Stitched Art

Three easy ways to transfer an image on to fabric for embroidery

Stitching a drawing

You’ve just done the most amazing design in your sketchbook and it is begging to be stitched. Mmm, now how to get that paper image on to a suitable piece of fabric?

There are lots of ways to transfer a drawing from paper to fabric for stitching and embroidery. In this post I am going to show you the three simple methods that I use most often. Which one I go for depends on:

  • the time of year,
  • whether I have an electricity point to hand,
  • how complicated the image is,
  • whether I want to have a permanent drawn line on my fabric,
  • and the type of fabric that I want to work with.

Finding your image

As I have mentioned in previous posts I try to draw in my sketchbook every day. Not only is it a workout and practice session it is also my way of problem solving, telling stories and generating ideas for further work. When a drawing evolves that is asking to be stitched (and I don’t want to go freehand on the fabric) the next step is to transfer it.

sketchbook page for image transfer blog post
A page from my sketchbook that is begging to be stitched

Using a sunny window

This method is weather dependant but if you, like me, are lucky enough to have a sun facing window you can simply stick your page on to the glass with masking tape, place the fabric over the top and with whichever tool you intend to use, draw over the image.

window shot for image transfer blog post
Using a window and sunlight to transfer an image on to calico

The advantages of this method is that it will only cost you a roll of masking tape. The disadvantages, other than requiring the sun which for some of us is in short supply at certain times of the year, is that the fabric needs to be relatively light coloured, not too thick and probably not patterned. It works very well with pale coloured cottons such as the unbleached, medium weight calico I’ve shown in the picture above.

It doesn’t work if you have drawn on the reverse of the paper as the light will pick up the lines from images on both sides of the page (unless you are going for something weird and wacky and probably semi abstract!).

Using a light box/pad

I have to say that one of the best and most used Christmas presents that my family have bought me in recent years was a good quality, A3 size, LED light pad. It isn’t much thicker than a digital tablet, is relatively lightweight and plugs in to the mains. Perfect for when the sun refuses to shine, the image is too big to fit on the window, or is too complicated to draw at a vertical angle.

Lightbox for image transfer blog post
My Huion LED light pad

Obviously the downside of the light pad is cost, although some basic light bulb and plastic versions are available at a fraction of the price of this one, from larger craft stores.

The comments I made about the window trace are also relevant here regarding single sided paper images and suitable fabrics.

Tissue paperĀ 

While the previous two methods work very well when there is a single sided drawing and light coloured and relatively lightweight fabric involved, sometimes you want to use a thick, coloured, or patterned fabric and there is no way that an image will show through with even the strongest light source behind it. For these circumstances I use tissue paper.

tissue paper transfer blog post
The tissue paper method

Trace the image on to a piece of tissue paper and pin on to the fabric. Stitch over the lines through all the layers using your preferred stitch, e.g. back stitch. Tension is important when working with this method, as is fastening off and starting a new piece of thread. You don’t want the stitches to sag when the tissue is removed or the ends of thread to be pulled through. When all the relevant outlines are stitched, carefully tear off the tissue paper.

The advantages of this method, as opposed to the others, is that a pencil or pen line directly onto the fabric is not required. This could be useful if you decide during your stitching that you want to change something. It is easy to remove stitches, not so easy to remove all traces of pencil or pen (unless you’ve bought a fancy disappearing one).

It is also cheap and a great way of reusing the copious amounts of tissue paper that arrive as packaging with on line shopping and in shoe boxes etc. This method works best with simple line work as it can get a bit difficult to remove the tissue from under lots of close together stitches. It also works best with linear stitch types such as running stitch, backstitch, stem stitch, etc again to help ease of removal when the transfer is complete.

I hope that you have found this post helpful and maybe discovered a method that you haven’t tried before. If you try any of these for the first time I’d love to hear how you got on so please do leave a comment.

Right, I’m off to finish stitching a bulldog. Speak to you soon.

3 ways to transfer an image on to fabric







General, Stitched Art

5 of the Best Embroidery Stitches to draw with

Cultivating a drawing habit

Hand stitching is one of my favourite ways to relax and those of you who know my work will have seen my stitch drawing and doodle designs. However, all of my work (knitting and stitching) starts life in my sketchbook. Most days, the first thing I do on waking after making a coffee and sorting out the dogs is to grab any sketchbook I have to hand and whatever drawing materials are easy to find on my Desk of Doom (usually my super chunky variegated pencils). Like Picasso (see previous post) I have learnt not to worry about what subject matter goes into which sketchbook as that is the route to procrastination and, ultimately, inactivity for me. And sometimes those strange juxtapositions can lead to all kinds of interesting developments!

This hour to myself at the start of my day is about play and experimentation with no pressure on further development. However, often an idea that has been gestating in my subconscious will start to take form on the page and some of those ideas will start begging to be stitched.

sketchbook and coloured pencils
Sketchbook Playtime

Quality of Line

While knitting is perhaps more of a painting tool as it is all about shape (a single stitch being a rectangle), embroidery is so good for drawing lines. There are five basic embroidery stitches that I go to for drawing purposes that I am going to share with you here.

Running Stitch

Running Stitch example
Running stitch

Probably the first stitch you learnt as a child is running stitch. Like many of the things we are introduced to as beginners, the temptation is often to move on and not look back. However, this simple stitch is oh so versatile. We were probably taught to do it on an even weave fabric with our teacher placing emphasis on even length and straightness of stitch. Personally I am always striving to create interest in quality of line and I love a bit of inconsistency in all of these stitches. I particularly like the broken effect of running stitch and the space it creates between the stitches. Not only is there the potential to play with stitch length but also with gap length. And what about weaving another thread in and out of the stitches. So much potential from such a simple stitch.

Back Stitch

back stitch example
Back stitch

The next stitch you probably learnt (for hand seaming purposes if nothing else) was back stitch. It creates a closed line and therefore comes across as more pronounced than running stitch. It has its own charm but I often find the back of work done in backstitch more interesting as it is less precise and even.

Stem Stitch

stem stitch example
Stem stitch

I use stem stitch quite a lot for outlining my stitched doodle designs. It creates a lovely textural, twisted effect and provides a bit of three dimensional interest and encloses an area containing other stitches very well. It can be a bit tricky going around corners but that can add a bit of loopy charm to the design.

Split Stitch

Split Stitch example
Split Stitch

This is another great stitch for outlining and drawing purposes. It is credited as the stitch that set English embroidery apart from other countries during the Middle Ages and helped to make it one of the most desired and costly art forms in Europe at that time. It has a variety of appearances depending on how many threads are in the needle. On a single thread it looks like a bit like couching (see next section) whereas on an even number of threads it looks like a flatter version of chain stitch. Unlike stem stitch, corners are a doddle with split stitch.


Couching stitch example

The final basic linear embroidery stitch that I wanted to talk about is couching. This is such a versatile way of creating lines. Anything string like can be couched and some wonderful textures and colour combinations can be achieved. It is especially useful when the thread that you want to use is not suitable for pulling through fabric e.g. due to thickness, texture or fragility, as the stitching is done using a different thread. Lots of fun can be had with placement of the stitches too. Do you keep them even, group them or apply them randomly?

My Latest Stitched Drawing

Nicky Barfoot Self Portrait stitch and paint
Self Portrait

These five basic stitches (or just one of them!) can be put to great effect in creating quite sophisticated line drawings. The picture above is a Self Portrait inspired by one of my favourite artists, Egon Schiele. It uses back stitch as the main drawing tool, with a few straight stitches and bit of satin stitch, used sparingly, for colouring in purposes. Simple but effective?

5 basic embroidery stitches for drawing

Exhibitions, General

Alice Kettle Exhibition “Threads”, an inspiring afternoon in Winchester

I was fortunate to have a whole Saturday to play with this weekend so after convincing Mr B that he would like to have brunch out, we made a cheeky little trip to Winchester. My main motivation was a visit to the Alice Kettle exhibition, “Threads”, so after a rather lovely breakfast, we parted company for an hour or so and I made my way to the Discovery Centre.

Alice Kettle is well known in the area due to her links with the City and the Winchester School of Art. A large piece of her work has been hanging in the Discovery Centre for a number of years, although due to its massive size it is probably more visible from the bus as it drives past the building than when up close to it inside the building itself.

The first few pieces of work had me transfixed for quite some time. They were two of her 2011 “Heads”, “Agape” and “Coeus”, consisting of re-cycled offcuts from another huge piece, stitched (incompletely in places) onto folded and pleated fabric backgrounds to create an image that we can’t help but interpret as a face. They are described as being a “remembering” and a “representation of feelings and encounters”. I spent some time sketching “Agape”, an image that really stood out for me (not least because it has a three dimensional quality due to the fabric manipulation) in the exhibition despite it’s relatively small size.

Alice Kettle, my digital drawing after Agape
My drawing of Agape using line where Alice Kettle uses stitch and collaged fabric pieces

The write ups on the walls between the pieces were interesting to read and some of the comments given quite pertinent. Prof Simon Olding from the University of the Creative Arts refers to stitch as “a method of repetition, coverage and endlessness” while Sara Viersen-Corsa makes comment on how embroidery art imitates painting and how painters imitate embroidery in their work.

Alice Kettle is a leading protagonist in the field of collaborative works and a number of the pieces on display in this exhibition illustrate the dynamics of working with another Creative. In “The Dog Loukanikos and the Cat’s Cradle” a large scale, somewhat disturbing image is calmed by Kirsteen Aubrey’s line of “Glass Grasses” which sit in front and cast beautiful shadows, in places, on the wall behind.

Alice Kettle The Dog Louckanikos
Alice Kettle’s “The Dog Loukanikos and the Cat’s Cradle” with Kirsteen Aubrey’s “Glass Grasses”

Much of the work shown is the artist’s observation of current affairs. In “Golden Dawn” Kettle marries a Greek myth with current Greek politics in a 360cm long, stitched narrative.

Alice Kettle Golden Dawn
Alice Kettle’s “Golden Dawn”

More comment on the current political landscape is made with a huge piece (792x284cm) called “Sea”. This is Kettle’s attempt at making some sense of the migrant crisis, reflecting both how the UK media have been reporting the events and her own meetings with refugees in the south of England. The result is a piece exploring the differences between people being viewed as anonymous groups via a media complete with it’s own bias, and the impact of the crisis and resulting displacement on individuals. The work also represents the sense of helplessness of the viewer as a witness. I encourage you to go and sit in front of this huge piece of art for a while to get a true sense of its scale.

Other pieces on display include “Orphrey”, a 2006 work done on the Schiffli multi needle commercial embroidery machine. The Schiffli Series of works apparently marked a change in the artist’s approach to creating: “I have liberated the fabric as it was no longer covered in stitch”.

Alice Kettle Schiffli Series Orphrey
Alice Kettle’s “Orphrey”

Another piece that drew my eye, partly because it is predominantly blue and I have a weakness for this particular colour, and partly because it can be seen as a representation of the current turmoil in the UK regarding our exit from the EU and our drift away from the main European continent, was “Sea Figure – Island”.

Alice Kettle Sea Figure Island
Alice Kettle’s “Sea Figure – Island”

The last piece of work I want to show you is a ceramics collaboration with Alex McErlain, inspired by the late medieval “Tring Tiles” on display at the British Museum. For these works the artists have developed their own sgraffito technique in the production of a ceramics collection decorated with narrative imagery.

Alice Kettle ceramics with Alex McErlain
One of the ceramic tiles on display as part of the collaboration with Alex McErlain

My aim of this post is to give you a taster of what to expect and I strongly urge you if you are in the area to go and visit this exhibition yourself. Digital representations taken in low lighting can not do justice to the vibrancy and scale of the works on display. I came away throughly inspired by this talented artist’s work and I hope that you too get to enjoy this exhibition. There is also a rather lovely exhibition book to accompany it which I personally shall be using as a source of inspiration for quite some time.

Alice Kettle’s “Threads” is on until 14 January 2018 and more information can be found here.