how to transfer an embroidery pattern onto any fabric
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:
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.
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...
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!
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!
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.
Also, sometimes the stabilizer lifts as you come up from the back. Just smooth it out and keep stitching!
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.
Submerge the embroidery and wait.
Wait a little longer. This photo was taken at around 30 seconds in and the stabilizer is starting to change.
Keep waiting, and keep watching, because after about a minute, you'll start to see bits floating to the surface.
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!
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...