What are Embroidery Transfers?

Christine Hudson
Christine Hudson
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Embroidery transfers are designs placed on a transferable material to be followed when doing embroidery. Most commercial examples are printed on iron-transfer paper, while at-home versions can be made using blue carbon paper or tracing paper that is then pinned to the fabric on which the design is to be placed. These transfers allow a person to create intricate needlework designs easier than with freehand methods. This is also different from applique because the designs are still sewn directly onto the fabric rather than ironed or glued on.

Commercial iron-on embroidery transfers are typically the easiest to use. To use them, the design is placed face-down on the fabric and an iron is placed on top, where the heat is used to transfer the design. When the design has successfully been transferred to the fabric, the lines are sewn over to completely cover them. Other methods include pinning tracing paper with the design onto fabric and sewing over it, using carbon paper to transfer lines, or even using water-soluble ink and a light box to trace the design directly onto the fabric itself. The important thing is to use ink that will not bleed and ruin the fabric; special fabric pens are typically available for this reason.

Most fabrics are suitable to use iron-on embroidery transfers, with only a few exceptions. Plastics, such as those used for some tablecloths, and any delicate fabric that should not be ironed usually will be ruined by the application of iron-on transfers. These materials generally require another method of transferring. Pencils, carbon paper, and pens that are safe to use on these materials are generally found in fabric stores.

A large variety of designs are available commercially, and an even larger variety exists when creating embroidery transfers. Flowers, animals, border designs, and letters are popular with beginners and seasoned stitchers alike, but the possibilities are only limited by the crafter’s imagination and skill. Numerous books and websites typically are available where a person can find commercial embroidery transfers or learn more about creating them at home.

The quality of any transfer should be considered before purchase, as sometimes the design can fail to transfer completely, thereby making the needlework more difficult. It is generally recommended to anyone just beginning to use transfers to try a couple on test fabric. Test fabric can be anything from old t-shirts to sheets to left-over fabric. Running a few tests can help ensure the quality of the transfers, as well as hone the skill of applying them correctly.

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Discussion Comments


@spotiche5- Don't hesitate to use embroidery transfers to teach your niece this fascinating hobby. Many people who are new to the skill find it difficult to learn how to control the needle and create a design at the same time. By using a transfer, all the beginning embroiderer has to do is follow the design to create a unique embroidered piece of art. This also gives him or her to confidence to try other types of patterns and designs.


@spotiche5- I have taught several young people how to embroider using embroidery transfers, and this technique was a very easy way to help them learn how to enjoy this type of needlework. Basically, using transfers gives young learners a design to follow, making it simple to learn embroidery.

The type of embroidery transfer that can be ironed onto the fabric is definitely the best type to use. Since it is fixed into placed after it is ironed, the beginning embroiderer doesn't have to worry about controlling the pattern, but can focus on learning the craft.


I'm planning to teach my niece how to do embroidery, since it is a hobby that many people in my family have enjoyed for generations. Is using an embroidery transfer a good way to get her started, and if so, what is the best type of tranfer for beginners to use?

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