Sometimes they still want to make an easy transfer for an embroidery pattern that can be given or sold to someone who doesn't feel like tracing or poking holes into the sheet of paper, then dusting it with chalk powder.
Some people want the pattern transfer to be washable, especially if they're using a light colored embroidery thread. The iron-on patterns are not. Most heat set pigments are difficult to remove.
After extensive trial and error (and I'd rather not detail all of the error here), I've come up with a simple, low cost method of making an embroidery pattern transfer. It's as easy to use as the commercial iron-on transfers, but it has several advantages.
The markings can be easily and completely removed from fabric once the embroidery is finished
It lasts for many more transfers, while the iron-on transfers are only good for 2-5 in ideal conditions
It requires no iron to transfer, so it's safe for children to use on their own embroidery projects
It does take a bit of time and a steady hand. Later this fall I hope to post an instructable on altering a print head to a 3d printer to make similar embroidery pattern transfers, but I'll probably publish it under the Transistor (our local hackerspace in Provo) once I get those guys to make an instructables account. I won't have time to do that until long after Abigail comes home from the hospital and has completely recovered from her fourth open heart surgery (she just had the Fontan procedure done).
For making the transfer, you will need:
Crayola washable or dry erase crayons
A heat source (I used a candle)
A heat safe container in which to melt the crayons
A toothpick or other small tool you can dip into melted crayons
Cardstock or other decently thick paper
For transferring the pattern to fabric, you will need:
Method for making the transfer:
Draw something you like, or print an image onto heavy paper. Break off a bit of washable or dry erase crayon, and melt it over a heat source in a small container. Dip a toothpick in the melted crayon and dot along the lines of your drawing. I think dots are better for embroidery transfers, especially if you can keep them small, close, and even, because they show someone where the stitches should be. This leads to more even stitches.
Remember that this transfer will produce a mirror image on the fabric. If you want words, write them backwards. If you can't do that, scan your original drawing, then print it as a t-shirt transfer to reverse the image.
It might take a little practice to get the melted crayon dots on your paper. Washable crayons seem to have a very sharp melting point; they melt fast but cool and solidify quickly, also. I ended up heating the crayons pretty hot, almost smoking, so that the pigment was molten long enough for me to dot the paper with the toothpick.
I originally thought it would be a good idea to use vellum for the embroidery pattern transfer because the crayon wouldn't penetrate the paper very much. This wasn't a good thing, because the dots of pigment easily fell off the paper once it cooled. You can see bits of this in the pictures of the face embroidery pattern. I was still able to see where to embroidery on the fabric, but I couldn't use the transfer for nearly as many times because it kept losing dots.
Cardstock absorbs just enough melted crayon to cling to the dots while still allowing most of the substance to bead up in a little dot above the surface. The dots on the pattern should be raised and not flat; this makes it easier to transfer the image without missing any areas, and it allows more image transfers.
Method for transferring the pattern to fabric:
Lay your fabric on a flat surface. Spray it with water. If you don't have a spray bottle with water, just wipe it with a wet washcloth. Wet the entire surface of the fabric.
Lay the transfer onto the fabric, dots down. Press evenly over the back of the transfer. Peel it away.
Let the fabric dry, then embroider as you wish.
After about 5 or more transfers, the paper transfer might get a bit soaked. Let it dry before making more; you don't want it to fall apart on you after you did all that work with all those little dots.
Some people might wonder why anyone would bother with this. In addition to the benefits I mentioned above, consider that some people have more time than money. Some people live in countries without access to many resources. Washable crayons might not be easy to get all over the world, but they're likely easier to obtain than a solid ink printer. :)
Thanks for reading!