilizer! Hmm...more t-shirt and onesie embroidery may be in my future...

45 comments:

  1. Like you I thought I was doing just fine with pens etc. I've heard of this stuff before but now you've enlightened me on it's usefulness on felt and dark fabrics I think I may have to get some! Thank you for sharing this! xx

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  2. I definitely will be trying this on those hard to trace projects,,,when it comes to saving time and sanity it's worth every penny!!! Thank you for sharing this :)
    xx

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  3. This product sounds really nice - a lot easier. I will have to see if it is available down here in EC or I could have it 'mulled down' by a friend. Thanks Mollie for the post. :)

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  4. Hi Mollie! Just a couple of quick additional notes. :-) This also is great for stitching on stretchy T-shirts and baby onesies. They're tricky to trace onto and need stabilizer anyway - this does the trick for both!
    Also - a solution to the sticky needle! Like you, I'm frugal. And I didn't want to toss the whole pack of stabilizer I accidentally left sitting in my very hot car for a whole day. :-( I tried using Thread Magic on a project for a book to help keep my satin stitches perfectly smooth and I found out that an unexpected side effect was that I had no more sticky needle - even on a sheet from the pack that I baked for hours. Yay!

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  5. Ooo... I'll have to try this! Thanks for the step-by-step. Having read through it gives me a lot of confidence that I can make this work for me. :)

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  6. Incredible. I'm getting some! Thanks for sharing!!!

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  7. I've heard Wendi say how wonderful this product is and now I'm convinced. I'm reading Carina's new embroidery book right now for an upcoming review. She recommends stitching through tracing paper, then ripping it off. Have you tried this method? Clearly not the same as water soluble stabilizer, but do you recommend it?

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    1. The tracing paper method has been my go-to, especially on felt. The only real downside is removing the paper. It can take a while for detailed embroidery and if you tug it when tearing your stitches can loosen. Some people use good quality tissue paper because it's even easier to remove. You should definitely try it out!

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    2. Thanks, Mollie. I just ordered the water soluble stabilizer so I'll try both!

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    3. I've never stitched through tracing paper myself, but someone I know swears that the cheaper/junkier the paper is, the more easily it tears. It may be one of those things where you have to try different kinds and see what works for you.

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  8. Thanks for the tip! I'm just delving into embroidery, so I'm glad to learn about this early :)
    Amanda

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  9. Thank you for the great technique! I can't wait to try it!

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  10. Wendi is brilliant! And you are too. Smart solution.

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  11. WHAT!!!!! This is so cool. I HAVE to try this out. I'm horrible at transferring my patterns onto fabric and this looks like such a good solution.

    -Becca
    Ladyface Blog

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  12. This is such a good idea. I love stitching on linen, too, but the looser weave means the fabric slips around while I'm tracing (no matter how well I tape it down), and the design ends up wonky.

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  13. No way!! I am definitely going to have to try some of this, thanks Mollie!

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  14. Aahhh! Beautiful, I'm just doing my first project on linen and I sure see what you mean about it being more difficult to transfer on, I will have to try this next time.

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  15. Love this and will have to try it - BUT - be sure your thread is colorfast. Some overdyes or hand dyed threads are not and you could have color running all over the place....

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    1. Absolutely! I usually stitch with DMC which is known for being colorfast, although I did have some red run a bit when soaking off my water-soluble pen markings. Yikes!

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  16. Okay, I've heard about this before but wasn't sure of its usefulness until now. Printable?! I have some super-detailed ship patterns purchased online that would be a real pain to trace. It seems you've shown me the answer! Thank you!

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  17. I have used this with success but I also had to deal with the sticky needle so will be trying the thread magic...also, I found that the thread tension was pretty important as a few of my stitches on my first try with this were loose after soaking the project! I guess the extra bit between can be deceiving on the eyes to how the stitches will look on the finished project...or maybe it was just me, lol!

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  18. Anonymous12:59 PM

    Try rubbing alcohol on the sticky needle. That's what normally works for me :)

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  19. What a great idea! I'm a beginner cross-stitcher, but would love to expand beyond counted kits. This idea would help me make my own patterns! Love it!

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  20. Hi Mollie.

    I just wanted to let your readers know that you have to be very careful when using this method for your transfer. The colors often run when it's time to rise away the stabilizer and can easily ruin a project. EVEN DMC WILL RUN! Most people will tell you that DMC never runs, but I have had it happen many times.Here's 2 things you can do to help the problem:

    1. Only use DMC floss (not fool proof, but by far the best) and wash it in a dye stabilizer first and then dry it throughly.

    2.If you do have a problem (usually it only happens to the lightest colors). Use a Tide To Go stain pen to dab along the stitches after you have finished rinsing, but before it dries. That helps a lot!

    You can never be too careful. Hope that helps!

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    1. Newbie here-When you say, "Wash it in a dye stabilizer first and then dry it throughly."
      Do you mean after soaking the stabilizer off? Or when washing the item before embroidering? Thanks so much for your reply.

      And Mollie, I'm so glad I found your site. Grew up embroidering, and after many years am just getting back into it. :-)

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    2. I've never done this, but I think she means to wash the floss in a dye stabilizer first...before you start stitching.

      And I'm so glad you found my site too! Embroidery is so fun, and I'm happy that you're back at it! Happy stitching!

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  21. wow different, I will try this next time I stitch on black I think. thanks for this!!

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  22. Are the stitches tight? I use a light box and a water soluble marker. I don't have the expense of the water soluble stabilizer. I saw someone using white tissue paper to embroider on felt. Cheap and good. Everyone has some tissue paper they can recycle :)

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    1. I've found that the stitches are tighter than when I use tissue or tracing paper, probably because you're not trying to tear anything away. Plus, the stabilizer is very thin.

      Normally I do use a light box (or window!) and water soluble pen, but have been frustrated when tracing onto linen. This method is especially great for detailed designs because the printing is accurate...and fast! It makes it worth the money to me.

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  23. Laser-jet printing itself produces a satisfactory iron-on - just be sure to flip the image desired before printing it. The tiny ink particles are bound to the paper by heat,So a hot iron on the backside releases enough of them to produce a light, but usable, image that washes out easily.

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    1. Yes! I have done this with some success, but only on light fabrics with tight weaves. Linen and osnaburg don't accept the laser transfer very well.

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  24. Thank you so much for this post, I've been wondering how to transfer an image to my fabric and you just answered it for me, I'll give this a try :)

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  25. this is so awesome!!! I had no idea they made this stuff now you can embroidery whatever you want :) thank you for sharing

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  26. There is a product called Transfer EZE that is precisely for this. It can run thru your computer and then dissolves just like this after it is embroidered.

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  27. I immediately went out and bought some and it is just magical, never heard of it before but I will be using it all the time now going forward. Thanks heaps for this very informative post Mollie.

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  28. This is perfect--exactly what I needed for my next project! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  29. I use teeshirt transfer paper and iron it onto the back of the fabric. It works if you print on it,draw on it, etc. It also does a great job at strengthening and stabilizing the fabric! If you're using dark fabric, they even have a white based paper for darker shirts.
    Since it's on the BACK, you don't have to reverse your pattern for words, either. :)

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  30. Anonymous3:14 PM

    Bless your heart, I am not worthy...

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  31. I also have sent those sheets through my ink jet printer to get the design on them.

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  32. I just got some of this stuff and printed your Kitschy Christmas Snow Globe this morning! I can't wait to try embroidering with it.... thanks for the review! :)

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  33. what brilliant stuff! thank you so much for sharing! :)

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  34. Oh man. Perfect! I have some black and brown fabrics I am working with. You just saved me hours of frustration. Thank you very much!

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  35. Hi, what is the name of this fabric? I am Brazilian living in the United States and I am struggling to find the names of fabrics for embroidery. Thanks for the tips!

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    1. The fabric I'm using here is linen, which I buy in the dressmaking section at JoAnn. Sometimes I use osnaburg because it has a linen-like look, but at about a third of the price.

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