In July, we wrote about the book Design for Artists and Craftsmen as part of our series that explores vintage design, embroidery, and craft books.  I carried this book with me as my daughter Maggie and I headed to my residency at The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts in the mountains of North Georgia. In our earliest days at Hambidge, I flipped through the book and landed on the spread of page 6 and 7, an exercise under the chapter on Geometric Form.  Exercise number 3 struck me as so simple and appealing:


Create a series of closed figures of three or more sides, using a combination of all straight, straight and curved, or all curved lines.

Note: Start at a fixed point A. Go as far as you wish, then stop, change direction, but do not retrace your steps. This gives a feeling of continuity to the motion. 

The simple action of copying these shapes made me smile. I showed the exercise to Maggie and it developed into a small project we could play with together.


We chose the Vo. 5, Deep Tone II set of my Irojiten colored pencils, took a sheet of vellum, and, at least once a day, we’d draw off the exercise shapes.  We’d use all of the colors; we’d share the design between us.


Over the course of the next week, we each added to the drawing as whim took us.


Looking at the sketch we’d created, it occurred to me that it would be perfect for playing with embroidery stitches and floss colors. And so, I started this project to transform colored pencil sketches to fabric and thread. It’s simple.



Tracing paper or Vellum for design
Tracing paper for Fabric Transfer (We used Strathmore)
IROJITEN colored pencils, Deep 5
Spray bottle
Bone folder (works best)—you may also use a spoon or other hard, flat object
100% Organic Cotton T-shirt in white or another light color
Embroidery Floss in 10 colors
Embroidery needles
Embroidery scissors
The Geometry of Hand-Sewing for embroidery stitch instruction

We created our sketch on a separate piece of paper and refined it using tracing paper until we loved the completed design. We then traced the design onto a final piece of tracing paper to transfer onto the Ringer Tee in White and Concrete from our Clean Tee program using the Irojiten Colored Pencil set.



Lay fabric down on flat, hard surface and smooth out; iron fabric first if necessary so it is very flat and not wrinkled. If fabric is very thin or when working with a t-shirt, you’ll want to add a piece of poster board, paper, or something sturdy between the layers to keep the colors from transferring through.

Create or trace design onto tracing paper with colored pencils; if using text make sure to invert words or letters; heavier lines will transfer better; darker colors will show up more prominently.

Heavily mist tracing paper over colored pencil design area with water in spray bottle making sure to coat the entire design/transfer area evenly and completely; paper should be very wet.

Lay water-coated tracing paper onto fabric, pencil side to fabric; paper will stick easily to fabric.

Burnish all design lines with bone folder using side and point for detail areas (the back of a spoon will also do), working in small areas and then moving on; be sure not to pull or shift paper but do use pressure to transfer pencil lines completely; pushing too hard and working too fast may cause design lines to shift, blur, or transfer twice next to each other.

Lighter colors (yellows, light green) will transfer lighter and darker colors transfer more easily.

After burnishing is complete, leave paper on fabric and iron with steam for about 20-30 seconds; this will dry fabric and paper; let paper and fabric cool and then peel off paper.

Note that this is simply a transfer method and not a permanent design. Most of the color washed out with soap and water—with very light streaks of blue and red being left on the fabric. However, this method worked perfectly for our purposes of embroidery design.

We decided to divide the drawing up into two parts and put one part on the front of the t-shirt and one part on the back.



We matched the Irojiten Deep 5 colored pencils to some of our favorite embroidery floss colors.

Plum = Eggplant
Maroon = Burgundy
Terra Cotta = Ruby
Bamboo = Orange
Mustard = Goldenrod
Moss Green = Olive
Cactus Green = Fern
Spruce = Shamrock
Teal Blue = Teal
Indigo = Navy


We then used The Geometry of Hand-Sewing to add a variety of stitches to the transferred design, including Satin (page 70), Rope (page 120), Chain (page 35), and Stem Stitches (page 68) on our final Ringer Tee.

Get one of our Ringer Tees.

See our original post on Design for Artists and Craftsmen here.


Create your own project from Design for Artists and Craftsmen and try out all the design exercises.


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