Transferring embroidery designs onto black fabric

Posted by on Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

I learned how to embroider as a child, and it’s one craft that has stuck with me through my entire life.  For me, the biggest challenge of embroidery is transferring a design onto fabric–particularly dark fabric.  I cannot draw.  I don’t mean I’m not as good at drawing as I would like–I straight up can’t do it.  Something is wrong in my neural pathways.  No amount of practice or lessons has ever made it better.  So when I can’t use something like a transfer pen, I have to look to other methods.

I decided a couple of days ago to make a present for Alherin.  Our amazing friend Bran Mydwynter designed and painted his shield a while ago (we’ll repaint it Bran–soon), and I love the design, so I figured I should start there:


I took a photo of the shield, opened it in photoshop, and got to work.  I simplified and cleaned up the image and swapped the colors to black and white rather than black and red–no reason to waste a ton of ink printing color I don’t need.  I printed out a couple of copies so I had one to use as a pattern and one for reference.  For this project, what is printed black will be embroidered in red, and I will want to reference something as I work–just in case.  For more colorful embroidery projects, I generally print several copies and color on them until I come up with something that’s just right.

Once the pattern was ready, I prepared my background fabric, making sure it was much larger than the image I’ll be embroidering.  I want lots of options for finishing this, and I want a piece that’s easy to put in a hoop.


I got everything lined up on grain and pinned that sucker like crazy.  I used safety pins because I have enough holes in my hands already.  I’m essentially quilting paper to fabric.


Next, I sewed.  I used red thread because it will be easy to see when I get started but it will blend into the embroidery once I get to work.  Those swirly bits are tedious.  Trust me.  I went slowly.  Well, slowly for me.  I have an excellent machine with a knee lifter, so those things speed this process up a lot.


Once everything was stitched, I started removing the paper.  That process gets much more difficult as it goes along.


A pin or stiletto is necessary for the very small sections.


And then for a little while I wanted to burn the whole thing and pretend this never happened.


And, finally, it was clean enough to start embroidering.   It took me under an hour to get to this point from when I printed the image.  I think that’s much more efficient than any other method I’ve tried for transferring a pattern onto a black background–particularly considering that that pattern will stay put unless I remove it with a seam ripper.  It won’t wash off, it won’t bleed, it won’t damage the fabric, and it will still be there if I abandon a project for years and years.  I just picked up an old project and the heavy wool background cloth had eaten the pattern lines.  I was not pleased.  But that’s another story, and all is well.


And then it was done.  I may revisit this and fill in the negative space with black embroidery with feathering, or I may make a larger version for that process.  But he will be able to wear it at Pennsic.


In other news, Etaine and I started on a new gate banner for Preachain.  She acquired the perfect madder red wool background and made the pattern, then we cut and arranged the pieces and I did the applique and prepped the wool for the background.  The linen sub-banner will be removable for washing, since we don’t want that red to transfer onto the natural linen.  This will probably get some handwoven trim and some large figures on the red and some antler stuff.  BUT I won’t be sewing on thick wool while were camping, so I am happy.


Filed in Celtic,embroidery,tutorials | One response so far

One Response to “Transferring embroidery designs onto black fabric”

  1. gayleon 23 Jul 2016 at 12:04 pm 1

    Excellent way to mark your lines! Though I don’t envy all that paper-picking you had to do… 8)
    (I once did some free-motion machine embroidery over a piece of tissue paper, hoping to end up with something for fairy wings. I finally gave up in despair while trying to pull out all that paper.)

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