How to Transfer a Design to Fabric Using Tracing Paper

  • 01 of 06

    How to Use the Tracing Paper Method

    strawberry design on tracing paper for embroidery
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    The tracing paper transfer method of marking an embroidery design on fabric (sometimes referred to as thread tracing) uses lightweight tissue or tracing paper that you have marked with your pattern. It's a great way to transfer a design to fabric without actually marking the fabric.

    This makes this technique well-suited for use on delicate or non-washable fabrics because you will not have to mark the fabric permanently or wash out any markings later like you would with other common embroidery transfer methods. The marked lines stay on the paper and are not transferred to the fabric.

    This method works well on fabrics such as silk, fine wool, leather, angora or dry-clean-only fabrics. Because the tissue also acts as a stabilizer, it also works well on delicate or gauzy fabrics and netting (but use caution when removing the tissue, so you don't tear the delicate fabric). 

    It's also helpful for working on dark or thick fabrics that are difficult to trace through, such as denim or canvas.

    Materials needed for this method of transferring an embroidery design include a sheet of tracing paper or tissue, a pencil, thread to baste the tissue in place on the fabric, and your pattern.

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

    Continue to 2 of 6 below.
  • 02 of 06

    Make the Paper Transfer

    Tracing the pattern with a regular pencil
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    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.

    To make the paper transfer, trace the design from the pattern directly onto the tracing paper with a regular pencil. Then, cut the design from the tracing paper about an inch from the edges.

    Continue to 3 of 6 below.
  • 03 of 06

    Baste the Pattern Transfer to the Fabric

    Basting the pattern in place
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Next, baste the tracing pattern transfer to the embroidery fabric. You can use regular sewing thread or a strand or two of embroidery floss to temporarily attach the pattern to the fabric with large stitches.

    Continue to 4 of 6 below.
  • 04 of 06

    Stitch the Design Through the Paper

    Embroidering through the paper
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Embroider the design directly through the tracing paper transfer and the fabric, following the pattern markings. You can use backstitch to outline the design, but tightly-worked stem stitch, closely-spaced running stitch, or other stitches also work. 

    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. 

    Tip: Whichever stitch you choose to use, remember to work them closely spaced. This gives you a better-finished line and makes it easier to remove the paper after the stitching has been completed.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Remove the Basting and the Paper Pattern

    Carefully tearing the paper away
    The Spruce / Mollie Johanson

    Once the embroidery has been completed, 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 perforated the paper, which should make it easier to tear it away. From there, you can pull out the paper from the inside of an area of stitching. 

    Continue to 6 of 6 below.
  • 06 of 06

    Clear Away All the Tiny Paper Bits

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

    It's usually helpful to remove the paper in small bits rather than trying to remove larger sections. You can perforate the paper more with a needle if you're struggling to tear it away. 

    Any stubborn bits of paper that remain under the stitching can be removed with tweezers.