How to Transfer a Design to Fabric Using Tracing Paper

How to Transfer Patterns with Tracing Paper
Mollie Johanson
Project Overview
  • Total Time: 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

The tracing paper transfer method of marking an embroidery design on fabric, sometimes referred to as thread tracing, uses lightweight tissue or tracing paper marked with your pattern. It's a great way to transfer a design to fabric without actually making marks on the fabric, making it well-suited for use on delicate or non-washable fabrics. The marked lines stay on the paper: nothing to cover with thread or wash out later.

The method works well on all sorts of embroidery fabric, including silk, fine wool, leather, angora, or any dry-clean-only materials. It's also appropriate for working on dark or thick fabrics that are difficult to trace through, such as denim or canvas. And because the tissue also acts as a stabilizer, it is a good choice on delicate or gauzy fabrics and netting. When using delicate materials like these, use caution when removing the tissue, so you don't tear it.

Our pattern is one of 12 mini designs that make great patches.


When choosing tracing paper, look for a thin paper that isn't very stiff. Typically this will be the cheapest tracing paper a store offers, and often you'll find it with kids' art supplies.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Pencil
  • Needle for basting
  • Embroidery needle, size between 1 and 5
  • Embroidery hoop sized for practice fabric


  • Small square of fabric for practicing
  • Six-strand embroidery floss for embroidering
  • Sheet of tracing paper
  • Sewing or embroidery thread for basting
  • Design to be transferred


  1. Make the Paper Transfer

    Layer the tracing paper on top of your design. Using a pencil, trace the design from the pattern directly onto the tracing paper. Cut the traced design from the tracing paper, about an inch from the edges.

    Tracing the pattern with a regular pencil
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson
  2. Baste the Pattern Transfer to the Fabric

    Cut a length of basting thread long enough to go around the edges of your traced design. Thread the basting needle with the basting thread; knot the other end.

    Baste the traced design to the embroidery fabric using large running stitches. The goal here is just to make sure it won't move!

    Basting the pattern in place
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson
  3. Stitch the Design

    Working directly through the tracing paper transfer and the fabric and following the pattern markings, embroider the design. Use backstitch, tightly-worked stem stitch, closely-spaced running stitch to outline your design. Detached chain stitches will stitch easily while requiring extra care when removing the paper.

    Keep the stitching simple as you trace the pattern with thread for best results. If you want to fill in a design, use the tracing paper method for the outline then remove the paper before starting the fill stitching.


    Whichever stitch you choose, remember to make closely spaced stitches. This gives you a better finished line and will make it easier to remove the paper after the stitching has been completed.

    Embroidering through the paper
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson


    strawberry design on tracing paper for embroidery
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson
  4. Remove Basting and Paper

    Once the embroidery is complete, carefully remove the basting threads used to secure the tracing paper pattern to the embroidery fabric.

    Remove the tracing paper, being careful not to tug the embroidery stitches. Start by tearing away the paper from around the edge of your design. The stitches will have perforated it, making it easier to tear away. From there, you can pull out the paper from the inside of an area of stitching.

    Carefully tearing the paper away
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson
  5. Cleaning Up

    Remove the paper in small sections rather than trying to remove it in large pieces. You can perforate the paper more with a needle if you're struggling to tear it away. Use tweezers to remove any stubborn bits of paper that remain under the stitching.

    Using tweezers for bits that are hard to remove
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson