How to stitch with embroidery transfers

collection of embroidery transfers with title.

Embroidery transfers are fun to use with surface embroidery. You can get designs with any kind of theme that you like – flowers, motorcycles, dinosaurs, or skeletons. The most difficult part will be choosing what you want to stitch.

The nice thing about embroidery transfers is that they can be used on almost anything. You can stitch on clothing, table linens, bags or anything else that you already have. You don’t need to stitch and then finish off the piece. This is especially fun for kids, but enjoyed by all ages.

Transfers are generally “iron-on”. You place the transfer face down on the right side of the fabric and then press with a hot iron. The design is then printed onto the fabric.

iron on embroidery transfer.

Test first

Before using a transfer, be sure to read all the instructions that come with it. There might be slight differences and you need to know what is specific to your project.

Whenever possible, test a small part of your fabric first to make sure that the transfer will work clearly. Iron-on transfers will not work on fabric like felt or fleece.


Be sure to measure twice, press once when aligning the transfer. Make sure it is in the spot where you want it to go.

If the transfer is large, hold it in place on the fabric with pins or tape at the edges. If it shifts during ironing, the lines will be shifted and blurred.

or trace

If you have some old transfers that you inherited or found in the back of a cupboard, they might have lost their “pressability”. That’s okay – you can still use them! You will just have to transfer the design using a different method. The easiest will be to trace it.

Remember that transfer designs are printed in reverse since they are ironed on. For pictures like flowers or animals, it might not be an issue at all, but anything with words will need to be changed.

You can scan the design into your computer and flip it in a word processing software, or you can trace the design onto the back of the transfer, and then trace it that way. Using a thick pen or fine marker makes it easy to see on the reverse side of the paper.

marking a pattern with carbon paper.


Once the design is transferred, you are ready to stitch. Here are some things to consider when stitching the design.

Think of the finished use

If these are napkins or placemats that will be used everyday by your family, then they will need to be designs that can stand up to lots of handling and washing. Choose simple, flat stitches like backstitch and running stitch. Avoid long stitches that can get caught on things.

If the piece if more decorative, like a dresser scarf, you can use more dimensional stitching.

Also consider your environment. If you are stitching on a throw pillow, how often will it be handled?

Make sure the stitches cover the lines

Many transfer images won’t wash out of the fabric, so make sure the stitches totally cover the lines. That will avoid disappointment.

Match thread to fabric

This is the most important consideration. Lightweight fabrics will not be able to support heavy threads. Use fine threads and one or two strands of embroidery floss.

Heavy duty fabrics like twill or denim can handle heavier threads like six strands of floss or Perle cotton.

selection of embroidery threads with titel.

Keep it simple

Use simple stitches with embroidery transfers. You chose the transfer because you like the picture, so that is what you want to highlight.

When in doubt, stitching the whole picture with backstitch always works. You can use colour to highlight the parts of the picture.

fabric in embroidery hoop with title.

Play around

Stitching transferred designs are a fun way to play and experiment. Most transfers can be used multiple times, so you can make sets and try different things.

Trying new stitches and colour combinations will get your creative juices flowing.

Have fun and enjoy making beautiful things.


Elizabeth DeCroos - Epida Studio.

Elizabeth DeCroos

Elizabeth DeCroos is the designer and teacher at Epida Studio. She loves to work in quilting, pojagi and embroidery and teach these techniques to others.
Learn more and get her to speak to your group.

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