Angela Nowicki

24 February 2019

Transfer Methods - A Test Run

Regarding my next project, a Colbert embroidery sampler, there's a big challenge coming up to me. TFDT - The Frightening Design Transfer. The planned design is fairly big and intricate, five smaller and larger motifs to be transferred neatly in a certain arrangement on a piece of linen. I did not do much transfers as yet, and for most of them I used ordinary carbon paper, the kind you would use for typewriter copies. I was fine with it, save that the lines on the fabric didn't last very long, they began to fade after a couple of weeks. You can read about my respective experience here. A couple of weeks however would by far not be enough time for stitching my planned Colbert sampler.

When it comes to embroidery transfer, there are basically five options:

  1. Lightbox
  2. Iron-on pen
  3. Dressmaker's carbon paper
  4. Prick & Pounce
  5. Basting

I did already test the iron-on pen and the dressmaker's carbon paper from Prym. The results of the test weren't to my complete satisfaction, as you can see here. On Luzine Happel's website, I found another iron-on pen mentioned, from DEKA, which was part of my birthday presents. While the Prym pen is made of plastic and has a pink reservoir (much like a felt tip pen), the DEKA pen is basically a coloured pencil with a soft, dark purple lead.

Because I'm still waiting for the pearl cotton ordered for this sampler to arrive, and because this time I want the transfer to come out as perfect as possible, I decided on a full test run of all transfer methods coming into question. Method #5, basting, went off the list at the outset. This method is suited for relatively rough designs only, without much and tiny detail.

I chose one meaningful motif from the sampler, took a scrap of 32 ct. Zweigart linen, and off I went. Below you can see the results of my experiment including some explanations on what I liked about them and what not.

Transfer Test
The Transfer Test Run

1. Lightbox

I don't have a real lightbox. My husband suggested to make me a good lightbox, using an IKEA plastic box, one or two LED bars plus a frosted glass pane, but it hasn't come to it yet. I do have a notebook however, and I've read here and there that other stitchers are tracing on laptops, notebooks etc. as well. Hence the following transfer is done on my notebook with the Recycle Bin activated to have a clean white light underneath.

Tracing On a Notebook




2. Iron-on Pen

Wow! What a perfect result. That would be my first-choice transfer method, if ... well, if the first pressing didn't come out smudgy! I immediately pressed it once more right beside the first one, and this one went like a charme.

Iron-on pen
Pressing With ...
Iron-on pen
... an Iron-on Pen ...
Iron-on pen
... on Tracing Paper




At a second session, I did a transfer with the DEKA pen and with the Prym pen side by side - and guess what? Both of them worked splendidly! No smudges with the DEKA pen, and I'm sure that's because I didn't press as hard as at the first go. But the biggest surprise was the Prym pen. Why didn't it work the very first time? The pink lines are not quite so nice as the blue lines of the DEKA pen, but they're still nice enough to consider the Prym pen as yet another option for transfer.
So you can say: problem solved.

Two different iron-on pens
DEKA pen (blue) + Prym pen (pink)

Addendum: Not entirely. After transferring the first design onto the sampler linen this way, there were very ugly smudges again. (argh! what a blessing that linen has two sides ...) I'm absolutely sure I didn't press the pencil too hard this time. First I supposed I could have been touching the lines with my hand, but there's one more explanation: I could have been pressing the iron too long (1 min.). As I discovered in the next attempt (which came out perfectly), the DEKA pencil needs only 10 seconds for a perfect transfer! Now I'm pretty sure of the
Final Solution: Do the first ironing on some layers of paper towel rather than (precious) fabric, only then iron it onto the fabric.

3. Dressmaker's Carbon Paper

Blue to the left - red to the right. In the center, where the blue is scarcely visible, that's just where the two sheets of carbon paper were overlapping. Again, I didn't fix the whole business to the fabric, so the circle turned into an egg.

Dressmaker's Carbon Paper
Blue and Red Carbon Paper




Because the red and the blue carbon paper worked out so well, even though it didn't satisfy me at the very first attempt, I thought it wouldn't hurt to try the white and the yellow carbon paper once again as well. All the more, as a lady on our facebook community showed a photo of a perfect transfer on black fabric with white dressmaker's carbon paper by Prym. And again - I have no idea why my very first attempt came out so disappointing? Especially the white carbon paper does an excellent job.
So one more problem solved.

carbon paper on dark fabric
White and yellow carbon paper
on dark fabric

4. Prick & Pounce

This seems to be a method entirely unknown in Germany, so that I even don't know a German name for it. I couldn't find any ready-to-use Prick'n Pounce equipment here. Of course, you can make it yourself: for the pricking just stick a medium large needle into a cork, and black pounce powder is simply made of crushed charcoal. I found some chunks of charcoal in my art stash, but ... how can I crush them when I don't have a mortar? There was nothing for it but to crush the charcoal with a handy cachepot on a pile of old newspapers. For the pouncing I used a piece of rolled up felt.

Prick and Pounce
P&P with charcoal and blue pastel





Here's my personal transfer score:

  1. The Iron-on Pen - Should I succeed to clarify & eliminate the cause of the smudging at the first run ... and should I learn how to attach the pattern to the fabric for ironing ... this will be my absolute favourite, just because the result is so beautiful.
  2. The Lightbox - With the right pen/pencil this one is the method of choice for a quick and easy transfer, because What You See Is What You Get. It hasn't to be an expensive lightbox or even a notebook though. It occurred to me quite recently that I have a round folding table with a frosted glass surface. When I put a light underneath (even a torch is enough!), I can easily see and trace a pattern underneath the fabric!
  3. The Dressmaker's Carbon Paper - The method you can't go wrong with - provided the design doesn't have to sit exactly in a certain place on the fabric.

Prick & Pounce? No, I think, I won't be trying my hands on this method again anytime soon. Too time-consuming, too messy, too confusing, too fault-prone, too too ...