Carbon Tracing Paper: Transferring Patterns to Fabric
One of the first steps for working on an embroidery pattern is transferring the design to your fabric. There are lots of different methods of doing this – which is great (lots of options, woo hoo!) but that can also make it quite daunting for beginners (how on earth do you know which one to use?!).
But don’t worry, I’m here to help! I'm going to teach you a straightforward way to transfer patterns onto fabric: carbon tracing paper.
This method is particularly useful for transferring on a design to fabric that is too dark or thick to see through for tracing.
So let's get started!
Also works on dark or thick fabrics
Pen lines removable or fade over time (usually)
Works day + night
No need to stitch through an extra layer
Carbon lines are often not clear and visible
Carbon lines may fade during stitching
Additional cost of the carbon paper
Carbon paper can be challenging to use
Drawing skills required
Another method for transferring patterns is using carbon tracing paper. This paper comes in light or dark colours, which means that this method is suitable for any coloured fabric (including those too dark or thick to see through for tracing). But beware – I’ve had a lot of feedback that the lines may not be very visible and/or fade over time. This will depend on the brand you’re using, but note that you may need to go over the lines with a second pen.
IN A NUTSHELL: Lay your fabric flat, position the coloured side of the carbon paper facing down over the fabric, and overlay your template on top. Trace over the design on the template, and the carbon outline will be transferred to the fabric. Then go over the lines with a transfer pen to make them more visible (optional).
You will need:
Printed copy of design template
Dressed hoop or loose fabric
Pen or Stylus (see info below about which to use)
White pen to go over lines (optional)
Prepare carbon transfer paper and template:Cut out your design template to size. Then cut out a piece of carbon paper to suit the size of your design template.
Position Fabric:Flip over your dressed hoop (e.g. fabric mounted tightly in the hoop and excess fabric trimmed off), so that the fabric is sitting flush with your working surface. Then place the carbon paper in position, so that the coloured side is face down. I recommend securing it to the fabric with clear sticky tape.
Tip for using loose fabric instead: If you prefer, you can trace the design onto loose fabric, rather than in a dressed hoop. In that case, lay your fabric flat on your work surface, place the carbon paper over top (coloured side down), then place your template over top (face up), and do the tracing step. I recommend you secure your layers in place with clear sticky tape so that your template doesn’t move around as you trace it.
Prep and position design template:Cut out your design template, and place it on top of the carbon paper, so that the design is face up. Secure this with clear sticky tape as well. Now your template and paper are nicely secured to your fabric and you don’t have to worry about them moving around when you start tracing.
Trace:Now lay the hoop flat on your work surface, and trace over the lines of the design template, using nice firm pressure. Make double sure that you’ve gone over all of the lines in the template with good pressure. To check, you can lift up the corner of the carbon paper and template to check-but take care that you place them back in the exact same spot, if you need to keep tracing.
TIP: If you use a pen that’s a different colour to the template, you’ll be able to easily see which lines you’ve traced over. I’m using a white pen here and it works a treat!
Now you can carefully remove the template and carbon paper.
Enhancing Outlines (optional):Take a look at the carbon outlines to ensure they are clear and easily visible for your embroidery work. If you think they’re too faint or will fade overtime, consider enhancing them by going over with a transfer pen. For dark fabric, using a white pen can make the lines more prominent. Choose between are movable white pen or a permanent one, depending on your preference and desired outcome.
Rehoop fabric (optional): You can either rehoop your fabric (so that the design is on the topside of your hoop) or stitch your design on the underside of the hoop – whichever works for you is fine!
Now your template has been transferred to your pattern and you can move to the next step of making your pattern, woo hoo!
Q & A
Should I use a pen or stylus?
Both can work well, depending on the project. Here’s a quick breakdown to help you choose:
Stylus: this is a pointed tool with a rounded end, which is great for precise tracing and controlled pressure. It minimises pressing too hard on the fabric, and because it’s not a pen, you don’t have to worry about any ink stains.
Pen: Be sure to use one with a nice rounded tip (nothing too sharp), so that you can apply even pressure without tearing the layers. And a bonus is that using a different coloured pen means that you can easily distinguish the lines you’ve already traced.
I’ve heard from a lot of customers that the carbon lines aren’t visible enough on their own. But our member Alicia loves this method, and find it works well (relying entirely on the carbon lines). See these examples which she’s done a fantastic job with!
I hope that this guide has made it easy and fun for you to transfer your patterns onto your material, without being overwhelmed.
I encourage you to practice transferring your pattern on with different techniques, and you’ll find a favourite method that you can easily whip out each time you start a new project.