Adding Trapunto to your Quilts

Trapunto adds marvelous dimension to quilts.  It is defined as “quilting that has an embossed design produced by outlining the pattern with single stitches and then padding it with yarn or cotton”.  The word originates from the Italian “to embroider” and is sometimes also called stuffed work.

Originally, trapunto was done by slitting the backing fabric in order to stuff the design with batting.  The slit was then slip-stitched closed or covered with a second backing fabric.  Vines or straight lines were sometimes stuffed with yarn or cording.  I must admit that slicing the back of my quilt didn’t appeal to me, so I never seriously considered trying trapunto.

That was until I learned about a new way to add trapunto to my quilts.  With this technique – sometimes called “machine trapunto” or “cut-away trapunto” – the extra stuffing is added before the quilt is layered and quilted.

Begin by marking the design onto the quilt top.  (See last week’s article:  To Mark or Not to Mark!)  Pin a layer of high-loft batting – the stuffing – under the motif.  I have been enjoying good results using wool batting.

Stitch the two layers together, following the marked design, using water-soluble thread in the needle and regular thread in the bobbin.

Stitched Front

Stitched Back

Now for the fun part.  Carefully trim the batting close to the stitching, so that only the design is “stuffed”.

From this point on, construct the quilt as usual.  Layer the quilt top with batting and backing fabric and baste.  Quilt by stitching over the same design lines, this time using your choice of quilting thread.  For best results, add dense quilting in the background around the motif.  This will compress the background and really make the stuffed areas stand out.

Once the quilting is complete, wash the quilt.  Not only will the design markings be removed but the first layer of water-soluble thread will dissolve.  All that remains will be beautiful embossed designs. These step-by-step photos are from my quilt “Flourish on the Vine”.

Fruitful is the first quilt I made with trapunto motifs.  I quilted straight parallel lines in the background around the trapunto.  Because the background quilting isn’t as dense as say, stippling, the trapunto doesn’t stand out quite as much.

So for my next attempt, in the quilt Bridal Tea, I stipple quilted the background.

It is an extra step, and trimming that batting can be a challenge, but I believe the results are well worth the effort.  Judges and viewers alike love to see the extraordinary visual texture created by trapunto.  Consider adding it to your next quilt.

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  1. Lois Dowler says:

    Hello Kathy,
    I am looking for some one to replicate a trapunto medallion design taken from the back of a vintage chair that I am having reupholstered. Is this a service that you provide? It is not a large piece. It is approx 12″ x 18″. I can send you a photo if you are interested in the project.
    Thank you for your time.

  2. It is a very useful trapunto tutorial you have shown – very clear. Just letting you know that I have mentioned/linked to this post on my latest blogpost. You can see it here
    Hope that is all OK with you.
    All the best

  3. Jane Smith says:

    Yes very good!

  4. Just remember to add lots of background quilting around the trapunto and I’m sure your quilt will turn out great!

  5. Bev Sturgeon says:

    You are very clever! I read about French cording and love the effect – I tried it in a very small piece (the letter D – for my husband Don), but it didn’t turn out very well. Need to practice more I think. However, I love this technique for texture, and I think I’ll try it on the quilt I’m making for my sister – I hope to have it ready for the YHQG quilt show.
    Thanks Kathy.

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