Needlework Tips & Tricks: Transferring Patterns & More

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These tips were initially published on their own pages and moved here to make one handy reference sheet. You’ll find info for cleaning & care of needlework, transferring patterns, a clever idea for a thread organizer and more. Enjoy!

How To Transfer Designs

Picture of Iron Transfer -
How to Apply a Multi-Transfer Design

  • Pin a cloth tightly over ironing board to protect it in case transfer ink penetrates fabric.
  • Smooth the fabric on ironing board.
  • Cut out transfer, allowing enough paper for pinning.
  • Pin transfer in place, face down.
  • With iron between “Wool” and “Cotton” heat, apply iron gently but firmly for 2 to 3 seconds. If necessary, increase time slightly for additional impressions.
  • Too much heat might scorch fabric and spoil re-use of transfer.

Transfers may be used up to 6 times.

Tracing Your Own Design

If you have created your own design, you have to trace it onto the fabric. There are three different methods of doing this:

First Method:

  • The simplest method is the use of dressmakers’ carbon paper. Place the carbon paper in position face down on the fabric, then place the design on top. Draw over all the lines with a sharp-pointed pencil. Care must be taken to press only on the lines of the design, otherwise the carbon may smudge the fabric.

Second Method:

  • The design can be traced directly onto fine transparent fabric such as organdy, nylon or silk, by placing the design underneath the fabric and tracing over the lines with a soft pencil.

Third Method:

  • On very coarse or textured fabric, it is difficult to trace the design. In this case, trace the drawing onto fine tracing paper, baste the paper in position on the fabric, then carefully mark over all the lines of the design with small Running Stitches. The drawing can be torn away before the embroidery is begun. Remove all basting stitches after the completion of the embroidery.

Source: Coats & Clark’s Book No. 144; Learn How to Embroider (1963)

Update: Transfer Patterns With Press ‘n Seal: Here’s a nifty technique that is ideal for transferring the vintage patterns found here on Tipnut. A square of plastic wrap is placed over design, trace pattern with a Sharpie then place over fabric. After completing needlework, carefully pull plastic away.

Quick Tips

  • Picture of Needlework - Tipnut.comPhotocopy the pattern page and insert into a plastic sheet protector. No more ratty patterns!
  • Store threads and yarn in ziploc bags when travelling or picking up while your waiting during errands and appointments. You can open a corner of the bag to let the thread through when your doing your needlework. This helps keep your threads clean and everything stored neatly in the bag so you can get up quickly without having to rush and put everything back in your bag.
  • Use a sticky note to mark your place on the pattern, moving down as needed. When the sticky note loses its stickiness or gets too worn, just replace with another.
  • For needlework, place a white cloth on your lap before starting. This will help you keep track of your dark threads underneath your project’s fabric.

Care of Work

Wrap up your work between times in a clean old towel or apron. This habit will often save your piece from having to be washed after finishing, and will help preserve its new look for some time.

Washing and Ironing:

Picture of Soap Box -

  • Use warm water and pure soap flakes. Do not use detergents or bleaches. Wash by squeezing gently.
  • Rinse thoroughly in warm water, squeeze by hand and leave until half dry.
  • Iron on the wrong side, placing the work face down on an extra thick blanket so that embroidery is not flattened out by the iron. Use a moderately hot iron and press heavily. A damp cloth placed over the work will prevent any possibility of singeing. On right side iron the hems only.

Coats & Clark’s Book No. 144
Learn How to Embroider (1963)

Tipnut’s Notes:

I’ve had good success with washing embroidered tablecloths and dishtowels with a good splash of color safe bleach in the washing machine. I wash them separately from the rest of the laundry and use regular laundry detergent. I wouldn’t be brave enough to try machine washing precious embroidered work or using color safe bleach, but for dishtowels and everyday tablecloths, I’ll chance it to clean the towels from germs and bacteria picked up in the kitchen.

Beginnings & Finishings

Picture of Embroidery Work - Tipnut.comWhen starting embroidery, make a few small running stitches along the line to be embroidered, then make one back stitch. (No knots should appear on the wrong side of work.)

When the thread becomes too short, acquires a fuzz or untwists, finish it off as follows:

  • Draw thread to wrong side of work, weave needle in and out of the stitches of the completed embroidery, then cut the thread close to work.

The wrong side of work should be as neat as the right side, therefore do not carry thread from one design to another.

Coats & Clark’s Book No. 144
Learn How to Embroider (1963)

How To Clean & Block Needlework

Picture of Needlework - Tipnut.comIf you love to display cross stitch, embroidery and crewel work, here are step-by-step instructions for cleaning pieces that are in dire need of freshening up. No matter how carefully we display our needlework, they can get grungy with smoke, grease and handling stains.

As always, first test a small area before trying a cleaning method. Watch for dye transfer. Some reds are notorious for bleeding when washing, using a cooler temperature of water can help.

Also, don’t be alarmed if the water used in cleaning turns quite murky, you’ll be rinsing until water is clear.

How To Clean:

  • Remove needlework piece from frame and make sure all edges are finished before immersing the item in water. You can do a zigzag finish or use a serger (being careful not to cut piece smaller).
  • Measure item and note the exact size on all sides, you’ll need to block the piece to this size while it’s drying.
  • Fill a large basin with lukewarm water and add a bit of gentle liquid dish detergent. Do not use a soap with added bleach or degreasing agent.
  • Using your fingers, swirl and agitate the needlework in the soapy water. You want the piece to be saturated completely with water. Soak item in the water for about an hour, gently agitating occasionally. If piece is heavily stained, you can soak longer if needed (even days), just make sure to replace soapy water with fresh each day (if the water is very dirty or murky at first, change soapy water to a fresh batch for soaking).
  • Dab spot stains with your fingers or a very soft toothbrush, gently dabbing soap into stained area. You need to be careful and watch that you don’t damage the fibers while doing this.
  • Once the piece is clean, drain the soapy water and fill the basin with cool, clear water. Rinse the soap out of the needlework piece. You will need to do this a few times until water runs clear, you want all traces of soap to be removed from the needlework as soap residue can cause the fabric to yellow.
  • After needlework has been rinsed thoroughly and all traces of soap removed, lay out the needlework on a clean white towel then top with another clean white towel. Roll like a jelly roll (with needlework inside) squeezing the towels gently to remove as much of the water as you can (do not wring out needlework). Do not allow the needlework to touch itself when rolling, keep the towels between rolled layers of needlework. Unroll the towels and remove the needlework piece to block.

How To Block:

  • You’ll need a piece of plywood with a large enough area to lay the needlework piece on top (with at least an inch or two margin on all sides for easier handling).
  • Take a piece of muslin large enough to cover the plywood with a few inches overlap and lay it flat. Place the plywood on top of the muslin and bring the edges of the muslin up and over the plywood, stapling the edges securely along the back of the plywood. Flip the board over and you should have a tight, clean muslin surface.
  • Take the wet needlework piece and lay on top of muslin surface. Start pinning the needlework along the edges to the muslin, measuring all sides of needlework so that it matches the original measurements you took before washing. As the piece dries, the original measurements will hold. If you don’t block the wet needlework before it dries, the piece will likely shrink and warp.
  • Once dry, take the needlework off the blocking board and press gently if needed.


  • When immersed in water, needlework colors may bleed through piece. If you’re not sure how the dyes will hold, take a clean white cloth, soak in soapy water solution you plan on using, and dab gently on needlework to see if any dye transfer happens. If so, do not wash.
  • If the piece is very old, the fibers may not hold up during the washing process. Your best bet is to have a professional clean the needlework, especially if this a treasured family heirloom.
  • Watch the fibers from both the fabric and the threads, do not treat piece roughly or you could damage the fibers with the piece developing holes and fibers unraveling. Always use a dabbing motion rather than rubbing.

Crafty Idea: Thread Organizer

Here is a good idea to keep embroidery thread organized while also preventing it from tangling when working on a project:

Picture of Thread Organizer Project -

Thread Organizer

  • Cut two pieces of material about 12 by 12 inches. Sew seams 1/2 inch apart down length as shown.
  • Cut whole packages of embroidery floss into manageable sewing lengths (most prefer it about 27 inches long).
  • Lay strands together, fold in half, insert a hairpin at fold and with it thread the entire group of strands through a channel in the cloth. Remove hairpin, and floss is ready for sewing.
  • To remove, pull out one loop at a time.

Source: The WorkBasket (1952)

Free Video Library: Hand Embroidery Stitches

Picture of Woman Embroidering - Tipnut.comHere’s a fantastic resource for those who do hand embroidery or wish to learn how – Video Library of Hand-Embroidery Stitches:

Hand embroidery is easier if you have someone around to show you how to do it. You can certainly find just about any embroidery stitch illustrated in a book, but it’s not quite the same as sitting down next to a friend who can walk you through the stitches. There are quite a few videos available on embroidery stitches, but what I’ve noticed about them is that they go into techniques that are either specialized or beyond what the beginning embroiderer wants to know. So I thought I’d see if I could manage a video stitch library…

…and if I could put it online! I’ve arranged the stitches according to type, and have begun with the most basic stitches, useful for embroidery for all levels of needleworkers.

There are nearly 50 videos available so far and the ones I watched have good lighting, clear audio and offer good visual direction–that’s hard to find sometimes with how to / craft videos. Good quality stuff!

A sampling of the stitch videos available:

  • Running Stitch
  • Whipped Running Stitch
  • Backstitch
  • Whipped Backstitch
  • Cable Chain Stitch
  • Rope Stitch
  • Rosette Chain Stitch
  • Wheat Stitch
  • Lazy Daisy
  • Seed Stitch
  • Spider Web – Ribbed
  • Bullion Knots

There are dozens more so make sure to check them out, these are great reference resources!

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