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Hungarian Embroidery 101 | How Transfer an Embroidery Pattern to Fabric

I’ve always wondered how to transfer an embroidery pattern to fabric, and I’m sure there’s lots of ways to do it, but today I’m sharing an easy way that worked for me.

While doing a little bit of research about Hungarian embroidery – particularly Kalocsa embroidery – I learned that not every woman who embroidered designed her own patterns.  Some women were especially talented and would design patterns for other women.  They would have sketchbooks filled with designs:

There is an art to designing patterns that are balanced and aesthetically pleasing, but also some technical concerns as well: the size of the motifs, the length of the corresponding stitches, etc., all need to be considered.  In the 1930s, when colourful folks costumes grew in popularity, more and more Hungarian women started to learn the art of designing patterns.  Exceptional pattern makers were still sought after though, and each had her own individual style.  The demand for this skill has waned, but it still has relevance in Hungary.  Interestingly, while doing my dissertation research I noticed patterns in the earlier issues of Nők Lapja.  I photocopied a few because I am completely inexperienced at designing an embroidery pattern.  The only other embroidery project I’ve done already had the design printed on it (purchased in Hungary):

For this new project I set about pinning motifs (I’ve started a board dedicated to embroidery).  I was a little overwhelmed and the pressure of designing something good enough to embroider really stalled my project.  Then I stumbled across this image:

It is not a traditional Hungarian embroidery pattern, but it was designed by a Hungarian graphic designer, Lilly Baróthi Zathureczky.  From the 1930s until the 1960s (when she passed away), she designed patterns for needlework and other artistic purposes.  The pattern was shared by Needle ‘n Thread, in addition to a short blurb on Lilly’s life and work.  This particular design was painted by Lilly in 1956 (you can see the coloured design here), but she left no notes regarding its intended application.  Once I found it, I couldn’t envision using another pattern – this was the one!

The rectangular pattern happened to be almost the exact dimensions of the pillow cover I intend to make.  I’m replacing the orange paisley cover with this project – if all goes according to plan.

I had to enlarge the design and I’m worried that in doing so some of my stitches will be too long but I’m just going to roll with it and hope for the best!  Before starting the embroidering, I printed out a few copies and grabbed my coloured pencils to roughly plan the colours.  It took a few tries but I finally landed on something I liked.  I ended up using fewer colours than I initially intended, but I stuck to the same palette of blues, greens and aqua.  It sure was easier to embroider in only one colour!  My next concern was figuring out how to how to transfer an embroidery pattern to fabric…

There are many ways to transfer an embroidery design to fabric; this article and this article list most, if not all, of them.  I chose to print my design on an overhead transparency and use an overhead projector, simply because I had these things on hand.  Then I just taped the fabric (which is a creamy silk, and much prettier in real life) onto a wall and rooked my Mom into tracing the design (UPDATE: a water erasable pen is perfect for this but if you’re working on many different projects, this multi-pack of colors might be a better choice).  Szuka seemed really befuddled and wondered what the heck we were up to.

And that’s how to transfer an embroidery pattern if you happen to have an overhead projector (they’re so cheap at thrift stores and I’ve used it for other art projects too).  This was an easy way to do it.

If it seems like this project is progressing slowly, that’s because it is.  It takes me forever to actually start this type of long, involved project (especially embroidery, it seems), but then I pick up more steam. 

To see read about the progress of my first embroidery project, click here.  If you’re curious about Hungarian embroidery, take a look at this post.  If you have tips and insights or are a master embroiderer – and have your own tips for how to transfer an embroidery pattern to fabric – then lay your knowledge on me because I’m pretty much an embroidering newbie!  I’m considering picking up some kind of book, like this First Time Embroidery guide.



  1. Cassie @ Primitive & Proper
    January 22, 2015 / 1:32 pm

    WOW. you are brave. it's going to be awesome.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      January 22, 2015 / 4:14 pm

      Go big or go home right? Lol. This is really just a fancy excuse to long a lot of sedentary hours fireside this winter.

  2. Haley
    January 22, 2015 / 8:52 pm

    This looks like a lot of work. I'm excited to see what this looks like when you finish!

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      January 23, 2015 / 3:58 pm

      It is going to be a lot of work. I hope I don't mess it up!

  3. brikhouse2
    January 23, 2015 / 1:07 pm

    I love the colors and the design. I personally would make the flowers different shades of the same color to create depth (like for a flower, lighter color on the outer petals, darker towards the middle petals), but that's just me, always over thinking and making things more difficult for myself lol. I can't wait to see your progress.On a side note, it puppy poops out purple thread (try saying that 3 times fast) makes sure to not pull it if it's hanging…..if you know what I mean. There can still be a lot inside of them and you never know if it's tangled in their intestine.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      January 23, 2015 / 4:02 pm

      Haha, yes, I like simplicity. I'll work up to shading but I'm going from one colour to a few – baby steps! I'm already overwhelmed and keep needing my guide :)I watched her poops (so much fun) and nary a thread came out. I caught her in time and it didn't make it's way deeper. My Jack Russel Terrier used to have this string toy and she would eat the string and end up with these rainbow encased poops. For Szuka I found these string toys made out of t-shirt materials so they don't come apart as easily and there's no string to eat. I guess "string" is something dogs like in their diet, lol, because Szuka was SO excited when she found my embroidery floss. But this was awhile ago and she's okay. No harm done! VERY happy there was no string hanging out the backside. So very gross. Good to know for future reference though!

    • brikhouse2
      January 28, 2015 / 7:24 pm

      lollllll Yeah I think I heard that little tip from someone who had one of those string toys for their dog and it was coming apart and he was eating the string. I forgot to ask last time, but it that just regular pencil you used to outline the pattern? How do you get it off after? For the future, you can get these pens that are water soluble and disappear with a spritz of water at the fabric store if you have issues with this one.

    • Tanya from Dans le Townhouse
      January 28, 2015 / 10:00 pm

      Good question! I grabbed something from my mom's sewing box. I think she said it's a quilter's pencil. Her other ones were all nubs. The grey is very subtle. Next time I'll look for the ones that dissappear. Thanks for the tip!

    • brikhouse2
      January 30, 2015 / 12:50 pm

      No problem, they are usually blue and there are purple ones that disappear after a certain amount of time. But you have to be careful, I was working on one back when I first learned in high school, traced it all out, was done about half of the stitching and I spilled a drink on it….the drink washed out, but so did my pattern. lol. Thank goodness it was just a small pillow and it wasn't anything fancy, just a name, birth date and little rocking horse outline for a new baby in the family….but still….I was pissed! lol I don't even remember if I just gave up or if I finished it lol. Oh! I think I came up with a great name for my blog…..what do you think of Tracy Makes?

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