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How To Use Hot Iron Transfers To Make A Red-work Embroidered Dish Towel

The talents exhibited by some of you expert hand-sewers and embroiderers amaze me. I have expressed, in the past, my envy for those of you who possess the ability to take thread and needle in hand and, with little effort, produce something artistic and beautiful. My hand sewing is somewhat less than perfect.

I have made numerous small projects using counted cross-stitch. I have somewhat enjoyed the cross-stitch projects I worked on and might try it again. Here is the thing with cross-stitch. I am a pretty patient soul, but when it comes right down to it, I still find that the steady concentration involved with completing a project, even a small one, with counted cross stitch, tries my patience. I find it hard to relax when I am diligently counting somewhat tiny stitches and becoming distracted, finding myself getting off the diagram's pattern, resulting in having to pull out stitches--many stitches and many times!

Embroidery I have done in the past involved diligently tracing somewhat elaborate designs onto fabric. I have created (struggled through) some of these projects, such as christening gowns, for my granddaughters and they were truly labors of love.

For something a little more practical and useful, a dish towel is the ticket. I am especially fond of the vintage or antique appeal of a towel or other object when worked in basic and simple stitches of red or black threads called red-work or black-work. Another appeal to this type of embroidery is that you have only to deal with one color of floss with no switching off to another color. Call me lazy, it's okay.

I recall that my mother used to use hot iron transfers when she wanted to do some embroidery work, so it is nothing new and innovative, for sure, because I am no spring chicken! It finally dawned on me that it might be worth trying out the thing for myself.

At this point, you are probably asking "Where has she been?" It is dopey, I know. This method has been around forever and I knew about it, but I had never used hot iron embroidery transfers before.  Now that I have tried it, I cannot imagine why I waited so long. It is much easier and saves a lot of time because it eliminates having to trace or draw anything.

I started and finished the project in this post in less than a day. Folks, I am honestly my worst critic.  Being somewhat hard on myself and finding imperfections in most things that I do, saying I am happy with a finished project is saying a lot, but I really am pretty happy with it!

Now on to the dish towel project. Perhaps, you will recall that I mentioned in a previous post that I purchased a couple of antique/vintage looking dish towels at  Bush's General Merchandise Store a couple of weeks ago while vacationing. I bought the towels expressly to use for some embroidery projects for a couple of special people.

 This is a close-up of the finished design on the towel I embroidered.

My camera was doing something wacky and so the white towel I worked on appears to be a really awful, shocking yellow. I have no idea how that happened, but it is the same towel as is shown below. It really is white with red stripes. 
You will notice that I chose a design which had the simplest of stitches. I wanted to complete the project, from beginning to end, in one day. Red-work, by nature, is usually made up of pretty simple outlines and stitches anyway. If you are someone who works with hand embroidery often and are proficient, you would probably be able to manage the required stitches in no time.

For those of you who wish to make your first attempt at an embroidery project and might need a little assistance (sort of a primer), there are some excellent sources on the internet. After just a few minutes of searching, I was able to locate a really good site. This site has grouped all of the embroidery stitches, both by "family" of stitches and in alphabetical order. By clicking on the name of each stitch listed, you will find instructions and some very good diagrams to assist in creating each individual stitch. You can check it out at: The information on the site and the ease of navigation within the site are pretty impressive.

Any embroidery project using this hot iron transfer method will require these basic materials and tools:
  1. Object or Project Onto Which Your Design Will Be Worked(in my case the dish towel).
  2. Embroidery Hoop
  3. Embroidery Thread(I used a red shade because I was going for the red-work look)
  4. Embroidery Needle
  5. Straight Pins
  6. Scissors
  7. Hot Iron Transfers of Your Choice
Note:  I washed, dried and pressed the towel before transferring the images onto it.

I purchased my transfers at Hobby Lobby (Aunt Martha's) I really like this brand because it offers vintage looking designs. This sheet of transfers cost $1.49 at our local H.L. store. It comes with detailed instructions for use and the manufacturer states that each transfer can be used several times. This is a plus any time, in my book.

I will run through the simple steps as to how to use the transfers, including some photos.

You will first take out the your transfer sheet with instructions and choose the particular design or designs you are are going to use. 

Using your scissors, you will now cut out the design elements to be transferred onto your project. You will notice that everything is printed on the sheet in reverse. You might find it easier(as I did) to locate your design if you hold the sheet up to a light source and look through the back. That way, you will be looking at the design as it will be when placed onto your project. 

As you cut, be sure to leave enough paper around each design element so that you can pin the paper to the front of your project. This will hold the transfers in place and they will not shift when you start to iron them onto your project. If you trim too closely, you will have to place pins into the design and it will interfere with the outcome of your design. This is what the transfers look like when you look at the right side of the design(reversed).

Now, it is time to move your towel over to the ironing board and press it. I am a stickler for placement of design in my projects, so the following method is how I handle placement of designs on my projects.

 Basically, I divide my projects into equal "portions" by folding and creasing. Sort of like a math problem, dividing the thing into sections. I do the same thing for whatever I am working on, be it stenciling, painting, solvent transfers, etc. There is nothing so distressing as to realize that something is not quite "right" when you look at a finished item. 
Fold the towel, in half, lengthwise, and lightly press. Then fold it again, crosswise, and lightly press. Fold, once more, lengthwise, and press lightly again. Unfold the towel. You now have light creases and equal sections throughout the towel, etc. This will help you to find the center of the project and to determine where to place your design(s) at the bottom half of your towel. In essence, you will center your design(s) along the "cross" formed by the creases on the bottom half of the towel. You can see the vertical line (crease) going up my towel in the following cropped picture, but it is a little difficult to see the faint crease line going horizontally across. 

You are now ready to arrange your design element(s), print side down, onto the front & center bottom half of your towel. Note that the straight pins should be placed around the edges and on the allowance you left when the designs were cut out. For my project, I was working with 2 initials and so I arranged the first initial "D" just off center on the LEFT bottom half of the towel and "C" underneath the first initial and just off center to the RIGHT of the middle crease. Like so:

Now time to iron on the designs. Very carefully, place your hot and DRY iron on top of each design transfer element and hold in place(do NOT move the iron around) for the amount of time specified in the instructions. Carefully remove a pin or two from a small section of each transfer and peek under it to make sure the design has been transferred to your project. It should look something like this picture when transfer process is complete.
Most of the design elements are composed of cross-stitches or "X's."  Even I can manage those without too much trouble!

At this point, it is time to place your towel with its transferred design(s) into your embroidery hoop and begin stitching away. 

The stitches I used were very simple. They were mostly cross-stitches, lazy daisies and back-stitches. As I stated early on in this post, you can go to any of the many websites that have tutorials on embroidery, including the link I provided in the post, as your stitches might vary somewhat from the ones I used. 

Here is another very yellow picture of my finished and pressed project. It has that wonderful red-work appeal that I like so very much!

This was such a fun project and so easy-peasy. I will be gifting this to a very special person and I might tell you more about that a little later. I can see how this can become a habit because I am all revved  up and ready to start another of these red-work projects very soon!

 I hope you will try this method of creating some lovely embroidery. It is fun and, believe me, if I can do this, you can do it too!


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