How to transfer embroidery designs using the prick and pounce method

14 October 2021
Learn how to transfer designs using prick and pounce. It’s one of the oldest methods and really useful if embroidering on darker fabrics or unusual surfaces.

What is the prick and pounce method?

This is a traditional method for transferring a template design onto fabric. The prick stage involves transferring the design to tracing paper before pricking a series of tiny holes along the design lines. For the pounce stage, you push this very fine powder through the holes to leave an accurate series of dots on the fabric surface. You then join these dots together with pen or paint and you’re ready to start stitching.

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You will need

  • Design template
  • Tracing paper
  • Masking tape
  • Sharp HB pencil
  • Soft, padded working surface
  • Pricking tool or medium-sized crewel needle
  • Fabric
  • Iron & ironing board
  • Scrap of felt – 5x25cm
  • Leftover threads
  • Pounce powder
  • Small dish
  • Pigment transfer pen – 0.05mm
  • Baby brush

The prick and pounce method

1. Use masking tape to secure the tracing paper over the template and trace all the design lines using a sharp HB pencil. 

Traced tree design

2. Once complete place your tracing paper on a soft, protective working surface. You don’t want to damage your desk or table! 

Top tip! Good working surfaces include a folded towel, thick felt, a mouse mat or an ironing board.

3. Use a pricking tool or needle to punch tiny holes along every design line. Don’t leave too much space between pricks or you’ll struggle to transfer the detail accurately. Around 2mm between each one is ideal. 

Tiny holes punched into design line

Top tip! For a crisp transfer hold the needle vertically and make sure you punch a hole at the start and end of every line, as well as every corner.

4. Press your fabric to remove all creases. As this method works best on a smooth, flat surface, fix your fabric in an embroidery hoop. Ensure the grain is running straight and the fabric is drum tight.

5. Position the tracing paper in the centre of the fabric, making sure to match the central design line with the vertical grain line. Secure with pins. 

Top tip! Before you hoop your fabric, run a central tacking line to indicate the vertical grain. This will make it easier to match to the design.

6. For a homemade dabber, roll your felt scrap tightly along the long side, so you end up with a short chunky roll. Wrap with left-over thread and tie off securely. 

Homemade dabber

7. Place the pounce in your small dish. Dip the end of the felt in the powder and dab on your tracing paper in a circular motion. You want to push the pounce into the holes and cover all the design lines. 

Dabbing pounce powder on tracing paper to cover design lines

Left to right – using white powder on a design, and traced design covered in pounce powder. 

What is pounce powder?

Pounce is a very fine powder. It comes in three different shades. Use white for dark fabrics, grey for lighter colours and black for medium shades.

Want to get some more practice in? Don't miss Christmas Jewels by Elaine Mork in Stitch issue 121 and New Beginnings by Alex Vincent Turner in Stitch issue 129!

8. Remove the pins and slowly lift the tracing paper up from the fabric taking care not to smudge the design lines or transfer any loose powder.

 Fabric with design

9. To finish transferring the design, lightly use a 0.05mm pigment pen to join all the small dots together. Again, take care not to smudge the pounce! 

Joining dots with a pigment pen to finish transferring the design

Top tip! As an alternative to the pigment pen, you could use watercolour paint and a very fine brush. Leave to dry before progressing. A heat erasable pen would also work.

10. Turn the hoop over and firmly tap the back to dislodge any excess powder. 

Top tip! Gently use a soft baby brush over the fabric surface to remove any remaining pounce powder. 

11. With your design transferred, you’re ready to start stitching! 

Design transferred using prick and pounce method

Learn three more ways to transfer embroidery designs to fabric, or for year-round stitching projects packed with fresh and exclusive designs why not treat yourself to a Stitch subscription? Explore the subscription offers for issues delivered straight to your door or digital device!

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